In June I’m leading a backpacking trip for my local Bay Area Cub Scout Pack. Here’s a three part article focused on making a beginner backpacking trip with kids a success. The articles share lessons from backpacking with my boys across California since age three.
- Part 1: Tips for planning a beginning backpacker trip.
- Part 2: Recommended gear for kids age ~8 in age (this post)
- Part 3: Recommend gear for adults backpacking with younger children
Gear for Scouts / Children
Here’s the gear that my first grader brings on a weekend backpacking trip. The post includes the gear category (insulated jackets), gear description (fleece, down, synthetic), and recommendations, and affiliate links.
Avoid cotton: “Cotton kills” because it absorbs water, loses heat, and takes a long time to dry. Bring synthetic or wool pieces instead of cotton.
Value Oriented: We reuse items from home to save money. Many of the clothes we wear for soccer or basketball work well in the backcountry. We use quart sized ziploc bags to carry our clothes. Gatorade bottles are inexpensive and lightweight water bottles.
Go Lightweight: Lightweight gear principles are critical for backpacking with kids since parents often must carry their gear and their kids gear.
What To Wear: Kids
Synthetic long pants
- My son wears lightweight, synthetic workout pants. We prefer long pants to shorts to help protect legs from scrapes & thorn bushes.
- My son wears a light colored t-shirt. He wears a synthetic soccer jersey since it wicks and we have many in the closet.
- The summer sun can quickly burn, so we wear a baseball or sun hat.
- Recommendation: Patagonia sun hat
- Closed toe shoes are critical for backpacking. My boys grow out of shoes quickly, so my boys wear their tennis shoes. When they get older, I’ll get them trail running shoes or hiking boots if we’re mountaineering.
Socks & Underwear
- Wool blends form the best hiking socks Wool blend socks stay warm when wet, resist order, and are comfortable. We wear the same underwear we use at home.
- My son carries a small frameless backpack with some of his personal gear. I carry his heavier or bulkier gear like the air mattress and sleeping bag. He uses either a trail running backpack or a small day hiking one.
- Recommendation: Lightweight pack – https://www.rei.com/product/892204/rei-co-op-flash-22-pack
- Recommendation: Trail running pack
- Apply sunscreen early and often. It is easiest to apply it at home or at the trailhead.
What to Pack: Kids (often carried by the adult)
- Sleeping bags are one of the trickiest items for kids because of cost, weight, and lack of kid options.
- Fill: Sleeping bags are filled with either synthetic or down fill. Synthetic bags are warm when wet, less expensive, and heavier. Down bags are the warmest, most expensive, lightest, and compress the most. In California where rain is predictable, we invest in down bags.
- Shapes: Sleeping bags have multiple shapes. Mummy bags fit closer to the body. Down blackets and quilts are easier to drape over a sleeping child. My older son uses a mummy bag while my youngest uses a down quilt since he does not stay in a sleeping bag.
- Temperature: Sleeping bags have manufacturer given temperature ratings. A 20 degree bag should keep the user warm down to 20 degrees although the ratings can be subjective. A good rule of thumb is to purchase a 20-30 degree bag for three season use (spring, summer, fall).
- Size: Bags generally come in Long or extra long options for men, women, or occasionally kids. My seven year old uses a 30 degree down womens bag since it is smaller but has room to grow.
- Weight: A good bag weighs 3 lbs or less. As reference my 20 degree down bag weights 1 lbs 12 oz.
- Sleeping bag liner – Protect your sleeping bag from moisture by lining a garbage bag inside your stuff sack.
- Value recommendation – https://sierradesigns.com/cloud-800-35-deg
- Recommendation –
- Sleeping pads are a critical part of a sleeping system. They protect the sleeper and his sleeping bag from losing heat through the ground. They are often strapped on the outside of a backpack.
- Length: 3/4 length works best for most folks. This length saves weight (feet can be insulated by backpack), and having your core protected by a mat is critical.
- Type: Sleeping pads are closed cell foam or inflatable. We use closed cell foam since they are very durable, inexpensive, and comfortable. I’ve popped multiple inflatable air mattresses while backpacking with kids.
- Therm-a-Rest ZRest and RidgeRest are two classics used by my family and many thru-hikers.
- Recommendation: Therm-a-Rest ZRest
- Insulated jackets help keep folks warm in camp or on the trail. They can be worn under a rain jacket as a midlayer or as an outer layer.
- Materials: Insulated jackets have three major types: 1) Fleece, 2) Down Fill, 3) Synthetic Fill. Fleece is least expensive, moderately warm, less windproof, very durable. Down is the most expensive, is very warm, windproof, and less durable. Down loses its warmth when wet. Synthetic fill is moderately expensive is warm.
- Our boys wear synthetic filled down hoodie jackets (North Face Thermball Jackets) as a good balance between versatility and warmth.
- Recommendation – Thermoball Jacket – https://www.moosejaw.com/moosejaw/shop/product_The-North-Face-Boys-ThermoBall-Full-Zip-Jacket_10344081_10208_10000001_-1_
- Value recommendation – Fleece https://www.rei.com/product/119296/rei-co-op-fleece-full-zip-jacket-kids
- Rain jackets block precipation and wind. They can be worn for sun protection or layered on top of an insulating layer. The rain jacket should be breathable so sweat can permeate through the jacket. Gore-tex and eVent are waterproof, breathable fabrics. Many major gear manufacturers have less expensive gore-tex equivalents.
- Recommendation: Patagonia
- Recommendation: Marmot Precip
Long sleeve shirt (synthetic long sleeve shirt)
Extra socks / underwear (1 pair)
- A weekend backpacking trip (or a thru hike) only requires one extra pair of wool socks and underwear. A beginning mistake is to carry too much extra.
Extra short sleeve (1 shirt)
- We change into an extra shirt at camp and sleep in a clean shirt. Kids backpacking tend to get dirty.
Sleeping pants (optional)
- It feels good to wear clean clothes at night. The boys usually sleep in clean sleeping pants with the extra short sleeve shirt.
Headlamp / Lights
- Headlamps light the night, tent, and help parents find kids at night. Our boys carry an LED headlamp. We also bring inexpensive LED colored finger lights for kids to play with at night.
- Recommendation: Petzel tikka
- Recommendation: LED fingerlights
- Water bottle: I reuse a Gatorade bottle – it is light, strong, and inexpensive. Scouts should bring 2 bottles.
- Cup & spork: We bring a spork for weight and a small cup for meals.
- Small washcloth: We carry a small pack towel or wash cloth to clean ourselves at night.
- Whistle: My boys wear a whistle around their necks. They can use them in case they get separated and lost and know that three rapid whistles are an international sign of distress
- Toiletries: We bring toothbrush, toothpaste, and toilet paper.
- Magazine to read at night: We imitate our bedtime routine at home in the backcountry. Our routine includes reading something before bed. We bring a lightweight book or magazine to read before bed.
- Small stuffed animal: Our four year old enjoys sleeping at night with a cherished stuffed animal. He picks one small stuffed animal to sleep with at night.
- Carabiner: I carry an carabiner to attach a small backpack to my larger backpack. I can also attach a Trader Joe’s bag to carry bulkier items like sleeping mats.
See part 3 for Recommended Gear for Adults on a Cub Scout Backpacking Trip. It includes gear for adults plus group gear like tents, stove, cook kit, & water purification.