New Outdoor Skills Series Book on Family Backpacking

Enjoy this excerpt from the new outdoor skills book published by CMC Press, Backpacking with Children: How to Go Lightweight, Have Fun, and Stay Safe on the Trail
Placeholder Contact Profile Sarah Gorecki
March 13, 2023

Backpacking together can be an unforgettable adventure that your family will treasure for years to come. But a successful family outing takes planning. Knowing how to prepare, where to go, and what to bring are crucial. In Backpacking with Children, author and seasoned hiking mom Malia Maunakea teaches the basics of backpacking with kids—how to make it easy, fun, and as lightweight as possible without breaking the bank.

Order your copy of Backpacking with Children today!


I don’t know what your kids are like, but mine were definitely not introspective little souls who preferred to ponder the meaning of life in silence as we trip-tropped along the trail. No. There was no silence to be had once we started hiking with our kids. And we had to quickly become versed in all the ways to keep them occupied and somewhat complacent, if not happy, so we could keep doing what we loved, which was hiking.

We figured it was win-win. The kids get all our attention, and we get to be outdoors. In this book, I’ve included some of our family’s favorite ways to pass the time in nature, as well as ways to keep the kids motivated, including the “Jelly Bean Reward System.”


Reward systems (OK, bribery) can be very effective. On our backpacking trips, we have created a reward system that for every mile the kids hike in a day, they get a jelly bean (you can use M&M’s or whatever they enjoy, just make sure it’s small, so you aren’t carrying too much extra weight at the beginning of your trip). When they started increasing their daily mileages, we offered them two jelly beans for every mile that was in the double digits. So if we hiked 13 miles in a day (an average day on the Tahoe Rim Trail), then they would get nine jelly beans for miles 1 through 9, plus eight jelly beans for miles 10 through 13, so 17 jelly beans total. It can add up fast. The kids loved sitting down and adding up the mileage, then calculating their winnings. It was just enough to keep them motivated.

You can divvy up the weight by making a bag of rewards for each kid ahead of time and letting them carry it themselves in their packs. That means less weight in your bag, and the kids definitely don’t mind carrying candy! (Just remember to pull them out of the packs and put them in the bear bags at night if you’re in bear country.)

Jelly beans also make for great entertainment for guessing the flavors and trading. Sometimes we split up the morning and afternoon miles, so the kids can have some of their jelly beans at lunch as a “reward” for miles hiked in the morning.

On the flip side, they can also lose jelly beans if they don’t cooperate in the tent at night. If they have a tough time calming and quieting at night, we remove jelly beans for the next day. This method usually got them to go to bed faster and also kept us from running out of jelly beans on one particular trip where they had gotten much faster than we had anticipated! Moral of that story: bring more rewards than you initially think necessary.

We also often let the kids pick out one king-size candy bar per day for our backpacking trips. Sometimes we may adjust that depending on the length and difficulty of the trip. The kids get to pick out what kinds they want, and the parents get to deal with the side glances from the cashier when you bring twenty candy bars to be rung up at the grocery store for four people on a five-day trip.


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