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10 ways to lighten your family hiking gear on a budget

This year I decided to take the leap and get my little family of four trail blazing in the Australian Bush. It has been the BEST decision, to the point we have sold our camper trailer and additional ‘glamping’ gear to become hikers. Weirdly, it wasn’t a big call and no tears were shed when I sold my much loved OzPig, which had been my camping pride and joy.

Each trip has us itching to plan the next one and from each trip, we have learnt a lot from the initial video I did on hiking on a budget for families in regards to gear and pack weight. So far we haven’t made any BIG hiking investments; we are still using a lot of gear given to us or from our camping supplies and small eBay purchases. But from our first trip, I’ve managed to knock 6 kilograms out of the packs. Can I tell you that is SIGNIFICANT when you’re carrying gear for yourself and a child. It makes a hugh difference to your general comfort and also pleasure of the hiking experience.

Below are 10 things I have changed to lighten our packs:

1. Water bottles

On our first trip, we used aluminium army water bottles on old school army supply belts; it’s what I used when I was a teen. I was SHOCKED at how much these bottles and belts weighed before even adding the 3kg of water. My poor husband was carrying in excess of 4kg just in the belt BEFORE water!

To knock the weight out, we went to the supermarket and just purchased disposable 1lt water bottles. We hooked them to our bags using these cool ‘Webbing Water Bottle Buckle Clips’ I found on eBay for around $2 each.

2. Water purification kit

Water is a heavy commodity, but you can’t be without it. It’s surprising how much water a family of 4 can consume on a day hike, also factoring in any water required for meals. We decided to invest in a water purification system so that we wouldn’t have to carry any more than 6kg between us. We opted for the Sawyer as it is small, light and screws straight onto the water bottles we purchased plus it was under $50. Not bad for something that could literally save your life.

3. Utensils

Sometime ago, I had purchased these really cool interlocking utensils from a camping store with the idea that our family would get into hiking, but we discovered they were really heavy and we didn’t use the knife given we had a pocket knife. I’ve since replaced these with a spork/spoon for each of us, they are perfect for our needs.

4. Bowls and pots

When we returned from our first hike, research online for solutions for bowls and pots when hiking. I wanted a solution that would cut down the number of items we had to carry, but also lightened the load and decrease the need for washing (also a water waster). What I found was the ‘Cosy’.

A ‘Cosy’ (sometimes spelt ‘Cozy’) is an insulated cover or pouch that keeps the cold out and heat in, similar to a ‘Tea Cosy’. The ‘Cosy’ is really popular with Ultralite Hikers, are really simple to make, very lightweight, cost next to nothing to make, but make cooking your hiking food super easy. Basically, you pop your dehydrated food into a ziplock bag and place inside your cosy, then add the required hot water to the ziplock bag inside the cosy. You then seal the ziplock bag, close the cosy and walk away for about 20 minutes. When you come back your dinner is cooked and ready to eat straight out of the bag!

You can buy hiking Cosys online, but they are super easy to make.

Materials

  • Car Sunshade (looks like metallic bubble wrap)
  • Gaffa Tape
  • Velcro

I made each of us a ‘Cosy’ out of an old car sunshade, with gaffa tape and Velcro. You can find a more detailed guide here.

DIY Cozy for camping and cooking

5. Packs

Last blog post, I mentioned I purchased a 30lt Backpack for my daughter off Gumtree. As it turns out, the bag was unnecessarily heavy and bulky for an eight-year-old. After the second trips (and some whining in my ear) I went home and weighed every pack we had in the house that I thought would be suitable. I moved her into my Kathmandu Day 18 litre Daypack, which surprisingly fit her sleeping bag, snow jacket, teddy and thermals. I knocked her pack weight back to just under 3kg and the next trip for her was a breeze. We went hiking up a very steep mountain without a single complaint about her pack #winning. I will be looking at a junior pack for her in the future as a Christmas present. Osprey has a really nice range for children.

With my five-year-old, I discovered my 1-litre Caribee Bladder Pack was actually perfect for him. I took the bladder out and could squeeze in his snow jacket.

6. First Aid Kit

Cutting back on first aid supplies was a really tough call for me, I researched a number of hiking forums to see what others were taking. In the end, this is what I have ended up with:

  • A Snake Bite Kit ESSENTIAL,
  • Bushmans DEET insect repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • Chapstick
  • Tweezers (to remove ticks)
  • Strapping tape
  • Lighter with gaffa tape wrapped around it (encase a pack snaps etc)
  • Triangular bandage
  • Pads and tampons (great absorbency for big cuts, held in place with bandages)
  • Needle for splinters
  • Panadol
  • Emergency Blanket
  • Imodium
  • Safety Pins
  • Steristrips
  • Hygiene Hands
  • Marker Pen
  • Condy’s Crystals
  • Medi Quattro First Aid Cream (is an antiseptic, numbs local pain and acts as an anti-inflammatory)

This is what we take (weight approx. 499 grams not in bag).

Please note: This is just an example of what I take what I have learned about first aid. You need to consider your own needs, like allergies and asthma etc, and always consult a medical professional about medical needs and advice.

Example of Travel First Aid Kit

7. Clothing

Whilst I loved our beanies, I took them out. Our jackets have hoodies on them to keep our heads warm. I also reviewed the items I’d packed for my husband, he is a natural hot water bottle and didn’t require as many warm clothing items as myself and the children.

8. Tent

I’d love to buy a new ultralite hiking tent, I have my eye on the MSR Papa Hubba, the Agnes Copper UL4 (this one gets great reviews by family hikers) or this adorable tee-pee style tent from Japan. It will be awhile longer before I can justify the $$$ spend to purchase these tents. I was able to knock weight out of the tent we currently have by:

  • Taking out the pegs, we don’t need them with this freestanding tent
  • Removing the fly pole and using the ropes to tie the fly to nearby trees for easy access in and out

The tent weight is now 4.34kg. It’s a start!

Keeping the weight down for hiking and camping

9. Food

After the first three hikes, it became clear that we were carrying too much food. The DIY Cosy cooking setup has definitely assisted in cutting down food bulk, using more de-hydrated food options versus tin foods. But we discovered we were still packing too much, almost 400grams of unnecessary food a day! We found that the trail mix was more than filling as a lunchtime snack. Here’s a list of what we typically take now for an overnight trip:

DAY 1: LUNCH (mostly for children)

  • 10 x Vita Weet
  • 2 x Spreadable Cheese Wedges

DAY 1: SNACKS

  • 4 x Homemade trail mix (ie. nuts, dried fruit, jerky, pieces of protein bar, chocolate, lollies and soya crisps).

DAY 1: DINNER

  • 2 x 2 Minute Noodles
  • 1 x Family size Continental Alfredo Pasta & Sauce (with added dried mushroom, tomato and peas)
  • 2 x Tea bags
  • 1 x Chocolate bar or treat to share

DAY 2: BREAKFAST

  • 1 x Instant Porridge
  • 1 x Large Protein Bar
  • 1 x Muesli Bar
  • 1 x Packet Sultanas
  • Ground Coffee

DAY 2: LUNCH (mostly for children)

  • 10 x Vita Weet
  • 2 x Spreadable Cheese Wedges

DAY 2: SNACKS

  • 4 x Homemade trail mix (ie. nuts, dried fruit, jerky, pieces of protein bar, chocolate, lollies and soya crisps).

EMERGENCY FOOD

  • 2 x Cup of Soup
  • 2 x 2 Minute Noodles

This doesn’t look like a lot of food, but we’ve actually found this is pretty spot on, the homemade trail mix is really filling and a great snack throughout the day.

Please note, this is our hiking menu based on what our children will eat on the trail (my son HATES powdered milk, so he has a muesli bar for breakfast with sultanas). We also have to consider that they require more carbohydrates and sugars when hiking to keep energy levels high. Hiking is hard work.

I highly recommend, before heading out on the trail, buying some of the foods you plan to take with you and doing a test run at home. We did this and it was surprising how much they disliked Mac and Cheese, I use to live on that stuff as a kid J!

Food for hiking with kids

10. Sleeping Bags

Once upon a time, I planned to backpack through Europe. It never happened, however I still have the hugely expensive sleeping bag I’d purchased for the trip. When we were looking at our sleeping bag weights, I was actually shocked to see that my lovely warm bag was almost 1.2kg heavier than the other bags I had purchased for the children. The bag had to go and has been recently replaced with the Down Sleeping Bag from Aldi for $99.

My hot tip is to weigh everything. It doesn’t matter how small or insignificant the item in your pack, weigh it.

I spent four hours one Saturday night weighing every item that we were going to carry or was to go in the packs. My family thought I’d lost my mind! This demonstration of hiking OCD however really has made a difference, our last hike I felt fantastic even walking up a huge mountain.

Pictured below: sleeping bags, sleep mats, and a sitting mat (yoga mat cut to size)

sleeping gear for camping with kids

Answers to Additional Questions

How much have I spent?

Overall, I have spent under $200 to lighten our packs by 6kg. The sales from our other camping gear have funded these purchases, so we are not out of pocket.

How do I weigh items?

I use my digital kitchen scales to weigh all items (except that pack). I use a plastic bowl, set to zero then just add each item individually.

How I record item weights?

I record all item weights in an excel spreadsheet, which includes a calculation of the overall percentage of what you are carrying for your body weight. It’s really helpful. You can download a free version to try at home here.

Hiking Weight Calculator

Renee Gusa

Renee is a crafting, gardening, nature-loving, somewhat techy, DIY’er with a passion for cultural heritage, reading, art, camping and exploring with her family. She may not be the world’s best cook or run a marathon, but she loves her job in digital marketing where she gets to tell everyone about her little slice of heaven north of Brisbane – be sure to Visit Moreton Bay Region and see what you’re missing out on!

Tips for hiking with kids

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Justina Kling
    November 29, 2017 at 11:09 pm

    Hey Renee,
    It is a amazing write up. I am looking for this type of content for a long time. I am planning a hiking trip with my family. I read your write up and saw the video you provide. Literally this is a very helpful content for me. Thanks.

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