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Family Backpacking: The Gear You Need

While backpacking itself can feel daunting even without kids, there is nothing like getting out in the backcountry with your family, away from the crowds.

We’ve gathered our list of must-have items for taking the family backpacking, including some of our favorites that we ourselves were surprised we needed! While this list isn’t entire exhaustive, it does cover the gear you need to get started.

If you DO want the full packing list, scroll to the end to check out our full packing list!

Want to see the full details of our latest trip to Leigh Lake? Check it out here!

Quality Well-Fitting Packs

A good pack seriously makes ALL the difference. You want backpacking to be enjoyable, not a wrestling match with a heavy load weighing you down even more than necessary thanks to a poorly-fitting back. We love Deuter for their packs that fit more body types better (and not just because we are ambassadors for them!) Here’s what everyone in our family wears:

Mtn Papa (AKA Pack Mule): He ends up carrying a large bulk of the gear so needs a pack that he can fill to to the brim. The Aircontact Pro 70 + 15 does the job well.

Me (Mama): We still have a “baby” who really can’t get many miles in on her own two feet, at least not at an enjoyable speed. So Baby rides in the Kid Comfort Pro. I fill the bottom with my gear and some food. The Kid Comfort Pro also has a detachable extra pack that I can clip on my front for hauling more gear. It’s also handy for quick-access trail food.

10 Year Old Brother: At 10, he is carrying all his gear and some of the family food too. He wears a Deuter Fox 40 pack which fits him perfectly and has plenty of room for a few day trip.

8 year old Brother: Little brother is considerably smaller, but wears a Deuter Fox 30 without issue. He is also carrying all his gear, though doesn’t have any family extras.

5 Year Old Sister: This girlie is determined, but truly is barely fitting into the Deuter Climber pack. She is on the small end, so we cinch it down good and let her haul her clothes and sleeping bag.

3 Year Old Sister: Not to be left behind, Little Sister insists on carrying a pack, but her Deuter Kikki really just has a rain jacket and snack in it.

Hiking Shoes or Boots

Since kids aren’t carrying a super heavy pack, they can get away with shoes if they’re more comfortable in them opposed to boots for necessary ankle support, but it’s a good idea to make sure they have great traction. Some of our favorite shoes are outlined in this post.

Adults carrying the heavy packs really should we wearing supportive shoes with ankle support. Ladies, we also have a full list of our favorite hiking boots here, which we update annually.

Right now we are huge fans of KEEN’s Chandler CNX and Targhee styles for hiking, playing AND backpacking.

A Pee Rag

Yep, never thought it would be on my list either. But on our last backpacking trip, all us girls had Kula Cloths and it was a total game-changer. We didn’t have to find the TP every time someone had to pee (which was often) and we weren’t having to pack it out either.

Only issue? We all had the same design – for next trip I am letting them get their own they pick so it’s easier to keep track.

We washed them out in the lake, hung them on trees to dry quickly and rested easy knowing their antimicrobial properties were going to work. They are seriously a must-have for hiking, camping and backpacking.

Sun/Rain Hats

Hats are important for coverage, rain or shine. We never leave without them and are always glad we had them. We’ve outlined our favorite kid sun hats in this post. They double up as rain hats too!

Merino Wool

Backpacking means you’re often wearing the same clothes for days on end. We choose merino + quick drying clothing whenever we can for as many layers as possible (yep, even underwear!)

This means light base layers which double as pajamas, light wool hats for cold nights/mornings, wool socks and often wool mid layers too.

Packable Rain Gear

Packable rain gear is a must because you really never know what the weather will do, especially if you’re backpacking in the mountains. We are really big fans of the Mac in a Sac jackets and pants available at Biddle & Bop (search “junior lightweight rain jacket”). They are super lightweight, pack small and are perfect for backpacking. Rain pants available too.

Head Lamps & Lights

I am of the mindset that no outdoor kid (or adult for that matter) should be without a headlamp. They’re a perfect small gift, can be used year-round and tend to hold up for a very long time. They go with us on every camping and backpacking trip and are used daily in the winter at home too.

To be honest, we each have a couple of them laying around. Most of them are under $20 and worth every penny.

There are a bazillion headlamp choices out there, but we recommend the Petzl Tikkina for the entire family. We also like the Black Diamond Wiz for kids. Willing to spend a little more? This one by Fenix is small and lightweight, yet packs a serious lumen punch.

We also haul lightweight Luci Lanterns which are solar-powered and produce great in-tent light.


Ahhhh the tent debate. It’s so tough when you have a bigger family like us to haul a big tent. For now we use and love a Moonlight 4 tent (roomy enough for all 7 of us since the kids are still little.

Realistically, we will soon be splitting into two tents to really make it work. We also use and recommend the Big Agnes Copper Spur 3. Not cheap, but one you will have forever.

Water Filter

A dependable water filter is another must-have. Again, there are a zillion choices out there, but thankfully water filters have really improved over the past couple decades (so yes, replace yours if you have an old one!)

Here are a few we recommend:

Need more help packing? Check out our printable backpacking packing list.

Use our nifty, printable packing list and download a printable PDF version over in our Outdoor Family Resource Library. Get FREE access here!

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