Hiking with a kid...AT edition
January 9, 2018 7:47 PM   Subscribe

My nine year old daughter and I would like to go on a 3 day 2 night hiking adventure in the Roan Highlands area of the Appalachian Trail. Is 5 miles a day a reasonable goal?

If any of you lovely folks have done something similar, could you share a great starting and ending point? We have other family that will drop us at the trail and pick us up, so that's no concern. We have been car camping a few times and on many many day hikes, but this will be our first multiple night, overnight backpacking trip. This will be early June. Thank you!
posted by orangemacky to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Based on my experiences backpacking with my kids, I'd say 5 miles a day sounds reasonable, but maybe near the top end of what's reasonable. It could be too much for some kids, especially if it's steep or if your kid has to carry much weight. At that age, my kids couldn't handle carrying much more than a sleeping bag and pad. I carried all the water, food and extra clothes.
posted by Redstart at 8:00 PM on January 9, 2018

I went Car camping just down the hill from “The Barn” near roan mountain. Depending on what you want to accomplish I would consider using the barn as a base and then there’s lots of trails near there that you could do. What I liked about the section we did (2nights Car camping and a long day hike) was that there was a lot of different scenery and it kept it interesting. Memail me and i might be able to give you precise directions on where we camped- it also had a much better spring than what was flowing further up and just our small group rather than the million people around the barn.
posted by raccoon409 at 8:13 PM on January 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

In my experience with kids who regularly and (mostly) happily hike this would not be a problem (although it is dependent on elevation gain and her personality/gameness). I would build up to it with a bunch of other hikes with heavier-than-normal packs and do at least one simple overnight with her ahead of time so you get an idea of what comfortable pack weight is for both of you and what need you have to streamline gear.

I’d plan on you carrying the tent, all cooking gear, all your personal gear, and all the non-snack-type food at a minimum.
posted by charmedimsure at 8:16 PM on January 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

I’ve taken my kids out on the MD parts of the trail for day hikes in the range of 9-11 miles with a group and have hiked it with older scouts for Philmont shakedown hikes. 5 miles should be fine for most kids in average shape with not too much in their pack in decent weather. For the AT, getting “up to the trail” is something you want to mention as a gateway climb - it wouldn’t be so popular if it was all uphill!

Is there any way you can introduce her to the AT in a bigger context? My oldest read Bill Bryson’s humorous account, but he was 13. There is a Grandmother(?) who has hiked it several times who has a memoir & maybe a kid’s book - which can prime the pump on enthusiasm. It’s fun to see others at a shelter when you’re on a day hike, too, if that’s an option for a rehearsal hike or three with her having a pack. With the teens, I slept in a Hennessy hammock tent, which saved my back from rocky terrain & could be an option for a lighter twosome.

In our area we use “bear bags” as a practical & safety maneuver, so she might need a quick reminder or a thorough frisk before storage goes aloft for the evening, as I think on all the kids I’ve hiked with.

It’s a great hike. My tweens are finishing up the MD section this year with me as a series of day hikes. We do pull the plug if the weather will be insufferable. We’ve hiked in cold (19F) and light snow. Have a plan B if Mother Nature is too challenging.
posted by childofTethys at 8:38 PM on January 9, 2018

The point of backpacking is enjoying yourself while you're out there. If you're really pushing yourself physically just to get from campsite to campsite, you and the kid will have no energy to enjoy exploring. I mean, sure, if it's really important to be able to say, "We hiked 5 miles a day on the Appalachian Trail", then you would plan for that. But I would highly recommend training for a harder hike than you will do for the trip. This is not like a 5K where you don't train the full distance because you're relying on adrenaline to push you across the finish line where you can collapse into a puddle for the rest of the day.

Also, what's your level of comfort with backpacking? Have you used all the equipment you're planning to take to the point where you're comfortable with it? The kid is not going to enjoy things unless you're enjoying things.

Once you've settled on your goals, my kid is that age, and with conditioning he is now able to cover 5 miles with decent elevation changes while carrying his own water and snacks. I have no doubt that he could carry more with conditioning, but that would involve more planning and effort on my part. For what it's worth, the Boy Scout materials (so for 11-13 year olds) I have recommend working up to a full pack load of 30-40 lbs. at 15 miles over the course of nine hikes! Obviously, you're talking a younger kid at less distance, but the rule of thumb is that the vast majority of kids can carry 10% of their body weight in "base load" which includes the backpack and what's in it but not the clothes and shoes and other items they are wearing. Many kids can carry up to 20% of their body weight, and 25% is the absolute not-to-exceed number. But you won't know until you get your kid in your equipment and try.
posted by wnissen at 11:02 AM on January 10, 2018

When my sisters and I were 10, 9, 7, and 5 we went on a family backpack trip. 6 miles in, camped a week, and 6 miles out. Food and kitchen were packed in on mules, so we only had to carry our clothes, sleeping bags, and tube tents. This was out of Red's Meadow near Mammoth.

We did it, but we grumbled a fair amount on the uphill, and Dad had to carry the 5 year old's pack a good bit of the way.

The most fun we had was at the lake, exploring, fishing, campfiring, daring each other to jump in the cold, cold water, and doing a day-trip across a nearby glacier.

That's anecdotal data for your consideration. We all remember it as a highlight of our youth.
posted by SLC Mom at 11:48 AM on January 10, 2018

Wanted to come back and thank you all for the input and suggestions. We ended up vacationing for about a week near Asheville. It rained and rained and rained. We kept pushing our backpacking adventure later in the week, hoping for a break in the weather. We finally trashed our original plan to hike from carvers gap to 19E and instead drove over to hot springs (very cool place) and got dropped off at max patch bald. I highly recommend max patch as a day hike area. My rock star 8 year old carried her own 5-7ish pound pack and I carried the rest and we hiked about 4-5 miles south past brown gap. Found a decent place to set up the tent and cooked dinner. The hike back to max patch (where we had pre-arranged pick up) was brutally up hill...but we took it slow with lots of breaks. Anyway, kid couldn't be prouder of herself...I had a great time...and now we are ready to plan our next trip!
posted by orangemacky at 6:43 PM on June 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

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