Summer Backpacking Gear for Families

In this article:

  • 6 essentials for backpacking
  • experience-based reviews
  • inspiration to try new adventures

Last year we took our girls backpacking in the high country of the Yosemite National Park: destination, Young Lakes. For this 5.5-mile (one way) trip, we completely renewed most of our backpacking equipment: tent, sleeping bags, cooking gear, stove, you name it. The last time we had backpacked as a family was in 2009 when the girls were 3 and 5 using our “single days” backpacking gear. One of the girls had woken up in the night with her sleeping bag soaked by the rain because she touched the wall of our cramped 3-person tent. Way to go! We had to do better this time and we did, though the bank account suffered in the process. Good thing I get professional outdoors discounts now!  Here is my review of our backpacking gear.

DISCLAIMER: I GET COMMISSIONS FOR PURCHASES MADE THROUGH LINKS IN THIS POST. FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THIS PLEASE SEE OUR DISCLOSURE POLICY.

 Tent: [easyazon_link identifier=”B0067R3BVK” locale=”US” tag=”frmo0a-20″]Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 4[/easyazon_link]

We’re not ready to sleep under a starry sky with bears and mosquitoes yet. My mission was to find an ultralight 4-person tent because we’re a family of 4.  Apparently in the realm of backpacking tents, that’s a rarity. There’s a storm of single or 2-person tents out there with all the options you can dream of – but only 8 4-person tents. Look for the  “family backpacking tent” category on the REI website, you won’t find it. However you’ll find  a “family camping tents” category, for car camping that 800 tons each and feature lofts with TV hookups. Hey tent manufacturers, how about motivating families to get outside by offering more family backpacking tents?

After comparing square footage, weight and material of various tents, I came to the conclusion that the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL4 was our girl.  The specs were pretty impressive. This 3-season tent weighed only 5 bs 14 oz and offered 57 square feet of floor area with 50 inches of ceiling height. Other tents I had looked at were at least a pound or two heavier and didn’t get you so much space inside. Now purists will say – do you really need 57 square feet of tent when you backpack in remote wilderness areas? Heck yeah I do, if only so the kids can play inside if they want to. What if I want to escape the mosquitoes and read inside? And guess what – we like to bring our packs inside. Crazy, I know.

As far as setting up, this tent’s a winner. We received the tent on the day before our departure and didn’t get a chance to put it up once before the trip but once at lower Young Lake, we just followed the instructions and the tent was up in 15 minutes. That’s pretty darn good for a first time.

Stove: [easyazon_link identifier=”B005I6PNZS” locale=”US” tag=”frmo0a-20″]MSR WindPro II Backpacking Stove[/easyazon_link]

Our former stove worked with Butagaz cartridges and had proved unstable several times which can be tricky when you cook on slanted rocks. And you can end up burning yourself, true story. This MSR backpacking stove is super light (6.6 oz), small (6x5x4 inches) and stable enough that I could heat up water in a wide quart pot. I love that the canister sits apart from the stove tripod as that improves stability. Since we ate dehydrated food, we only needed to be able to heat up water and it worked great. In roughly 10 minutes (we were at 10,000 feet), we had a pot of boiling water. Another 20 minutes and we had awful dehydrated food!

Cooking pot: [easyazon_link identifier=”B006ERS85W” locale=”US” tag=”frmo0a-20″]GSI Outdoors Backpacker Cookset[/easyazon_link]

Gone are the days where we could get by with a teensy pot for 2. As a family of 4, you need to think family size! It’s not like I would have whipped up spaghetti carbonara under a glacial moraine but I could have if I wanted to. How this pot won me over is that it has more than one trick up its sleeve. OK, it’s a pot. But wait, there’s more! It packs a small frying pan (pancakes?), a cookpot with lid (and holes to drain out water), as well as 2 insulated mugs with lids (tea, soup) and 2 cups to eat out of. Since 2 cups were not enough for us, I supplemented with two extra bowls to serve food for my girls. Even if you don’t get the exact same pot, it’s good to know you can buy backpacking pots that serve multiple purposes where everything stacks up inside like Russian dolls.

Water treatment: [easyazon_link identifier=”B00G4V4IVQ” locale=”US” tag=”frmo0a-20″]Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter[/easyazon_link]

Oh I have sweated many a late afternoon pumping away ridiculously small amounts of water into a water bottle to remove particles, only to purify it and taste the wonderful chemical after-taste of iodine in my camp food. No more! The Platypus gravity system couldn’t be any simpler and to be honest, it sounded too good to be true at the store but it works. The trick part is you have to camp somewhere where you are going to find trees. How else are you going to hang the thingmadoodle?

Here’s how it worked for us. Good thing we camped by a lake surrounded by trees. We simply walked down to the lake, filled one reservoir, shut off the spigot. Got back to camp, found a good stump with low branches, hung full reservoir higher than empty reservoir, opened up the spigot and took a walk. In minutes we had 5 liters of clean drinkable water – without the iodine shot. Yoohoo! At only 10.6oz, it’s well worth the investment. Now I’m waiting to know how long it’s going to take before I need to replace the filter.

Kitchen sink: [easyazon_link identifier=”B001Q3KLOK” locale=”US” tag=”frmo0a-20″]Sea to Summit Kitchen Sink[/easyazon_link]

Need I remind you, you can’t just wash off your dirty dishes in the lake or the river? You need to do so way far so your particles and germs and nasties don’t get into the pristine water system. Enter the Sea to Summit Kitchen Sink – tada! It comes packed in the cutest golden pouch but dang, is it hard to fold it back up. Of course we used it to wash dishes but also dirty grimy hands and when we were all packed up, it served as a container for pine cones in our fairy house project. Multiuse, definitely.

Dish liquid tube: [easyazon_link identifier=”B003H9FATW” locale=”US” tag=”frmo0a-20″]humangear Go Toob, 3 fl. oz bottles[/easyazon_link]

By far the biggest disappointment of the trip. They spill! A friend had warned me that she got shampoo all over her clothes in a suitcase but I still wanted to give them a chance. Thanks but no thanks, we got everything sticky for a dripping bottle. Avoid.

Try backpacking with your kids, it’s great fun!

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Laure Latham

Laure is an author, environmental advocate, blogger, open water swimmer and now mother. She's passionate about inspiring families to enjoy the outdoors with their children, learning to unplug and living a healthy lifestyle, giving kids life skills and exploring the world around us sharing Family Friendly, Fun Ideas for the whole family on Frog Mom.

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