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September 2001

Take Your Family Outdoors

Camping with kids can plant a wild seed in them that will grow as they do-but only if you get them Out There.

2 to 6 years

Trail-tested tips

Child’s Play
Gear and tips for kids only.
arrowInfant to 2 years
arrow2 to 6 years
arrow6 to 12 years
arrow12 to 18 years
  • Bribe with trail treats. Diversions of the edible variety are an essential hiking tool. Bring trail mix, gummy worms, lollipops, or licorice. Set goals for the next treat stop: a mile, half an hour, the next lake, a huge tree in the distance.

  • Plan playtime. Schedule numerous rest/play stops. Kids tire faster than adults do, plus they can teach you a thing or two about stopping to smell the flowers.
  • Walk with wheels. On well-groomed trails, a jogging stroller allows you to carry a full backpack and still ferry your child when she becomes too tired to walk. Note: You can’t take jogging strollers (wheels!) into designated wilderness areas.
    Photo by Jonathan Dorn


  • Think quality, not quantity. A successful family backpacking trip doesn’t have to cover much ground if there are rocks to scramble on, trees to climb, and water to play in. Adults tend to have a “proceed from Point A to Point B” mentality, but kids are much more likely to be satisfied with immediate experiences. Keep your total trip mileage well below what you would cover without children.
  • Transplant toys. Pack a sandbox shovel and little plastic toys to amuse the kids in camp. Bring books, paper, crayons, or an Etch A Sketch for tent-bound entertainment.
  • Let them get dirty. Parents who are fanatics about regularly bathing their children must check that notion at the trailhead.

    Consider basecamping. This allows for casual dayhikes and lightens the load for

    overburdened parents.

  • Make merry with mud pies. Plan to camp along a stream or near a lake. There’s nothing like sand, mud, and water to occupy children for hours.

    Avoid critter visits. Reduce your child’s attractiveness to animals and insects by avoiding sweet-smelling lotions and wipes. At bedtime, check pockets for half-eaten snacks. Do a quick safety check around camp for snakes, cacti, cliffs, and other hazards before letting Junior roam.

  • Talk the walk. Encourage kids to chat about things to keep their minds off hiking. Start a story line and pass it from person to person, or try participatory camp songs (think “Itsy Bitsy Spider”).


Tough Traveler Growing Bear Sleeping Bag. The Growing Bear’s zip-on extension allows your child to get 5 to 7 years’ use out of this sleeping bag. At its smallest, 39-inch size, the Growing Bear is hoodless with a U-shaped opening for the child’s head. But zip in the extension and hood, and the bag becomes a 55-inch mummy. Hadley and Abby slept soundly in temperatures down to 20 degrees F, even when the insulation got wet. Jon adds that the Growing Bear is “somewhat bulky, but has taken a beating without showing serious signs of wear.” Weight: 2 lbs. (with extension). Price: $148.

Timberland Eurohiker Day Hiker Boots. This all-leather boot was Austin’s favorite because its light weight, generous Achilles notch, and flexible sole allow for uninhibited running and climbing, whether hiking in the desert, slogging through snow, or playing at the playground. Sizes: 5-12. Price: $50.

Painter Outdoor Step by Step Backpack. “I’m backpacking just like you!” Austin proclaimed at age 3 1/2, as he carried his own sleeping bag, minipad, and jacket. With adjustable shoulder straps, a hipbelt, and a sternum strap, this pack lets kids feel like they’re shouldering their fair share. The modular system accommodates your growing child by letting you attach cargo bags of different sizes to two sizes of shoulder straps (for torso lengths of 9 to 20 inches) and a hipbelt. Austin especially liked the juice-bottle holster and snack pouch on the hipbelt, and the red safety whistle on the shoulder strap. Of course, Mom ended up lashing Austin’s little pack onto hers after 3 miles, but seeing him enjoy his first foray into backcountry self-sufficiency was worth it for her. Weight (junior shoulder straps, hipbelt, two-compartment packbag, snack pack, and water pouch): 2 lbs. 5 oz. Price: $130 (components also sold separately).

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