When it's mom and the kids first time backpacking

By Amy Eastin 

I have always wanted to go backpacking, but it seemed so daunting. I didn’t grow up outdoorsy. I was always intrigued by the idea of going on outdoor adventures, but I lacked the confidence to try much. 

 When Covid hit, my family began to get outdoors more. I started hiking with three kids, 2 years old and under. I realized I could do so much more than I thought. As my kids got older our adventures got bigger and easier. I did research on what a backpacking trip would entail and decided that it wasn’t as intimidating as I previously thought. My 5-year-old twins and I were ready for a quick, overnight, introductory backpacking trip. 

 6 year old girl heads up a hiking trail


I wanted to make sure our first trip was easy enough that we would be successful, but hard enough that we would feel proud of ourselves. I found a nature center with backpacking sites at Hitchcock Nature Center in Iowa. I booked us a site that was a 1.5 miles hike, but the trail was difficult. I appreciated the short distance, but the steep course made me feel like we’d work hard to get to the site. 

 The site also didn’t have any water sources. This meant we had to carry in all of our water which added a lot of weight. Although we didn’t have to filter water, carrying it all was an additional challenge. 

 I tried to keep things as easy as possible on myself. I packed only MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) or dehydrated meals for us to make cooking easy. I brought bars for snacks and instant coffee. Staying only one night made the packing easier as well. 

 My husband stayed home with my 2-year-old son, but a friend joined us. She carried the tent since I carried most of our water and supplies for me and my 5-year-old twins. It was nice to have her help to set up camp and company after my twins were asleep. 

 Author Amy Eastin holding both her girls backpacks while also wearing hers

I knew my twins could carry between 5-15% of their body weight. They are just under 40 lbs each. I had each of them carry their Climber pack, two-pound sleeping bag, and a raincoat for a total weight of just under four pounds. 

 I used an online checklist to make sure I had everything I needed. I treated our clothes and gear with permethrin and got a paper map for us to hike with in case I didn’t have phone service. My Aircontact Core 45 pack was the perfect size. It fit great and distributed the weight well. 

 The trip: 

Our trip was short, which was exactly what I wanted for my first time. We left in the morning on a Saturday and drove three hours to Hitchcock Nature Center. When we arrived, ate a picnic lunch, and used modern facilities for the last time. 

 It took us about 2 hours to hike 1.5 miles with frequent stops. When we got to camp there were 360-degree views. It was stunning. They definitely called this site High Point for a reason! We ate a snack and rested for a while before setting up camp. Luckily, my kids are great at entertaining themselves in nature. Being twins, they always have a playmate, and they are endlessly entertained by simple things like flowers or seeing how fast they can run down a hill. They were happy. 

 View of the campsite

We made dinner and watched the sunset. When I told my twins it was time for bed, they crawled in their sleeping bags in their clothes and put themselves to bed. I tried to encourage them to change and brush their teeth, but they were too tired. They fell asleep instantly and slept soundly through a very windy night with light rain. 

 In the morning it was a little chilly and was sprinkling, but our raincoats kept us warm and dry. We watched the tail end of the sunrise, made breakfast, packed up, and headed back. We were worried it was going to rain more, but, surprisingly, it turned into a beautiful day. 

 We decided to hike back a different way. It was 2 miles long, but the steep sections were broken up and not quite as intense. With far less water in my pack, the walk back was much easier. It took us about 1.5 hours. It was a quick, easy intro trip, but exactly what we needed for our first time.

 One of Amy's daughters takes a break along the trail

How to make backpacking fun for kids: 

It is very important to me that my kids enjoy our adventures. I don’t want them to look back and think about how awful it was when their mom dragged them into the woods. I also know that backpacking is more like type-two fun than actual fun. Type-two fun is when something isn’t as enjoyable in the moment, but it is something you look back on as fun. 

 6 year old girl is waving next to flowers that match her pack

Here’s what I did to help keep it entertaining for them: 

  • Frequent breaks when requested: Although our hike was short, we stopped a lot. My kids are less interested with the destination than they are with bugs, plants, rocks, and drawing in dirt. We stopped a lot to do those things. I planned our trip so that they would have lots of time to do what they liked and we wouldn’t be rushed. 
  • I carried their pack when requested: My twins don’t usually hike with packs. I knew it would be an adjustment for them. I did want them to carry their packs for at least part of the trip, but if they got tired, I would give them a 5 minute break and carry it for them. 
  • I made sure they were proud of themselves: Each time we did a steep section, I reminded them how strong they were. When we got to the top of the hill, I asked them if they could believe how far and high they had walked. I told them this was my first ever backpacking trip as an adult, but here they were doing it at five-years-old. I could tell they knew this was something big and that they were proud of themselves for accomplishing it. 

 Amy and her daughters view the sunset

Would I do it again? 

Absolutely! Even my twins said they wanted to do it again. I don’t think I will be through-hiking the Appalachian Trail anytime soon, but I do have aspirations of an annual family backpacking trip. When my kids can carry more weight, I would love to try a multi-day trip. 

 I’m planning my next trip for the fall with two of my friends. We will be hiking a longer distance and filtering water. It will be their first backpacking trip. I’m excited to share what I know with them and embark on this adventure again. 

Packs used: 

Amy - Aircontact Core 45+10 SL

The Twins - Climber

You can follow Amy's adventures on IG @everydayoutdoorfamily

Amy and her 6 year old daughters pose for a photo


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