If you ask hikers why they got into lightweight or ultra-lightweight backpacking, you'll get many answers.

My reason was my kids. The high-tech of ultra-light gear and the mess and muss of kids may seem contradictory, but with each new addition to my family I've become a stronger proponent of the ultra-light mindset. Now, this doesn't mean that my ultimate pack weight will necessarily be something I'll be swinging leisurely on my shoulder, but the weight savings is what makes backpacking with my four little kids possible.

Family backpacking is about making it fun for the kids, which usually means that essentially the weight of caring for everyone falls on the adults. Sure, the kids want to carry their own ultralight kids backpack, but you can't expect them to carry much. The recommended weight is 1 lb. for each year of age. That means my two oldest should be carrying 5 and 6.5 lbs. For multi-day trips their changes of clothes, rain and insulating layers and food are carried by either my wife or me. They carry only water, headlamps and sleeping bags… barely. No room for a 15 lb. family tent!

Family Backpacking with Ultralight Gear

Take, for example, our recent backpacking trip. We took our kids (6 ½, 5, 2 ½ and 8 months) out to the Ozette Triangle on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State for three days. Beautiful. Gorgeous. Totally recommend it, especially for kids. My wife's Gossamer Gear Mariposa was filled with 3 sleeping bags, 5 sleeping pads, diapers, 1 2-liter pot, a UL 4-person tent (for six), water and snacks for the day. Oh, and the baby in a front carrier! We almost got all of that in a smaller pack, but I ran out of space in my pack so she had to take the Mariposa. I carried the clothes, mid-and-outer clothing layers, 2nd cook set, mugs and bowls, dirty diapers, flashlights, bear canister (Park backcountry regulations) with backpacking food for 6 people for 3 days, headlamps, etc… and the 2.5 year old on the front when he wasn't walking… which seemed to be most of the time.

The outdoor wilderness experience is too precious and too wonderful not to share with our kids. High-tech lightweight gear has made it possible for even city parents of little chubby-legged toddlers to get out deep into the unspoiled wild wonderland and share it with them. As John Muir once said, "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul."

This post was written by former Trail Ambassador Paul Osborn and Editor.

July 01, 2013 — Brian Fryer