Tips for Backcountry Camping with Kids

Camping in the backcountry can be a great adventure for families. Here, an expert with the U.S. Forest Service offers safety tips and things to do on your trip.

Do you ever wish you could unplug from the stress of everyday life?

Backcountry camping — camping in a remote or undeveloped area with no modern facilities or vehicle access — could be just the activity to help you relax and reconnect with both nature and your family.

But while camping in the backcountry can be a fun getaway for grown-ups and kids, it can also be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, so we spoke with Lindsey Lewis, the acting strategic communication program manager with the U.S. Forest Service Eastern Region, to find out how families can go backcountry camping safely and responsibly.

The benefits of backcountry camping

According to Lewis, backcountry camping allows families to break up the daily grind and experience new things out in nature.

“Backcountry camping offers an opportunity for families to get out of their normal routines and connect with nature — to not have access to tech, and in some cases not even have access to cell coverage, and really connect and enjoy being together in the great outdoors,” the mom of two says.

And because campers typically can’t access the internet, it’s also an opportunity for kids to try new hobbies such as journaling, drawing, wildlife identification and even foraging.

In some lucky cases, it even gives kids the chance to see animals they may have never otherwise seen.

Preparing for the backcountry

No child is too young or too old to go backcountry camping with their parents, but it does depend on the child’s comfort level and their parents’ experience.

“Really young babies can go camping; my husband and I took our daughter camping at 5 months old and it was great because my husband and I are comfortable,” Lewis says. “It’s really up to the parents to make that decision, but you don’t want to take the kids into the backcountry if they are really little and you don’t have the experience yourself.”

Families who choose to tackle the backcountry should start camping a day or two at a time and should familiarize themselves with the area where they are camping before they head out.

“Do some research on the trip and the route that you will take, have locations of access to water and make sure you have a printed map,” Lewis adds.

When packing, remember the essentials such as water, food (that doesn’t smell), extra clothing, a first aid kit, multipurpose tools, sunscreen, bug spray, a flashlight, a hat, a tent, a sleeping bag and cooking utensils.

It’s also important to choose a pack that fits your and your child’s needs. Younger kids can carry a regular backpack, but adults and older kids should have a heavy-duty backpack that can be worn for a longer period.

“If a pack is going to carry any weight, I would really suggest a pack that not only has a belt strap but a chest strap too,” Lewis says. “Those range really cheap or you can get heavy-duty gear for your kid.”

You should also consider your child’s specific needs when planning for your camping trip. Bring along any stuffed animals they need to sleep with and make sure you have the proper equipment to carry younger kids who can’t make it through the entire hike.

Plus, check if you’re allowed to have a fire in the area you’re camping in and what the weather will be like so that you can pack accordingly.

Camping in the backcountry

Once you’ve hiked to the area you’re camping in, set up your tent and store any food away from your sleeping area to prevent wildlife from getting into it.

Talk to your child about any tripping hazards you notice and remind them to watch for ticks, to stay away from water — especially fast-moving water — and not to eat anything they don’t recognize as it could be toxic.

If you do find yourself in an emergency, it’s always best to call 911 either with your phone (if you have coverage) or at the trail head.

Beyond that, Lewis suggests keeping an open itinerary and let your child explore the area with you.

“Don’t stick too heavily to plans, but be aware of your own expectations and keep in mind what the kids want to see or do,” she says. “When you’re in the backcountry, in the woods, nature is a playground and part of the experience of being in the backcountry with kids is to let nature be their playground.”

For more information, visit the U.S. Forest Service’s website.

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