Solo Backpacking with Kids

Solo Backpacking with Kids

Embarking on a backpacking adventure with children is an exciting experience in itself, but when you add the element of being a solo parent, it becomes truly remarkable. Solo parent backpacking involves venturing into unfamiliar territory, immersing yourself and your children in the beauty of nature, and navigating the challenges and rewards that come with it. 

It’s a journey that requires courage, adaptability, and a sense of adventure. The bond that forms between a solo parent and their children during these adventures is unlike any other. Together you’ll be creating lasting memories and instilling a sense of resilience in both yourself and your children.

Three children holding hands with backpacks and down jackets on, with mountains and the ocean in the background

We hope this post serves as a valuable resource for solo parents and single parents who are considering or planning a backpacking adventure with their children. Here, we hope you’ll find guidance, practical tips, and inspirational stories to help you navigate the unique challenges and opportunities that solo parent backpacking presents.

From selecting child-friendly destinations and packing efficiently to managing safety concerns and creating engaging experiences, this guide aims to give you the knowledge and confidence to go out on your own unforgettable adventures with your children.

Whether you are a seasoned traveler or a beginner, we hope this guide encourages you to get out with your children. So, pack your bags, gather your courage, and get ready to go out on an extraordinary adventure that will undoubtedly shape the lives of both you and your children in the most remarkable ways.

A mom and three children in a tent in a wooded area

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Benefits of Backpacking Solo with Kids

Connection with Nature

Embarking on solo parent backpacking trips with kids not only provides a challenging and exciting adventure but also offers numerous benefits.  Being immersed in nature allows children to develop a deep appreciation for the environment, as they witness its beauty, diversity, and intricate ecosystems.  These trips also offer unique opportunities for outdoor education, where kids can learn about different plant and animal species, geological formations, and environmental conservation. 

Three children sit by a lake in the sunshine

By engaging in hands-on experiences and exploration, children gain a greater understanding of the natural world and develop a lifelong connection to nature. Solo parent backpacking trips create valuable moments of growth and learning for both parent and child fostering a love for the environment.

Backpacking as a solo endeavor also lends a lot of flexibility in schedule, and you can backpack throughout the year in a variety of weather and seasonal conditions. There are wonderful things to explore in seasons other than summer, and having the confidence to start taking a trip without scheduling with a partner opens up a whole new world of experiences.

Strengthening Family Bonds

One of the remarkable benefits of exploring nature as a family is the opportunity to create stronger parent-child and sibling relationships. Engaging in shared experiences within the beauty of the natural world allows families to connect on a deeper level.

Nature provides a unique setting where parents and children can bond together through exploration, learning, and adventure. Whether it’s counting flowers, throwing rocks in a creek, or simply observing wildlife together, these experiences create lasting memories and facilitate meaningful connections. 

Three children with backpacks on huddle around some sand on a trail and explore it
Anna’s children explore some sand on the trail

Backpacking trips, in particular, offer countless bonding moments where family members are truly reliant on one another. From setting up tents as a team to preparing meals over a campfire, these activities require collaboration and communication. Children thrive on being helpful; both with individual and shared camp chores build their confidence.

Through these shared challenges and triumphs, families build trust, resilience, and a sense of togetherness. Even the most challenging trips create memories that become cherished stories strengthening the family bond and create a lasting foundation of love and adventure.

A child setting up a tent on a ridgeline in the autumn

While the challenges will feel hard at the time, especially if you have several challenges occurring at once and only one adult to sort it all out, these will often be the experiences that you’ll truly bond over and remember for years. Some of your “best memories” may be the things that went wrong. When you’re visibly outnumbered, children are even more likely to jump in and take the initiative to help.

Personal Growth for Parents

Solo parenting in the wilderness can have a transformative effect on parents because it provides a unique opportunity for self-reflection and personal growth. Being solely responsible for the well-being of yourself and your children in an unfamiliar and potentially challenging environment fosters an increased sense of self-confidence. Through navigating the wilderness, parents develop a deep trust in their own abilities and resourcefulness, which translates into everyday life. 

Anna can clearly handle all her children on her own! It’s thanks to all that Solo Backpacking experience!

Additionally, solo parenting in the wilderness builds resilience and adaptability. Facing unexpected situations and overcoming obstacles in a remote setting strengthens your ability to bounce back from adversity and adapt to changing circumstances. These experiences, especially the most challenging of trips, ultimately foster a stronger and more confident sense of self.

If you’re used to having a partner to parent with, you may feel some loneliness or isolation at first, or some hesitation about doing it on your own. But once you get the hang of it you’ll find it fosters your independence even when you’re back home with your partner.

Un-Partnered Parents in the Backcountry

For parents who operate without a partner on a regular basis, you’re used to doing things yourself! You don’t have someone you can call in to help if your children are having conflicting needs, and it’s exhausting. So take that strength and turn it into your backpacking superpower!

Even if it’s not something you’ve done in the past, it will restore and heal you in ways you can’t imagine (and we can all use a little nature healing, no matter how great we’re doing). When you’re physically isolated in the backcountry the overwhelming thoughts and tasks of everyday life are stripped away. While you’re more accurately “alone” (except for those kiddos of course), you’ll feel so much less so because the burdens of modern life don’t feel as heavy. 

You can just BE, and can focus all your energy on the NOW and none of the endless what ifs and to do lists. Single parents are excellent multi-taskers, but it’s really taxing on your mind and body. Intentionally living in the present is easier in nature, and it’s a truly awesome way to spend family time – just be in it together and fully present.

A mom and her three kids in rain gear with misty mountains and a trail in the background.
Kristin and her kids enjoying a rainy start to what was to be a super rainy but awesome trip.

Kids pick up on everything, and being able to adventure hard with your kids will open their eyes to what you (and by extension, they – or any single person) can do! You’ll all have more camp chores to do than you would with another adult, but it feels great to embrace that and everyone steps up.

Forming a strong bond with your children is important for every parent, and for children that have separate parents or households it’s essential to make that bond as strong as you can to make sure they still feel secure. Backpacking with kids highlights this bond by setting aside significant and continuous time where all your attention is hyper-focused on just being with them!

Screentime Tip: Use your phone only for pictures. If you happen to have service where you’re backpacking, use airplane mode and pretend you don’t have service, it will truly help you be more present.

Planning a Solo Backpacking Trip

Choosing the Right Destination

When it comes to planning a family-friendly backpacking trip, choosing the right destination is crucial. Several considerations should be taken into account to ensure an enjoyable and safe experience for everyone involved. 

Considering the skill levels and ages of the children is essential. Trails range from easy trails suitable for young children to more challenging routes for older kids and teenagers, make sure to pick the one that fits your families experience level. Taking the time to carefully select the right destination will ensure that the backpacking trip becomes a memorable adventure for the entire family.

If you’re completely new to backpacking, start out small. You can even start in the backyard to double check your packing list, but still pack for everyone as if you were going on a trip. Make note of items you didn’t use, or wish you had packed.

Then for your first few trips, plan a destination close to home with a hike-in that is less than a mile over easy terrain. 

Three white children in colorful clothes and packs stand on a boardwalk
Kristin’s kids on a favorite backpacking trip that’s only one mile long, and has fun boardwalks

Alltrails is a great app to get details about a trail. Many areas will have local websites that will give trail reports, like Alaska Trails, Washington Trails Association, or BLM White Mountains. Search for ones in your area and read the description of the hikes and look at topo maps if available. Additionally, check out Facebook groups for hiking and backpacking in your area, you’ll often find up to date information about trail conditions and hazards.

Once you get more familiar with backpacking, you can use Google Earth to scout out new locations to backpack. You can also pull up GIS parcel viewers to check land ownership where you’re heading. 

Remember to keep in mind the area you’ll pitch your tent on if you don’t have a free-standing tent. Bring appropriate tent stakes, or use rocks to secure your tent.

A child stands in front of a tent on a beach, with ocean and mountains in the background.

Essential Gear and Equipment

Anna and Kristin laid out their gear for a typical overnight backpacking trip. Anna is backpacking with four children (ages 1, 3, 4, and 6), and Kristin is backpacking with three children (ages 5, 7, and 9). Your gear will vary based on your environment, preferences, and your children’s particular ages and needs. Also read all about everything you will need for family backpacking in our post here.

1. Anna’s Family Packing List

Photo of three white children in colorful clothing and backpacking gear standing on a log and smiling.

With a little one who doesn’t walk yet, who we affectionally referred to as our “dead weight”, my pack weight plus baby is always more than the recommended 10 to 15%.  Due to this extra weight, I try to be really careful about the way that I pack my load, about how I cross water, and that I make sure to wear thick supportive hiking boots even if I prefer to wear my trail runners so I get the extra ankle support. 

My pack is already weighed down and filled to the max so my 6-year-old gets a lot more gear than she probably should.  I have loads of mom guilt about that but then I look at how enthusiastic she is and how well she tackles the trail.  I use her as my gauge and try to leave the mom guilt behind as much as I can.  She is our true leader. We take breaks when she needs it and we listen to her body.

Unlike Kristin, I would say I’m a minimalist packer whenever I can be.  We don’t bring any extra “fun” items and I truly view the items we do pack as multiple use.  My kiddos have hiked out in their Morrison outdoor sleeping bags still on but unzipped from the bottom so they could walk when it was cold.

Anna’s (Mom) Pack Gregory Deva 80 Pro: total weight with baby free loader – 60lbs
Backpacking gear from an adult's backpack laid out on the floor
Bigs Pack: total weight – 8 lbs
Backpacking gear from a child's pack laid out on the floor
Big Middle Pack: total weight – 4lbs

My sweet middle boy has sensory processing disorder so he will only eat crunchy foods and certain protein shakes. This makes packing his food very difficult and I was only able to start backpacking with him when he was able to carry some of his own food weight.

Backpacking gear from a child's pack laid out on the floor
  • Puffer Jacket
  • Crunchy Snacks – Hippeas were his favorite (Disclaimer: we work closely with his occupational therapist, feeding specialist, and dietician to make sure he gets all the nutrients he needs through, foods, protein shakes, and liquid vitamins)
  • Protein Shake
  • Water Bottle
Little Middle Pack: total weight – 1.2lbs
Backpacking gear from a small child's pack laid out on the floor

Baby – My one year old is not walking yet and rode happily in the Trail Magik carrier attached to my pack.

2. Kristin’s Family Packing List

A mom and her children in rain gear and backpacks, with a lake and glacier in the background.

I am very much not a minimalist backpacker at this stage, because I really don’t mind carrying extra weight. When we are out for several days we always have a book and a deck of cards, at minimum. I did not weigh the packs for this packing list/photos, but generally aim to carry around 40-50lbs, depending on how much water needs to be carried.

We adventure in Alaska, and almost always need to bring rain gear and down jackets, as it gets cold at night even in summer. Extra socks are a must, and for multiday trips I bring a lot of these.

It’s a good rule to aim to carry no more than 15-20% of your body weight, but for a 50lb child that 10lbs is going to get used up fast! The pack that my 55lbs 9 year old carries is 2lbs10oz empty, so I plan for them to carry bulky things that don’t make the weight go up too fast when possible.

When packing, start with the large things. I try to give myself the heaviest things, and the things (like sleeping bags) that I can compress down so that they actually do feel really heavy for their size. Sleeping bags and the bear can take up the majority of my pack. I always carry all the water because it’s heavy.

Our tent is very lightweight, but for a child it will still be the major thing in their pack, so I try to balance that out with lighter things like rain gear and puffy jackets. The sleeping pads take up most of the space in my middle child’s 38L pack, so I just fit rain jackets and whatever other little things I can in there, trying to not add much weight.

Different children will be able to comfortably carry different amounts of weight. The most I’ve put in my oldest’s pack is 18lbs, and it was too much; but if I have him carry 12lbs he has an overabundance of energy and flies down the trail like he has no pack on. He says his ideal weight is around 14lbs.

Kristin’s (Mom) Pack (Osprey Ariel Plus 85)
Photo of the contents of a parent's backpack laid out on a blanket
Example first aid kit, with extras pulled out.
Zane’s (9) Pack (REI Tarn 40):
Eliza’s (7) Pack (Osprey Ace 38):
Contents of a 7yo's pack laid out on a blanket
Aurora’s (5) Pack (Osprey HydraJet 12):

We have had a ton of multi-day trips where it does not stop pouring the whole time, so it’s nice to have a game and a book to retreat into the tent with. For a quick overnight, you can skip extras like this and just play in your environment, but they’re really helpful for when morale starts to get low on multi-day challenging-weather trips.

Two children playing games in a tent on a rainy day.
Choosing your Tent

I have owned quite a few tents, and think you can really make most tents work if you have to. I’ve used a number of different arrangements to get myself and three children into a 2-person backpacking tent, but usually use 3- or 4-person options.

A woman and three children sleeping in a tent, one child is above the heads of the other family members.
A unique configuration that worked for a time, the littlest child sleeping up by everyone’s heads in a 2-person backpacking tent.

Sometimes with more children having a tent that’s too spacious can lead to children “going horizontal”, and kicking you in the ribs all night, and falling between the cracks of their sleep pads. I prefer a cozier tent to one with too much space, but your preferences may differ here, depending on how much you like to snuggle.

Warm Gear

My family lives in Alaska, and will be packing much more than you would in a more gentle climate. Sometimes depending on the weather forecast I’ll throw in an extra down quilt, to be used in the tent or on the beach. Every time I bring it, we use it.

A child in a tent is wrapped in a large orange quilt to warm up
Warming up in the text after a blustery day on a beach in Alaska

Solo Backpacking Safety

Prioritizing safety is paramount when backpacking as a single adult with children. Thorough safety preparations and risk assessments are crucial to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Before setting off, it is essential to research and familiarize oneself with the destination’s potential hazards, such as wildlife encounters, extreme weather conditions, or challenging terrains. 

It’s helpful to have completed a trail without kids first so you’re aware of the potential challenges that may arise. Trail reports are often not written with children in mind, and it will give you peace of mind to know what awaits you without relying on (often inaccurate) mileage and trail reports. If that’s not possible, have a bail-out plan. 

The first time Kristin did a trip that included crossing a large stream on boulders, her bail-out plan was just to make it a shorter trip and camp before the boulder field if it proved too difficult for the youngest child. It ended up being doable; Kristin went across with the children’s packs so they didn’t have to worry about balancing with a different center of gravity than they’re used to, but kids typically have excellent balance and it was probably easier for them than for most adults.

Pack appropriate safety gear, including first aid supplies, emergency blankets, and navigation tools. Make sure to create a detailed itinerary and share it with a trusted friend or family member, indicating the planned routes and estimated timelines. 

Carry a fully charged cell phone (and a charging cable), a satellite communication device, a whistle for signaling in case of emergencies (many backpacks include this on the chest clip), and an extra battery bank. Establishing a communication plan with the designated emergency contacts, setting regular check-in times, and informing them about the trip’s progress is crucial. Being well-prepared and having effective emergency communication strategies in place ensures everyone stays safe.

Trip Duration and Itinerary

When planning your trip it’s essential to take into account the age and physical capabilities of your children and your own physical abilities. Younger kids typically require shorter hiking distances and more frequent breaks, while older ones can handle longer hikes.  Make sure to also check the difficulty level of the terrain.  A hiking trail may be short but have tricky river crossings or a steep incline. 

Remember the goal here is to have fun, not to always be pushing the limits of how far and fast everyone can go. If you plan a trip at the edge of someone’s capability, you increase the chances that it will be difficult for all of you. Children also do not increase mileage at a steady rate, sometimes they’ll go through seasons where they are less eager hikers, so it’s helpful to back off the mileage and keep the enjoyment high.

Checking weather conditions and the availability of camping sites or accommodations along the way also play a crucial role in trip planning. To pace yourself appropriately, it’s advisable to start with shorter distances and gradually increase the daily mileage as your children adapt to the demands of backpacking. 

Three backpackers stand in front of misty mountains

Choose routes with diverse landscapes and interesting attractions to keep your children engaged and excited, Anna’s little boys love any trails with bridges. Balancing challenging sections with easier portions can help maintain motivation. Additionally, incorporating activities like swimming in lakes or fishing can make the journey more enjoyable for your kids

Let the kids stop to explore anything they want, or take breaks when they want them. Don’t have a rigid schedule or a small window when you have to be at a certain mileage, let the kids set the pace.

Tips for a Successful Solo Parent Backpacking Trip

Pack a Few Days Ahead

If you’re new to backpacking, give yourself the gift of time. Don’t force a stressful last-minute scramble! Pack a few days ahead of time so you can perfect your packing list and see if there’s anything you’re missing, or things that need to be charged or refilled.

Four full backpacks sit on a bench, one black, two blue, and one red.

Managing Expectations

Maintaining realistic expectations and maintaining a flexible mindset are key to ensuring a smooth backpacking trip. It’s important to understand that traveling with children means adapting to their needs and limitations. Expect to travel at a much slower pace than you normally do – it took Anna’s little crew 3 hrs to travel 2 miles with minimal elevation gain, and Kristin likes to plan for around one mile an hour. Often you will be faster, but there is no need to be. Embrace the journey, not just the destination. 

Throw away the idea that you need to move fast and instead seize the excellent opportunity for children to explore and learn about the world around them. By setting realistic expectations and being flexible, you and your children can make the most out of this unique adventure.

A woman helps a child cross a log while carrying a baby on her front and backpack on her back

Age-Appropriate Activities and Challenges

Engaging children in nature-inspired scavenger hunts or simple games along the trail can keep their curiosity piqued. iSpy is a favorite game, and kids have such sharp eyes for details. Kristin’s kids played this game in a desert landscape where there didn’t appear to be much variety and the game went on for easily an hour!

Another favorite trail game for Kristin and her kids is storytelling. Kristin starts telling a story, usually loosely connected to the trip but with more magical components. Each child usually picks a magical animal before we start (a giant elk, pegasus, flying beaver…) and then Kristin makes up the story as everyone is walking about all of us and our magical animals out on the trail. The children add in details as they want, and everyone takes turns adding and telling pieces of the story. It really makes the time fly by!

Anna’s kiddos like to play the animal letter game.  The first person names an animal and then the person going next needs to think of an animal that starts with the same letter the first one ended with.  This game lasted for an hour and was a great way to practice letter sounds.

Older kids may enjoy more strenuous hikes or even bringing their own tent to stay in, giving them a taste of independence and responsibility. Introducing them to navigation skills, such as reading maps or using a compass, can also add a sense of excitement and achievement to their journey. Fire starting is an important skill and can be safely started from a young age with appropriate precautions. Bringing whittling knives for kids to play with around camp is also a favorite activity.

Meal Planning and Nutrition

You’ll want to make sure that everyone has a good hearty meal before hitting the trail. A good sustaining breakfast, and then if there’s a bit of a drive to the destination pack sandwiches and fresh fruits and veggies which everyone can eat in the car before arriving at the trailhead.

Here are some examples of food Anna and Kristin packed for a one-night trip with 3-4 children. It’s always a good idea to bring more than you think you’ll need, the extra weight in food will definitely feel better than anyone feeling hungry during the trip! Always throw in at least one meal-type emergency ration.

Remember that you’ll all probably eat more than you would on a regular day at home. High calorie snacks are great, making sure you have enough fats and protein to keep you going. And food always tastes better in the backcountry :).

A baby in a front carrier wearing a pink hat and shirt enjoying a snack
Anna’s youngest enjoying a trail snack

For trips spanning multiple days you can bring more standard lunch items for the in-between days when you aren’t hiking and eating on the move. Having a charcuterie board type lunch works well, hard cheeses like parmesan travel well, and make a really easy yummy meal when paired with some cured meat, nuts, and dried fruits.

Anna likes having a cooler (read more about our favorite coolers in our Best Coolers for Camping post) with meals ready to go for each kid packed into Bentgo boxes to eat on the ride home.  This also allows Anna to get all the gear put back into the vehicle while her kiddos are safely buckled into carseats and munching on lunch.

What Anna Packed:

  • Pinnacle Foods – Herb Roasted Chicken and White Cheddar Dumplings Hands down the best dehydrated meal I have ever had
  • AlpineAire – Forever Young Mac and Cheese A kid favorite
  • Power Crunch Bars (8) – the only crunchy protein bars that my big middle will eat and they taste great.  These were our lunch out and our lunch back.
  • Dino Bars (8) – very nutrient dense and amazingly clean ingredient list
  • ZBar (3)
  • Apple Sauce – we prefer this brand to get a little extra calories and omega 3s
  • Rice Crispy Treats – I used these as a camp treats for everyone to eat while I set up the tent. Ours were left over from valentines day
  • Bribery Treats – Swedish Fish, Skittles, and M&Ms.  When kids got tired I would give out single skittles for making little accomplishments like making it to the top of a hill.
  • Electrolyte Mix – or camp juice as my kids refer to it.  We never have any juice or pop at home so an electrolyte mix in a water bottle is a fun treat while backpacking and a great way to encourage little kids to drink more water.
  • Top Ramen – Emergency ramen for if we took longer than expected or got stuck another day.  We didn’t end up eating it.

What Kristin Packed:

Food and a bear can laid out on a blanket
  • Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy breakfast
  • Hot chocolate packets (kids) and Tea (mom)
  • LARAbars
  • ZBars
  • Packaroons (These are made locally to us and they are delicious and filling! They have lots of flavors but it’s hard to beat the taste and consistency of the Sweet Coconut).
  • Snickers (We usually have one for each of us per day, but were running a little low so mom didn’t get one here. On a very strenuous hike, we’ll have several or a large size one for everyone.)
  • Peanut Butter Pretzels (Easy packable mess-free substitute for a PB sandwich)
  • Jerky (Treat this as emergency food, we often don’t need to eat them but sometimes everyone is more hungry and it’s nice to have)
  • PeakRefuel dinners (We’ve just recently gotten to the point where the 4 of us will split two meals for dinner. Sometimes we’ll stagger them and eat one together and then the other a few hours later, but usually we’ll make them at the same time. For many years when the kids were younger we’d do fine sharing just one of these two-serving meals.

Kids go through seasons when they’re more picky than others, but generally they’ll be a little less picky in the backcountry when they know they don’t have a ton of options. However, it’ll make your day go smoother if there are smiles and shouts of hooray when they see what’s for dinner!

Three children holding their dinner of chicken pesto pasta up with smiles, mountains in background

Hydration is important too, and some extras go a long way here. On shoulder season or rainy trips, throw in more hot chocolate, and bring a dedicated insulated thermos to put it in (that thermos stays with the bear can, not in the tent). Also LMNT salts for hydration (Kristin doesn’t go anywhere without these).

Hydration essentials like water filter and bottles laid out on a blanket

Ensuring that your little ones are well-nourished throughout your backpacking trip can be a challenge. To make the experience enjoyable for both you and your children, it’s crucial to plan nutritious meals and snacks. Take regular snack breaks to avoid trail meltdowns that are caused by hunger, having just a small snack periodically does so much to boost morale!

Anna loves making sure she has special treats in the car to eat on the way home after our trip is finished as hiking motivation, and Kristin and her kids always go for ice cream on the way home from a big trip.

Begin by selecting lightweight food options that are easy to carry and provide essential nutrients. Consider dehydrated meals, energy bars, dried fruits, and nuts as they are lightweight and packed with nutrients.   

Favorite Foods Lists

Snacks are SO important that we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorites! When backpacking we usually don’t do an official “lunch”, but just eat a variety of energy snacks as needed. Some of our kid-favorite Camp Snacks include:

Dehydrated meals are on the pricier side, but they’re one of Kristin’s favorite parts of camping. When it’s time to eat, all you need to do is boil water and wait ~10 minutes and it’s done and everyone loves it. 

Buying meals you know you and your kids will like in bulk will help save a little money, REI gives you 10% off when you buy 10 or more “meals”, and same discount if you buy 10 or more “snacks”. (Note: this is the same amount you’d end up getting back with your REI Dividend if you’re a member, but it’s nice to save something upfront).

Many brands like Peak Refuel have discounted bundles of meals, but you don’t have a lot of choice about what you get, and we’re rather picky about the things we love and are willing to pay a little more to always have our favorites.

Kristin’s kids’ thumbs showing their approval

Mountain House sells some of their meals in 10# cans, but the savings are not significant. (example: instead of paying $2.20/ounce for the pre-packaged meals, you get them for $2.17/ounce in the big can and then have to divide it up yourself – some of the flavors have slightly better savings, but it’s essentially negligible as far as I’m concerned and you’ll do better with REI’s bulk discounts).

Some of our favorite backpacking meals include:

Involve your children in meal preparation to make them feel connected and excited about the food they eat. Assign age-appropriate tasks such as washing fruits, assembling sandwiches, or mixing trail mixes. Not only will this lighten your load but it will also instill a sense of responsibility and independence in your little ones. 

When it’s time to filter water, have that be the children’s task as well. This is something children typically love to do, because it provides something that the group needs to survive and they can do it all by themselves from a young age!

Two children filtering water while sitting on a large rock in the middle of a stream on a sunny day

Overcoming Challenges When Solo Backpacking

Sleep

One of the biggest worries for people new to backpacking is lack of sleep. In the early years with young children, this may definitely be a challenge. But you may find that your kids sleep hard after a full day on the trail! You can keep some of your home bedtime rituals the same, or think up some fun new at-camp ones.

Two small children sleeping in a tent in wearable sleeping bags.

Isolation

Acknowledge and think through the potential challenges of solo parenting in remote locations. There will be some unique challenges when you’re the only adult for several miles and are juggling multiple children’s needs at once. Most of them will be associated with risk, food, and pooping (TMM Team Member Sarah wrote a great post that covers pooping here!).

For small children or children new to the backcountry, this could include time-sensitive tasks like taking kids to the bathroom. And when you’re backpacking, you don’t have a bathroom, so you’re taking them to dig a hole in an appropriate place. For this reason, always keep your “poo kit” in the same place in your backpack, and have everything you need all together. You shouldn’t have to go looking through your pack to find your shovel, TP, wet wipes, used TP bag, and hand sanitizer! 

Kristin likes to keep the poo kit inside a ziploc bag that’s covered in strips of duct tape, and keep the roll of toilet paper, some wipes, and hand sanitizer inside. Inside I’ll also have a separate ziploc that will hold all the used wipes, and then that bag can be thrown away after the trip and the outer duct-tape covered bag can be saved for future trips.

If possible, have a satellite communicator. The subscriptions are worth the money; pay for it yearly and just budget it in your “insurance” category as if it’s part of health insurance. Check in/out with a partner or friend at home before and after a trip, and if it’s a long trip check in periodically. Also make sure you have a first aid kit, and protection from animals if needed (bear spray, snake bite kit, bug spray, etc.).

The need for food or snacks is something you’ll want to stay ahead of. If everyone is suddenly extremely hungry, there will be more tension and crankiness. Counter this by involving them in the prep. It can be nice to do simple and easy camp food for this reason, but if the kids love to be more creative with their camp meals we have some tips for you here!

Behavior Management

For young children and babies:

There will need to be an amount of vigilance in the backcountry if you have younger children, especially children who mouth objects (i.e. like eating rocks). With you being the only adult and having to have your eyes on that young child constantly may seem like too much work, if it’s the only thing you’re having to do it’s delightful. But if you also have a toddler or other child, you’ll need to try engaging them both in the same activity. While setting up the tent or cooking food Anna likes to put her biggest kid “in charge”.  She loves being the boss and it makes it easier for Anna to accomplish camp chores.

Boundary-testing is going to happen, and just be firm about what the rules are, and explain why. “We are going to stay in the field and not approach the river over there, but we are free to play anywhere out here.” Many young children will not be able to stop themselves from certain things, and having rules means also enforcing those rules kindly but firmly. “I can’t let you eat these rocks, we’re going to go play on the grass (or in the tent) for a while.”

This is an age group where you want to decide whether you want to go ultra light, or bring some extras like a little game or teething rings/mouthing toys. When Kristin had children under 4 she’d regularly have a fun toy hanging off her backpack, because when you have large packs and carabiners there is always more room for some favorite toys. Anna’s children have always been super happy to play with rocks and stick or climb up and jump off tree stumps for hours and you can save the extra weight for essentials.

Trip planning comes into play here too. Don’t pick a rocky trail that leads to a cliff for a backpacking destination with young children. Pick somewhere that the kids will be free to explore without limitations. A shallow pond destination is much better than a glacial river (both for your kids and your/their ability to easily filter water). 

Three children walking off down a trail into the woods wearing backpacks
For older children and teens:

Behavior doesn’t come out of nowhere, it comes from needs not being met. One of the most wonderful parts of backpacking with your kids is being fully present, and being able to anticipate those needs because there aren’t any distractions. Focus on proactively building trust and camaraderie with each other.

When children feel useful they are confident and happy. Dive right into that and work together at camp tasks and you’ll find everyone will just want to get along, because cooperation is a child’s natural state. That is, when they’re not testing boundaries, which is also an important task for them.

For older kids a deck of cards may be the only extra you’ll need. Kristin’s family often brings some sketchbooks and art supplies if we want to do some nature journaling on our trip, and sometimes bring some homeschool supplies.

Conclusion/Summary

In conclusion, solo parenting while backpacking with kids offers a unique and rewarding experience for both you and your children. Throughout this journey, we have discovered numerous benefits and joys that come with taking on the adventure solo. 

From fostering a stronger bond with our children to instilling a sense of resilience and independence, backpacking provides invaluable life lessons and memories. Solo adventure parents should not be discouraged by the challenges that may arise but instead be inspired by the countless rewards awaiting. 

So, let us take a leap of faith, embrace the unknown, and embark on our own solo backpacking adventures with our little ones. Go create unforgettable moments and show the world that solo parenting does not limit us—it empowers us.

A mom and three children wearing backpacks walk up an incline holding hands

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Authors

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  • Kristin grew up in Western Massachusetts but moved north to Alaska in 2008 in search of more snow and bigger mountains. She homeschools her three children and tries to spend as much time as possible learning outside. Kristin loves hiking, camping, puddle stomping, laughing, igloo building, reading, science, baking, photography, and watching the sun go down from on top of a mountain; and is passionate about sharing her enthusiasm for the natural world and her knowledge of the gear that can get you out there in every kind of weather. She works part-time from home as an Environmental Scientist and technical editor.

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