Taking the jump from “car camping” to backcountry camping doesn’t have to be a daring leap of faith. Not only can you take that jump with confidence, but you can also take your family with you. Here’s a visual – imagine all the items you take along for a weekend camping trip with your family, piled in a heap. Now, next to that, a backpack, which now must hold all the items you’ll need for the weekend camping trip.
In simple words, the gas grill and pop-up chairs aren’t going to make the cut. To take the jump, you’ll need to bow down to an adage oft stated by long-distance backpackers: Take care of the ounces, and the pounds will take care of themselves.
Going from car camping to backcountry camping will involve whittling and even axing your existing gear, along with some new purchases. But even if your trip involves a family of four, you can plan a backpacking trip on a shoestring, or in this case, boot lace.
You may have heard the old saying, “No hoof, no horse.” You can’t scrimp here. Your best bet is an over-the-ankle, synthetic boot specifically designed for hiking. You also need hiking socks paired with liner socks, which wick sweat away from your skin and help prevent blisters.
Each person should also carry a pair of trail sandals. After a day of hiking, it’s nice to get out of the boots. Also, in a pinch, if someone gets blisters they can walk in the sandals. Guide Gear has the Men’s Rivers Edge sandal at $39.99, and Merrell and Teva also have sandals that are very comfortable for walking.
If you buy a backpack which holds 6,000-cubic inches, you will probably fill it. I hiked the Appalachian Trail with a pack of less than 4,000 cubic inches, resupplying once a week. If you stick around 3-5,000 cubic inches for the adults’ backpacks, you should be able to keep the total, loaded pack weight at about 50 pounds – which is infinitely more comfortable than say, 60-70 pounds.
For the adults, I’d recommend the Kelty Coyote 80, 4,900 cubic inches, 5.2 pounds, or the Kelty Redwing 50, 3,100 cubic inches, 3 pounds 11 ounces. For a weekend trip, the adults should carry the heavier, group-use items, such as the cooking stove, food and tent. For example, if one adult takes a tent that weighs between 9 and 11 pounds, the other adult can carry both adult sleeping bags (4 pounds each) and a cook stove (about two pounds).
How much weight can the kids carry? According to several studies regarding kids and school backpacks, they should carry no more than 15 percent of their body weight. Within that guideline, they should be able to carry their clothes, sleeping bag and pad, snacks, water bottles and toiletry items.
Should you buy them new packs, or can you scrimp here by having the kids use their school backpacks? This one’s your call since there are many variables — the age and size of the children, the capacity of any backpacks they already have and their level of fitness. And remember, even if they insist that they regularly tote a heavier backpack during the school day, that’s just for brief sessions. On a hiking trip, they’ll be wearing their backpacks all day, and packs with waist belts are much more comfortable. The Military Style Modular Field Pack is a great buy at $39.99.
Wearing a properly loaded backpack, you should be able to stand on one leg and touch your toes. Attempting this with an improperly loaded pack can be a crowd favorite around the campsite.