Ask Heather Hogoboom about family backpacking and her voice fills with enthusiasm. “Of all the things we do together, our annual backpacking trip is what we look forward to the most,” shares Hogoboom, who began backpacking with her husband Pat when their sons were between the ages of 12 and 18.
Hogoboom, a Grand Junction native who now makes Summit County her mountain basecamp, has backpacking experience dating to her first years out of college. But when her children were little, the focus was more on car camping.
“As the boys got older, we realized that backpacking would be a great way for us to do something together and to create a new family tradition,” she explains.
Family tradition is what drew another mom, Ann Leonard of Grand Junction, to backpacking. Leonard has been backpacking since she was 6 years old. When her daughter, Zia, turned 6, Leonard and her husband Ryan decided she was ready to follow in the family’s footsteps.
For her first trip, the Leonard’s journeyed to Ice Lake and Island Lake near Silverton. “This area was the spot of many of my childhood backpacking trips, so it was special to take her back there, especially since my dad and brother joined us,” explains Leonard.
Today, the Leonard’s are a backpacking family of four, with 5 year-old son Koen joining in.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
Whether you are backpacking with young children or teenagers, Hogoboom and Leonard share these keys to success.
• Start with day hikes. Make sure your kids can hike with a day pack and carry their own water.
• Plan for success. Keep your first family adventure short and enjoyable. “Our first trip was just three miles in,” says Hogoboom, adding that the elevation gain wasn’t extreme. “We wanted them to enjoy it and go again.”
• Involve kids in planning. Kids can read trail reviews, help apply for any necessary permits and assemble gear, including fun things like cameras, binoculars, cards and dice games. They can also choose (and carry) their favorite backpacking foods.
• Pack smart. Hogoboom and her family take two Jet Boil stoves for six people. Other necessities include two water filters, in case one has issues, and clothing layers: extra socks, a waterproof hooded jacket, base layers and a fleece or puffy. “Otherwise, just go very simple,” she advises. For guidance on packing, Hogoboom suggests searching online to learn how to pack a backpack. “It makes a difference.”
• Follow the 50-10 rule. Leonard swears by the hiking strategy her parents used with her. “Basically, it’s hike for 50 minutes, stop for 10,” she explains. Since her kids know a break is always coming, it helps keep other stops to a minimum.
• Snacks and Games. Snacks are a must, as are trail games. Leonard shares that she has great luck with story-telling, I-Spy, alphabet games and “I’m thinking of” games. As she puts it, “Distraction helps!”
• Leave No Trace. Disconnect, enjoy the peace and quiet, the laughter and the memories you’ll build together. But, always respect the wilderness and follow “Leave No Trace” principles.
EASE + MEMORIES
While it may seem surprising, Hogoboom is convinced that backpacking is much easier than car camping.
“The logistics are so much easier,” she laughs. “Car camping takes a lot of time loading and unloading. Backpacking takes more prep time, but then we just put on our packs and go.”
Once in camp, Hogoboom explains that each member of the family has a job to do. Maybe one son looks for level places for tents, while others set up the cooking area, filter water or hang hammocks. Then, when everything is in order, “we kick back and enjoy our weekend.”
Leonard and Hogoboom agree that uninterrupted family time in the wilderness is one of the most important benefits of backpacking.
“I love sharing something that I love so much with the most important people in my world,” explains Leonard.
The lack of modern distractions leads to better conversations and forces her children to play with one another. “They are always better friends when we return from a trip,” Leonard adds.
For Hogoboom, family backpacking has bonded the brothers and their parents together through pristine bluebird days and torrential, mud-filled slogs.
“We get through the little travails and the end result always makes it worth it,” she reflects.
Similar to many aspects of life, family backpacking may challenge you and your family, but it will also help you grow together.
Photo by Hayden Hogoboom.
Originally published in the Summer + Fall 2020 issue.