Last weekend we went with some friends on a backpacking trip with kids just east of Yosemite beneath Mount Conness. I’ve share some general tips for backpacking with kids before but it’s a whole different ballgame with a baby so I wanted to give more of a play by play this time of how it all went down. This is one of my very favorite spots because it feels really remote and exposed but easy to get to with kids (and it involves a fun boat ride!). Our friends have two boys ages 4 and 2. Henry is 6 and Edie is 10 months. Each of those ages poses different challenges when you backpack but it’s totally doable.
Keep reading to hear all about our trip and 10 bazillion more photos. Most photos are mine, some are Jared’s or our friend Liz’s
We showed up about 3pm and it took us about an hour or so to get everything packed into our backpacks. We often don’t pack the backpacks until we get there just in case we change our mind about what we need to bring depending on weather or plans that change with timing. Usually Jared and I split up tasks- I’ll be in charge of clothing and food for the family and he’ll be in charge of gear and researching routes and weather. We took turns packing our items we were responsible for while the other watched the kids by the lake. Yes, everything had to fit into two internal frame packs and one kind of regular backpack for Henry. It wasn’t as tricky as we thought though. The BIG thing is planning food and cooking correctly, which I’ll talk about a bit later.
As you can see, Jared carried Edie on the front and a large internal frame pack on his back. I also carried an internal frame pack, and Henry had a small backpack. We took a boat about 3 miles across the lake. You can walk around too but we try to cut as many corners are possible with young kids. The kids loved the boat ride! We brought our fishing pole (which Henry also carried with his backpack) and purchased a fishing license at a sporting goods store on the way.
Other things we do on the way: pick up food for lunches and breakfast (more about that later), water, snacks and last minute camping replaceable items like batteries and gas for the stove.
Here we are! Starting off carrying that extra sleeping bag but ended up strapping it on by the end. Other things that we strapped on the backpacks were sleeping pads, tarp, and the tent.
Understandable, a 6 year is not always the most enthusiastic hiker. We definitely took lots of breaks. We could have dispersed camped (i.e. back country, not in a camp ground) anywhere on that other side of the lake where the boat dropped us off but were trying to make it into a little more remote spot that was a mile away, which is actually a pretty perfect distance to walk with kids. We had plenty of sunlight though and were in no rush so there were a few times we stopped and handed out lollipops to the little hikers. The younger boys, ages 4 and 2, were sometimes being held by their parents, sometimes walking and took lots of breaks too. It took us about 30 minutes or longer to get to the spot that looked best to us.
When we look for a backcountry camping stop, ideally it should have:
1. Water nearby (more to entertain the kids while adults set up camp/cook)
2. Flat, soft ground
3. Pretty views
4. No other tents in site (that’s kind of the whole point of heading to the great outdoors, right?)
We arrived around 4 or 5pm and the air was starting to cool, so after setting up the tent we immediately got into our warmest gear before it got cold.
Here are some notes on the gear we brought:
1. Three 20 degree synthetic sleeping bags (or warmer) and three sleeping pads. Ours are all Marmot. One note about sleeping bags for kids: It’s hard to find kids bags warmer than 40 degrees. Henry’s always cold unless it’s hot, summer camping so we recently graduated Henry to an adult sleeping bag. One four man tent (ours is a Marmot Hideaway Four which we love but not sure they make any more). We strapped it on top of the backpack so not to use up all the space inside. For Edie, the best scenario was what we did with Henry as a baby which was having two adult sleeping bags that zip up together and combine into one large luxury sleeping bag. That way, we could slip the baby in-between us in the bag with plenty of room. Using a BundleMe type of bag is a great mini infant sleeping bag along with an extra blanket or two and of course a nice warm hat. For pillows we just bundle up our extra clothing but sometimes I regret that in the middle of the night. However, the camping pillows seems just as uncomfortable to me as a bundled up jacket.
In terms of temperature, anything above about 40 degrees is just fine we’ve found (although that might be a bit cold for other families). In this spot, it would get up to about 75/80 during the day and low 40s at night. Anything under 40 degrees we’ve kind of agreed is too cold for family camping.
2. Clothing– minimal. One outfit, change of underwear and socks, and lots of layers. I always bring 2 hats: a beanie for warmth and a baseball hat to cover up dirty hair (which can easily be tied onto the back of the pack). Obviously with babies the diapers situation is annoying but it wasn’t too bad. We probably didn’t change her as frequently as we do at home (maybe only 2x a day unless she pooped) and she was just fine. I almost always bring an extra set of clothes for Edie in case she soils something or leaks through.
3. Food– the smartest thing we’ve EVER done was get a jetboil. They aren’t that cheap (maybe $75 and up?). But they are life changing. Super compact and boils up to 2 cups of water almost instantly (like under 60 seconds). A great holiday gift for your man.
For minimal space, you need to buy backpacking food for dinners. There’s no comparison for space. Our friends didn’t and they had so much more stuff to lug. A stove, a pot, etc. We love Mountain House brand backpacking meals. They run about $6-9 a meal (which feeds 2 people) and there are tons of yummy options. The genius behind them is that you add hot water into the packs, you re-seal, and they cook right there in the packaging (in about 7-10 minutes). No pans, no bowls, you just eat out of the bags. And those things are GOOD.We love the chicken and rice one. Also, they are almost all baby friendly which was awesome! Between Jared, Henry and Edie and I, we ate two backpacking meals a night which was more than enough.
For breakfast, we always do brown sugar oatmeal packets. Easy. If we’re in a hurry, we do bars. You do need something to eat the oatmeal out of so we have a couple classic enamel cups that are lightweight. We don’t bring one for everyone though. Just 1-2 and we take turns eating and sharing breakfast out of them.
For lunch, we usually do crackers with tuna packs (we dip the crackers into the tuna pack) and or pepperoni with string cheese depending on the temperature. Also, lots of bars and trail mix. Fruit is too heavy but dried fruit is great. Henry’s never had tuna so we picked up a couple lunchables for him (it was chilly enough that we weren’t worried about them spoiling). Our friends had brought small bagels with individual packs of cream cheese and peanut butter which was smart and kid-friendly as well.
A tip: a small bag of mini oreos or is much appreciated after a long day outside! We always try to pack lightweight treats if we can.
For water, we pack as much as we as can in nalgenes and then do some research to find water sources we can treat with iodine tablets. They’ve come a long way, I can’t even taste the difference usually between treated water and tap water. We always leave a nalgene of water right outside our tent to drink at night.
For garbage, everything has to be packed out. Including dirty diapers (that’s why I used larger diapers and didn’t change her as frequently as I would at home unless it was dirty).
Bathroom: None. We brought a roll of toilet paper and buried anything solid.
See that net about our tent above? PERFECT for getting littles to sleep. When Henry was younger we put an iPad up there with a movie, facing down, and he’d fall asleep watching the stars- I MEAN– Diego.
Unless it looks like it’s gonna rain or windy, we keep the rain fly off so we can see out and stare at the cosmos when we wake up in the middle of the night.
One note about naps: We aren’t super strict about naps but we either planned on doing a hike that she could fall asleep in the pack during or lay down with her in the tet for a couple hours in the afternoon (warning: it can get pretty hot doing that afternoon nap in the tent! That’s how we ended up skinny dipping…)
Keeping them entertained! We went on frog hunts, skinny dipping when it was warm, hikes to the top of the waterfall, rock climbing, and of course the classic: throwing rocks into the lake and practicing skipping stones.
The ground was kind of pokey, so Edie wasn’t into crawling around on it. We found that a tarp was a great thing to lay down for babies to play on so you don’t have to carry them around all day. The tent is also the perfect place for a baby to just play around and explore while you prepare a meal or hunt for your next meal (haaa jk). It is a little tricky to have a non-walking but mobile baby camping since the ground is too dirty of a place they can really explore. We carried her a lot, put down a tarp on the ground and let her crawl around in the tent.
Fishing! Definitely a worthwhile investment. You can often rent a pole and get a license at a local store. We walked back down to the lake the next day where we sat and ate our lunch and waited for something to bite. After an hour or so we finally got a trout! Of course, we didn’t have a stove to cook it so we just let it go.
Frog hunting was a real time consuming activity the kids loved. We probably caught 4 or 5 little ones by the pond.
One of my favorite things was hiking up to this waterfall beneath Mount Conness. We didn’t see a person the whole way and discovered this beautiful basin full of lakes and boulders. It was an incredible from the top! The lake we boated across is in the left top corner and the spot we camped is at about 9 o’clock.
Edie was a great sleeper in the tent. We lay down with her until she fell asleep and then carefully removed ourselves from her clutches and were able to finish cleaning up dinner etc outside the tent. Henry went to bed pretty early too both night and Jared and I had a chance to snuggle up and enjoy the stars alone.
On the way home, we stopped by one of our favorite climbing spots in Tuolumne meadows on Tioga Road in North Yosemite. It’s slab climbing (not a steep angle) and a great spot for kids because it’s super easy to access, plenty of protection from the sun and challenging for everyone. Henry rocked it! When I climbed, Edie was being carried by Jared in the pack, back carry.
I’ve covered a lot here but any other things I’m missing? What tips do you have for backpacking with kids? What challenges or hesitations do you have?
We love to backpack and it’s nice to see that we might not have to take a long break when we have kids. I can’t really handle the backpacking meals, but we have found Trader Joe’s has some great Indian food options that don’t have to be refrigerated. They are a little heavier than freeze dried food, but SO MUCH better. They come in foil packets inside the boxes (we usually do the saag paneer or something similar), so we take them out of the boxes and just label what they are on the foil. We also only bring a jet boil and just stick the packet in the boiling water to heat the contents inside. If we do a lot of mileage and need some carbs, we will bring instant noodles and boil those and then throw them in the packet or mix it all together in a collapsible bowl. Again, a bit heavier, but probably still pretty kid friendly and way less sodium.
went backpacking this year too with the littles….ages 5 and 7…..and, crazy me, i did it alone since my husband couldn’t take off on a weekday (last minute decision). did a two night trip but didn’t move camping places. we were in desolation wilderness in tahoe and took a water taxi in, then hiked about 1.5 miles to camping spot. glad to see other parents out there doing this too!
I LOVE this post! Super inspirational and packed with practical advice. I’m taking notes for our next camping adventure!
This is a fantastic post. really comprehensive. can’t wait to head up there and explore yosemite’s back country. thanks liz!
We’re pretty avid backpackers, but I could never seem to wrap my head around taking small kids with us. It’s not an issue — yet — but you’ve given me hope! Read online last year before a big trip to throw regular oatmeal (dry, of course) into a food processor to grind it up a bit. This pretty much makes it cook just like instant, and you can make it taste however you like. You can measure it out into ziploc baggies and pour the hot water right in — and eat it from there. (This can also be done with the instant stuff…) Really, I love oatmeal but HATE washing anything covered in it. We’re in Alberta/BC mostly, so water sources in Jasper/Banff/Yoho are usually pouring off a glacier and less than fun to stick your hands in :p
You’re post is lovely and makes me want to go to Yosemite with my family one day. 🙂
I love this post so much! My husband and his friends recently hiked Mt. Conness and he came back oohing about how we must go as a family! We have a two year old and reading his post made me feel that we could actually do a hike longer than Mt. Tam!
Thanks so much!
Yes, you totally should! It’s such an inspiring spot
Great post! I love the idea (and practice) of going camping/backpacking with another family. It gives the kids new playmates (rather than only the siblings they are used to playing with all the time, and often bickering with too!) and the grownups can share parenting/child-watching time. There is lots of time during the day to have one-on-one time with individual kids, kids playing on their own, grown-ups getting out for a walk on their own, everyone hanging out together, etc. I also appreciate the tip about the backpacking dinners – we’ve never used those but it’s good to know they actually taste pretty good!
We love going camping with friends too. It makes it that much more fun. and YES you nee to try the backpacking dinners. we love them!
We love camping and backpacking with our daughter (now 2 1/2). The diapers were a pain (thank goodness she’s potty trained now!) but we only go for 2-3 nights so it was manageable. We camp a lot on the Washington coast where fires are allowed and love bringing dry biscuit mix (just add water) for making biscuits on a stick over the fire. We definitely don’t burn garbage though – pack it in/pack it out is the general rule 🙂
I agree, diapers are not a huge deal when you’re only camping for a couple nights. Great tip on the biscuits. How do you cook them? Wrap them on a stick? I’m a bit unclear but I want to try!
thank you so much for this amazing post! We don’t have kids (yet!) and we LOVE being outdoors, so we’ve been worried about having to give that up once we start having kids. This post gives me hope and I’m definitely saving it as a reference for later. Thank you!
As for food: We’re too cheap to buy backpacking dinners. We found that couscous with instant soup is light to carry, quick to make and actually quite tasty. Throw in some dried oregano – and voila! Also, I find chocolate to be a must when backpacking 🙂
Greetings from Augsburg, Germany
Oh, interesting. Can you cook it right in the package? That’s what I love about the backpacking dinners!
It doesn’t actually need to be cooked! You just pour boling water over couscous and instant soup powder (in a mug, or bowl…), cover it for 5 to 10 minutes, and it’s done. At home, we measure the amount of couscous we need for a meal and put it into little ziploc bags. That way, we know how much water to add, as well.
I hope this makes sense to you. We really like it.
Thanks for this! We often take our kids camping, but we have been hesitant to try backpacking with them. I think they would love it though. BTW we love our Katadyn filter almost as much as we love our JetBoil.
Oh interesting, pretty lightweight? I’ll have to check it out. We love the tablets because they are tiny.
I was wondering about the bathroom too, and Edie’s diapers, what did you do with those?
I just love these camping posts. We aren’t really camping people in our family, but I’ve always been curious to give it a try, and this is definitely pointing me in the right direction! Love the tip about meals too, I’ll be forwarding that onto my friends who camp more regularly. 🙂
Oh, thanks! The food tip really is what frees you up on so much space. I’ll add in a bit about garbage into the post but check my response below 🙂
Oh my goodness….. that smile on Henry’s face with that trout is AWESOME! He looks so proud!
He was so proud!
This looks amazing! But, where’s the bathroom? And what do you do with your garbage? I’m assuming you just burn it.
Oh, no. No fires. We just have to pack out the diapers and garbage. No bathroom either, just brought a roll of TP and hole digging for #2s 🙂
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