When our family (with 7 kids ages 14 & under) backpacked the 93-mile Wonderland Trail, one of the biggest considerations we faced was how much, and what, gear to bring.
Here’s how we made it work:
Each person carried their own pack:
- Doug: Osprey 85-liter Aether
- Jess: REI Piggyback toddler/child carrier (we tried soft packs & Kelty carriers, and opted for this one for a number of reasons) + large multi-pocket fanny pack w/ water bottle holders (so I could have continual water/snack access)
- Ethan: Lowes Alpine 75-liter + 15 extendable part + 5 in lid (his is an older version of the linked pack)
- Baxter & Silas: High Sierra Tangent 45-liter
- Maranatha: Outdoor Products Arrowhead 45-liter
- Moses: basic Outdoor Products daypack
- Theo: simple 2-pocket fanny pack (he only carried it sometimes, but it was a great place to stash his bandana, sunhat, & beanie, as well as a place to dump a handful of trail mix or nuts for him to eat as we walked. The small size made it easy/lightweight to add to our packs when he was sick of carrying it.)
Trekking poles make an incredible difference for me, as an adult, for joint pain, and less falls/stumbles. Before hiking with trekking poles, I often rolled my right ankle (as in, nearly every/every other hike), and my husband often overextended his right knee. Since using poles, neither injury has happened even once. We’ve both stumbled many times, but with the poles, we’re able to catch ourselves.
Additionally, poles helped us keep toddlers & preschoolers safe, when hiking through dicey spots (make an X shape on the side where the trail is dangerous, put down in the middle of the stream for them to use to hop across, etc.).
For our trip on the Wonderland Trail, everyone 10 & up had trekking poles.
- Out of all the poles we looked at and used, the kids & I prefer these for durability and price point. They’re carbon fiber, quick-lock, lightweight trekking poles, at a GREAT price.
- My husband used (and still prefers) his Leki Makalu antishock trekking poles. The handles suit his hands better, and he prefers the Leki antishock feel.
We opted for the smallest possible, most lightweight tent that would still allow us to all lay down in it. This means we were NOT seeking ultimate comfort and space for everyone. We also were not trying to fit all our bags/gear in with us. At night, our tent held: our family + 2 diapers, a pack of wipes, and a few water bottles.
Before buying, we tried different configurations (for different tent styles/sizes) and opted for the 4-man Kelty Salida. It has a full-rainfly– a must for PNW rain. And we got the footprint to add protection and rain coverage to the bottom side of the tent.
Here’s how (and why) we chose a 4-man tent for our 9-person family:
On our Wonderland Trail backpacking trip, we packed and used:
- this tent footprint
- Salida 4 tent + rainfly
- 6×8 tarp + carabiners + paracord, to hang over door of tent in case of rain
SLEEPING BAGS & PADS
For our 9 person family, we use 4 sleeping bags. That’s right, FOUR. Our friends, the Crawfords, taught us this trick: we use a sleeping bag configuration that requires rectangle, compatible, 2-zipper bags.
This makes, essentially, a sleeping bag tube with pockets/openings at each end. It works like this:
We had 4 Kelty 30-degree bags for all 9 of us. Only the wiggle-worms (6 and under) occasionally crawled themselves out of the bags and would need to be pulled back down into their spots.
We also used 4 adult-sized sleeping pads. This covered the floor of the tent and kept us all comfortable and insulated from the ground. We had a hodgepodge of pads. Everyone liked our 2 Thermarest RidgeRest pads, but for me (I was 6 months pregnant at the time of our trip), we brought a thicker, more comfy sleeping pad (discontinued now, but similar to this one).
With only 4 of each (bags + pads) we managed to stay warm, and minimize our pack weights!
For each person, we packed:
- Breathable shoes (mid-rise hiking boots for me, Merrills for Doug, basic tennis shoes or hiking boots– their pick– for 10 & under)
- Flip-flops (used these for camp shoes… some people prefer crocs. We liked flipflops because of weight, space, and ability to clip to the outside of our packs with a carabiner)
- 1 fleece/synthetic top for warm layer
- 1 lightweight long sleeve top — NOT cotton
- 1 tanktop or shortsleeve shirt — NOT cotton
- 1 pr. lightweight breathable shorts — not cotton, swim/sports material
- 1 pr. zip-off hiking pants — we had these for everyone but the baby.
- For adults: 2 pr. light hiker socks — NOT cotton (Doug took 3 pr)
- For kids: 2 pr. non-cotton sport socks (4 pr for the 3-year-old. We did have a couple of kids lose 1 sock. I would recommend one extra “backup” pair for every 2-3 kids.)
- 2 sports bras for the gals
- 2 pr. underwear – wear one, wash one. (3 pr for the 3-year-old). [Note: for adults, we opted for non-cotton undies… and Doug absolutely ADORES his ExOfficio boxer briefs for hiking. Normally we are not talk-about-underwear kinds of people, but he said cotton undies would definitely have caused chafing, and couldn’t be a bigger fan of these undies. Real life quote: “I’ve never considered asking for underwear for Christmas, but I’m considering it this year.”]
- Solid rainjacket (NOT just windbreakers) – even though we did not get rain, we did have some cold mornings and evenings and this was good for that too. Regardless, for the Wonderland, you want each person to have a dependable rain jacket.
- 1 bandana/headband – versatile: dip in the water to wrap around your neck on a hot day, good for tying in various configurations for sun coverage (our kids did this a ton!), good to hold berries if you’re picking for a group. (Note: MeiMei and I LOVED our visors for giving us shade & being able to dip in water to keep cool.)
- 1 beanie (wool or synthetic, NOT cotton)
- Headlamps (we had them for everyone 8 & up– these are our favorite lightweight, low-cost headlamps.)
“IS THAT ALL?”
Yes, this is a complete list. We did not bring duplicate shirts, etc.
The thing is: no matter what, you’re going to stink by the end of this trip. Just accept it. Wash stuff out as you’re able, but honestly, by the time we transferred back and forth between our long and short sleeved shirts, and sports shorts for swimming v. hiking pants/shorts for hiking, it was roughly the same as having 2 of everything.
Our advice? Use baby wipes on your “pits and bits” every morning and evening, bring along a travel-size deodorant for each 12-and-up person, and take dips in rivers and waterfalls when you can. The main “stink” issue we found that needed to be dealt with was with feet, which is easily remedied: use flip flops as camp shoes, and have everyone wash their feet off thoroughly, just before bed.
Special Clothing Considerations for KIDS 6 and under:
- Rainpants for kids 6 & under because body warmth is so important for younger ones that can’t yet fully regulate their own body heat, especially in wet conditions.
- Fleece pants for kids 6 & under, to add as bulky warming layer under rain pants, etc. Our boys also used these as toasty sleep pants.
- Gloves — for our 3 & 1 year olds, we opted to use a 4-pack of bright-colored non-cotton socks for this purpose.
- Sunhats — I grabbed these in our very last Amazon order before the trip, and am SOOOOO glad I did! These kept our little boys from getting sunburned and the straps made them easy to stay on, even for the wiggly/fidgety 18-month-old. These are the ones we got: this SunBusters hat for the 3 year old (a lower brim, because he was more active), and this Sun Protection Zone hat for the 18-month old (straight brim because he was stationary).
For the 18-month old, instead of the above clothing options, we took:
- 1 cotton one-piece shorts outfit (NOTE: we did NOT end up using this on the trip.)
- 2 fleece sleepers
- 1 thin cotton sleeper
- Full body rain suit for baby — this was a LIFE saver in a few instances besides the obvious (rain/snow): muddy campground, when playing by a riverside but we wanted him to not dirty his clothes, and it acted as a full-body windbreaker for cold mornings.
- sunhat (we got this one– and I love it because it sticks out straight and does not flop down in the eyes, has the under-chin velcro strap, and an adjustable bungee-strap on back to keep the hat fitted to the child)
- 1 pr. shoes w/ rubber bottoms, and 1 pr. flip-flops (because he’s walking)
- 4 diapers per day (for us, this turned out to be overkill. We ended up using an average of 3 per day– one at the start of the day, one mid-day, and one in the evening.) For our 3-year-old who is fully potty-trained during the day but still wears a diaper at night, we took just one diaper per day.
- 1 pack baby wipes just for diaper changing
[Note: Diapers and wipes are one of those things you have to pack-in/pack-out, to leave no trace. We just added it to our trash bags, and found that it wasn’t really that awful. On the Wonderland Trail, there are 4/5 trash cans available to you: Mowich Lake, Sunrise (if you walk to the visitor center), White River, Box Canyon, and Longmire.]
We purchased waterproof “dry bags”/stuff sacks to organize and collect our “stuff”.
- We had 6 of these dry bags.
- And 6 of these. <—– I prefer these. They are higher quality and the seal (which is what will keep your stuff dry if it gets wet) is much more secure.
Our stuff sacks not only carried our clothes in our bags, but at night, filled with clothes we weren’t wearing, they served as our pillows.
BUT… WHAT ABOUT THE FOOD?
Beyond GEAR, we had to put together a carefully-considered meal plan. That’s what I’ll tackle in the next article about Family Backpacking & Adventure Planning.
Our friends, the Crawfords, did the trail 5 times in 7 years (here’s trip #5 with their 5 kids), and graciously shared their insights with us (even did a 2-hour Skype call with us to run through the packing list!).
Ben made this excellent video about what to pack for the Wonderland Trail. It helped us a great deal.
Other gear videos I found helpful: