Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.
Prep the Entire Family
Boost anticipation and plan smart to create happy trail memories.
— Set goals
Determine your trophy hike, then work up to that level by selecting training routes that increase in difficulty.
— Reduce anxiety
Got worriers? Get them books about your destination. Inspire them to get excited about wildlife and history.
Kids aren’t inspired by scenery. Instead, promise them things they’re interested in: lakes for fishing or swimming, campsite competitions, rocks to climb, and special treats.
— Think short
Most kids can walk about a half-mile for each year of age, so a four-year-old should be able to pound out two miles. Kids are usually most energetic in the morning. Add at least an hour of trail time for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain, and limit distance so you’re not hiking all day. Plan regular rest/play stops.
— Handle a meltdown
When group members are grumpy, assume they’re hungry, thirsty, tired, hot, or cold. Have food, water, and layers on hand, and take time to rest. For more strategies for successful family camping, check out Helen Olsson’s The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids ($18; roostbooks.com) and BACKPACKER’s Hiking and Backpacking with Kids ($13; falcon.com).
Sore feet, sleeping cold, getting soaked. These things can ruin a trip even for adults; don’t expect kids to suffer. Get the right gear for making kids comfy.
Don’t use off-the-shelf street shoes for hikes longer than a few miles or with heavy packs. We like: The North Face’s Vindicator WP ($65; 9.9 oz.; thenorthface.com).
Unless Hero Dad is carrying it all, get a kid pack with adult features. We like: Deuter’s Fox 30 ($99; 2 lbs. 7 oz.; deuterusa.com)
Choose a jacket with a waterproof/breathable membrane and built-in hood. We like: Marmot’s Precip ($65; 9.7 oz.; marmot.com)
— Sleeping bag
Get a bag sized right so kids don’t carry extra weight. We like: Deuter’s Starlight EXP ($89; 2 lbs. 3 oz.; deuterusa.com).