Backpacking Made Easy

To make your kids' first backpacking trip one to remember, keep it simple, short, and light.

BACKPACKING LETS YOU access great fishing and hunting, but start slow. There's enough gear to fuss with just keeping everyone warm and fed, and a bad trip will throw up roadblocks for years. Here are a few tips to guarantee happy campers before, during, and after you hit the trail.

[Before] DON'T LOAD THEM DOWN. Limit a pack's weight to no more than one-quarter of a child's body weight. For a 70-pound kid, that's about 18 pounds. There are points of honor to consider, however, so let them pack their own clothes and sleeping bags. Knowing that they're carrying their own weight, so to speak, gives them an incentive to work through the inherent discomfort of backpacking.

PACK A COOL TOY. On my last backpacking trip with my son, Jack, and one of his pals, I snuck a pair of high-tech slingshots into my pack and broke them out late one day when the boys were getting antsy. They provided enough entertainment to keep them occupied for a couple of hours.

[During] MINIMIZE MILEAGE. No matter the quality of your gear or how fit you are, backpacking is less than comfortable. Dial down the distance, and try to arrange a base-camp trip if you're lugging around rods or guns. Jack and I logged 10.7 miles during a two-night loop. That left plenty of time for side hikes, long lunches, and late nights around the fire.

BUILD A MINI FIRE. Kids love to help build campfires, but when I'm cold, tired, and hungry, I'm ready to get a fire roaring'not a teachable moment. Then I had an idea: Let them build their own fire. Build a miniature fire ring adjacent to the main blaze, and the kids can have at it.

[After] MAKE THE MEMORIES LAST. Many online photo services such as Snapfish.com offer easy DIY memory book designs. For $12, I laid out a 20-page photo book of our backpacking trip. Jack's already told me that he's looking forward to showing it to his own kids one day. Pass it on.

GEAR TIP: Pint-Size Pack

Proportionally shaped and sized for younger bodies, the Mountainsmith Youth Scout pack ($90; mountainsmith.com) has modern features like sternum straps and a dual-density foam hip belt. Quick-release straps on the slightly retro external frame make it easy to attach a bulky kid's sleeping bag. There are lots of pockets for access to snacks.

-- T.E.N.

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