5 Tips for Your Family’s First Backcountry Camping Trip

If you want a successful backcountry trip with little ones, pre-planning (and a dash of adaptability) is the name of the game. While our little family has had successful trips from the Rockies to the Appalachians, we have also had our fair share of horror stories. Forgotten snacks, inconsolable meltdowns, diaper blowouts, and itchy insect bites are just a few of the colorful moments that turned an average overnight in the mountains into memories we won’t soon forget. 

If your determiniation to give kids a backcountry camping experience they’ll love exceeds your hesitation, here are five hacks to help you plan your next trip. 

Use a packing list

I used to be the self-proclaimed queen of over-packing. As I ruled over all of my gear domain, I attempted to fit everything but the kitchen sink into my 30L pack. Spoiler alert: you might not need eight headlamps for a family of four. I finally came to my senses and created a packing list. Create your list with each category you’ll need for your trip like sleep system, lighting, meals/snacks, clothing/layers, bug spray and sunblock, kid #1 specifics (diaper bag), kid #2 specifics (binoculars, pen/sketch pad), etc. If you want to be meticulous, gather each item, stage them, and as you pack your bag(s), check each item off the list. 

Always pack extra snacks and clothes

I’ll be the first to admit it: sometimes, the backcountry is uncomfortable. Relentless flies and hungry mosquitoes, intense heat and sudden downpours, rocky terrain and creek crossings…the list could go on. Keeping yourself and your kids prepared will help ensure everyone can enjoy the experience. On the clothing front, I always bring extra socks, rain gear and a warm layer. On the snack front, always pack more than you think you need. When someone’s mood is taking a dip because in response to the 10,000th “are we there yet”, Dad said “it’s just around the next bend” for the tenth time, definitely take a quick snack break!

Start with a shakedown trip close to home

If your family is new to camping or new to camping with kids, start with a shakedown trip. We use established campgrounds or a familiar dispersed camping area. Depending on which type of camping situation you choose, you may have some create comforts (potable water, restrooms) that may aid in familirizing the kids with the idea of packing up and sleeping outside for a weekend. 

Bring the brown beads 

Everyone has to go the dreaded “number two” – even in the woods. For some kids though, it can be indimidating. In my camp counselor days, we used beads to highlight all the activities kids participated in. As they collected beads, we built bracelets and necklaces to showcase their accomplishmEnts…including that. Having the opportunity to work towards earning a brown bead helps dismantle the uncertainty of it all. 

Have a backup plan 

We have had our fair share of crash-and-burn trips. One spring, we loaded up the truck, the dogs and the kids for a week of fly fishing the Texas coast, only to get two hours out of town and receive a call informing us that our lodging was under water and everything was blown out. Hitting the brakes and heading home was not how I intended to end that day. Rather, we assessed the situation and drove into the mountains for an unexpected camping trip instead. It’s good to have a backup plan for unexpected meltdowns, weather events, sick kids, and all the other potential reasons your trip might not turn out as you intended. 

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