Tips for Backpacking with a Small Child


Parents are often reluctant to take their child on multi-day visits to the backcountry. On the surface, I can understand their concerns but when I dig deeper it’s more often assumptions and irrational fears that keep a family inside. Hopefully this post will provide motivation and tips for outdoor sleepovers!

If you do not have the appropriate gear and safety knowledge for multiple days in the backcountry then please do some catch-up! Check out this link to brush up or introduce yourself to the basics of backpacking. Backpacking Basics!

If you consider yourself an experienced backpacker or have at least ventured out on a few overnight trips in the wilderness then I will give you some tips to include your little nugget in your backcountry adventures.

If you wish to skip ahead please click on one of the topic below.

Clothing | Shoes | DiapersAccessoriesFoodOther GearEntertainment


Children need less than you think. In regards to their clothing- warmth is key. A warm child is a happy child. Children, whether in diapers or not, have routine tendencies to get wet. Whether its drooling, spit-up, leaky diapers, not aiming well enough when using the bathroom, missing on the hand mouth coordination when drinking from the nalgene, playing in the stream.. it’s safe to assume- they WILL get wet. Always have multiple quick drying options!

  • Usually cotton is a no no in the backcountry but we found that it really wasn’t that big of a deal with our daughter as long as we had a change of clothes. Thin cotton onesies and t-shirts dry pretty quickly when tied to the back of your pack. You would be surprised at how quickly the dry mountain air and sunshine dries clothes!
Our daughter’s wet PJs hanging on my pack
  • Once our daughter turned two we purchased the REI Sahara Roll up Pants. These pants were wonderful because she spent a lot of time on the ground walking and getting dirty. When we got to camp I shook out her pants, dipped them in the nearest water source and they were dry within hours.
The REI Sahara Roll up Pant
  • Lightweight Fleece Pants are a great camp pant for keeping your little one warm once evening sets in. These also serve as a nice base layer if you need to put the hiking pants on top. We also really like this fleece bodysuit but it was too bulky for our backpacking trip. We use this mainly for car camping. Depending on the length of your trip though, this might be perfect for you. Below is the one we prefer for backpacking.
Here is the North Face fleece two piece we like!
  • Some type of down outerwear is a must on backpacking trips. It compresses and provides extreme warmth should you need it. Down outerwear comes in all different sizes. Patagonia and North Face have great options for babies and toddlers.
This was on a day hike but it is a great picture of her down jacket. A hand-me-down from a friend!

We are a family on a budget so these premium brands aren’t always an option for us. Here are my recommendations for those of you looking to get some good gear at a low price.

  • Check out the REI used gear sale,
  • hit up friends with older kids and ask for hand-me-downs,
  • Quality used clothing stores make great places to find affordable outerwear.  Children’s Orchard is a national chain with a great selection of clothes.
  • Craigslist
  • End of season sales. Buy a year ahead. At the end of winter, buy what you will need a year in advance.
  • I have also seen outerwear at Old Navy that could work. Keep in mind the quality will not be the same as the premium outdoor brands. But if you plan to keep your little one in the tent if a rainstorm comes then who cares. They will be dry and warm no matter what type of down they are wearing.


  • We love the keen sandals for walking children. But keep in mind, if your child is wearing shoes that they can take off themselves (hello velcro. you suck!), let them ride in the pack barefoot. We love our keen sandals but she does not wear them in the backpack. We almost lost a shoe on the trail!
  • Lace up is probably best but haven’t found a pair we really like as much as the Keens.
  • You want to make sure that if your little explorer is walking you have shoes with traction. It would be a shame to discourage them from climbing up the hillside and boulders due to slick soles.

What do you do about diapers?

  • We cloth diaper and originally thought cloth was the way to go. But after some thought and weight comparison we decided that bringing disposables was the best choice. A dry disposable diaper weighs less than a dry cloth diaper, and dry or wet, a disposable takes up much less space.
  • If the diaper was wet we took it off and hung it from the backpack face out in the sun so it dried. Once it was dry we would wrap it up as tight as possible and put it in the bear bin.
  • If the diaper had poop, we would dig a hole and dump the poop in the hole. Any wipes we used when changing her and the poopy diaper would be wrapped up as tightly as possible and put in a large ziplock that we were using as a trash bag.
  • We were very careful about how many wipes we brought on the trip. Over a period of week or so we practiced at home to see how few wipes were necessary. This helped us decide how many to take. Try to conserve wipes- rip them in half and they go twice as far!
  • On one of our trips we actually lost our bag of wipes. I was freaking out and like everything, it turned out to be fine. One of us would hold out her naked bottom while the other used the pressure from the camel back bladder to rinse off any remaining poop. It wasn’t the most hygenic approach but it worked great.

Accessories- hats, mittens, socks, etc

  • We have a great fleece beanie that pulls down over her ears and velcroes under her chin. I LOVE this combo because the wind won’t blow the flaps up and she can’t rip it off as easily.
The hat we love. Another hand-me-down. This was the third night of a backpacking trip in the Eastern Sierras. At Chicken Lake.
  • We didn’t use mittens but instead threw some extra socks on her hands when the temperature got cold. Because our trips have happened in the span of May-September, we never found that she needed more than that. If it ever got seriously cold, one of us would go in the tent and snuggle in the sleeping bag with her.


  • When our daughter was little, breastfeeding made traveling with her a cinch. No need to pack food because I was all she needed!
Here is Sage nursing at 10,544 feet on top of Glenn Pass.
  • As she got older we found that the fruit and veggie pouches, bite size pretzels and dried Mango from Trader Joes are awesome snacks to keep her busy in the pack. We put ours in one of the two upper side pockets in our Deuter Kid Comfort III so she could just reach over and help herself.
  • She ate oatmeal with us for breakfast and any other meal we prepared we knew she liked too. For more specific information on the meals we pack for our backpacking trips check out my post on backpacking prep.
Sage and Peter eating dinner. Tortellini from Trader Joes!

Other Gear

  • Give them their own buff to play with. My buff provided a lot of fun for Sage as she tried it on in many different configurations.
  • We love and use the Deuter Kid Comfort III. My husband was able to strap on all the extra gear we needed to the frame.
The tent, the sleeping pads, and the water purifier. All secured to the outside of the Deuter Kid Comfort.
Here’s what it looks like all loaded up!
  • Until Sage was 2 years old, we zipped together our sleeping bags and she slept in between us. Now that she is bigger we bought her a sleeping bag. It’s called the Woobie. She still doesn’t have her own sleeping pad. She sleeps great without one.


  • Saftey Pins and Carabeeners. Safety pins because you never know when you will need to pin a wet piece of clothing to the back of the backpack to dry in the sun. Careeners for the same reason. A string of careeners are also really fun for toddlers to play with around camp.
  • Bring a bottle of hand sanitizer. Helping them wipe after pooping in the wilderness has the potential of getting messy.


  • Brush up on your kids songs. You will be singing A LOT of them.
  • Don’t sing “The wipers on the bus go swish swish swish,” when hiking along a trail surrounded on either side by steep drop offs. An enthusiastic swish swish from the kid in your backpack will send you over the edge.
  • What about toys? You child needs nothing. Nature is the world’s greatest toy chest. Trust me on this one.
The map provided a lot of entertainment on our most recent backpacking trip!
  • Stay positive and be open to changes of plans. As long as you have enough food and gave yourself enough time to accomplish your goal safely, relax and enjoy the journey!

2 thoughts on “Tips for Backpacking with a Small Child

  1. Thanks for the write up, I love the outdoors and want to start taking my kids who are 3.5 and 1- all the gear info you gave for kid stuff is great!

Leave a Reply