Friday, October 26, 2012

How to select a daypack hiking kids can use

Kids will want to carry a daypack just
like their parents.
Sometimes called daypacks for day hikes or for kids, backpacks are essential once kids come down from the baby carrier. As the child is older and requires more, you’ll need to find a better way to carry all of the essentials you need – snacks, first-aid kit, extra clothing – than a fanny pack.

For day hike purposes with children, you’ll want to get yourself an internal frame, in which the frame giving the backpack its shape is inside the pack’s fabric so it’s not exposed to nature. Such frames usually are lightweight and comfortable. External frames have the frame outside the pack, so they are exposed to the elements. They are excellent for long hikes into the backcountry when you must carry heavy loads.

It’s a good idea to get kids carrying a small daypack with a couple of light items in it by the time they’re in elementary school. If you don’t get them to realize they have a responsibility to carry their own stuff, they’ll balk at doing so later.

As kids get older, and especially after they’ve been hiking for a couple of years, they’ll soon want a “real” backpack. Unfortunately, most backpacks for kids are overbuilt and too heavy. Even light ones that safely can hold up to 50 pounds are inane for most children.

When buying a daypack for your child, look for sternum straps, which help keep the strap on the shoulders. This is vital for prepubescent children as they do not have the broad shoulders that come with adolescence, meaning packs likely will slip off and onto their arms, making them uncomfortable and difficult to carry. Don’t buy a back-pack that a child will “grow into.”

Backpacks that don’t fit well simply will lead to sore shoulder and back muscles and could result in poor posture.

Also, consider purchasing a daypack with a hydration system for kids. This will help ensure they drink a lot of water. More on this later when we get to canteens.

Before hitting the trail, always check your children’s backpacks to make sure that they have not overloaded them. Kids think they need more than they really do. They also tend to overestimate their own ability to carry stuff. Sibling rivalries often lead children to packing more than they should in their rucksacks, too. Don’t let them overpack “to teach them a lesson,” though, as it can damage bones and turn the hike into a bad experience.

A good rule of thumb is no more than 25 percent capacity. Most upper elementary school kids can carry only about 10 pounds for any short distance. Subtract the weight of the backpack, and that means only 4-5 pounds in the backpack. Overweight children will need to carry a little less than this or they’ll quickly be out of breath.

Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.