A “Travel Light” Backpacking Checklist for Children

This is a continuation of my “travel light” backpacking checklist post from last week (babies & toddlers), only this time I’m focusing on what I bring for my bigger kids.

Specifically, I’m going to show you the backpacks and travel wardrobes for my 7 year old daughter, Johanna, and my 9 year old son, Caden.

As I said last time, we follow a one bag rule — each member of the family gets one bag. That’s it. And as our kids know well by now, the bottom line is that “if you can carry it [insert: happily], you can bring it”.

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Children: Traveling light with kids makes life so much easier but what to bring? Here's a backpacking checklist for children with lists and photos of what we pack.

*Caden, 9, looking rather pleased with his couch-pillow perch during morning reading time.

How I choose what to pack for big kids

Of course, I’m still the person who selects their wardrobes, shoes, bags, etc. Since it’s important that they have the right mix of clothing to suit our travels, I oversee the entire process carefully rather than leaving it up to them.

This is how we choose what goes into their backpacks:

  1. I create a generic list of what I think they need (2 pants, 3 shorts, 1 bathing suit, 1 pair sandals, etc.)
  2. I sort through their current clothes and anything we have in storage (like hand-me-downs or clothing from an older sibling) especially if we’re in the opposite season. For example, right now they’ve got winter clothes in their rooms, but we’ll be traveling in hot climates, so I ransacked the house for any summer clothing I could find before making a list of items to be purchased.
  3. Once I’ve got a stack of climate-appropriate clothing for each kid, I sit down with them for about an hour and get them to try everything on. We also check for major stains or rips (I like to at least begin each trip with decent-looking clothes, even if they won’t stay that way). If there are any clothes either of us dislike, we don’t even bother with them. When you’ve got such a small wardrobe, it’s only worth bringing stuff you want to wear.
  4. Then I take the clothes that fit and are in good condition, and get them to show me their favorites and we start matching up various bottoms and tops to see what matches.
  5. And finally, I purchase new clothing to fill in any gaps we discover along the way.

I think it’s critical for big kids to be part of this process, and also feel like they’ve got some control and options. Just like you, they’ll be living day in and day out with whatever ends up in their backpack and it’s not unreasonable for them to want to like what they bring.

So I’ll select a handful of clothes that will work for a certain purpose, say pants or tee-shirts. I lay out the options I think will work best and then say “Ok, show me your four favorite shirts out of this pile” or “If you could only bring one pair of jeans, which ones would you choose?”.

Sometimes, I still have to call the shots and make a final decision, but I always walk through this process with my kids first so they not only feel respected, but happy and excited about what’s going in their pack. Happy kids makes for a far happier trip.

A “Travel Light” Backpacking List for Children:

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Children: Traveling light with kids makes life so much easier but what to bring? Here's a backpacking checklist for children with lists and photos of what we pack.

What’s in my 9 year old son’s backpack:

Backpack: Osprey Jib – 35 liter (which has now been replaced with the Osprey Ace 38L)

1 pair jeans

1 pair zip-off pants (= pants + shorts)

3 pairs shorts (1 doubles as swim trunks)

4 tee shirts

1 long sleeved shirt

1 zip-up hoodie sweatshirt

1 rain jacket

1 pair pajama pants (technically they’re lightweight black layering bottoms that he loves to wear for playing ninja or just being cozy around the house – and if the night is chilly, he can also wear one of his tees to bed)

1 baseball cap

5 underwear

2 socks

Rugged closed-toe sandals

Flip flops – we don’t have these yet but may add them

Note: Normally I’d want him to have one short sleeved shirt with a collar, but he didn’t have any decent looking ones that fit, so I’ll keep my eye out for one before we leave or once we’re on the road and might replace one of his tees with it. It’s not essential, but I like each child to have one non-scrubby looking outfit they can wear for church, a nicer restaurant, etc.

Also note: All of these clothes match. They’re in varying shades of gray, black, navy and blue.

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Children: Traveling light with kids makes life so much easier but what to bring? Here's a backpacking checklist for children with lists and photos of what we pack.

What’s in my 7 year old daughter’s backpack:

Backpack: MEC Escapade 32 liter 

1 pair leggings

1 pair zip-off pants (=pants + shorts)

2 skirts

2 shorts (one is board shorts)

1 bathing suit

1 dress (which is from last summer and almost too small but she’s hoping to buy a pretty new sundress on the road and ditch this one)

1 zip-up sweatshirt (it’s actually more like a yoga jacket and is reversible so she has two color options)

1 rain jacket

5 tees + 1 layering tank

1 light nightgown

5 underwear

2 socks

Rugged closed-toe sandals

Flip flops

Sunhat

A "Travel Light" Backpacking Checklist for Children: Traveling light with kids makes life so much easier but what to bring? Here's a backpacking checklist for children with lists and photos of what we pack.

Special note: Not only do these clothes match (they’re all gray/denim/navy mixed with white, purple and pinks) BUT you should know this is my fashionista. I allowed one more tee and one more skirt/shorts than I think is necessary. And that was after convincing her to ditch an extra cardigan as well as her skinny jeans (I gave her the final option between bringing the jeans or the second skirt, and she chose the skirt, which I think was wise since she already has pants and leggings). Thankfully, her clothes are small and light so even if she has a tad more than she needs, her bag won’t be too heavy to carry. And more importantly to her, she’ll look good doing it. #alltheclothes #girlpacking

Other items they’ll bring in their backpacks:

  • Kindles for reading
  • Math curriculum – ripped out pages for Johanna (she uses Math-U-See), and Caden will have CDs and a CD-ROM drive (he uses Teaching Textbooks).
  • A doll or stuffed friend (if they want one)
  • A few small toys – Caden will probably bring Bionicles and/or Lego in a ziploc bag. Johanna may bring Lego, extra doll clothes, or extra art supplies (she hasn’t decided yet).
  • A notebook for writing/school assignments
  • A notebook for art
  • A small pencil case with school and art supplies (pencils, pencil crayons, erasers, small scissors, etc.)
  • A small mesh bag to put their dirty laundry in
  • Canadian stickers, pencils, pins, etc. I’m looking for something small and inexpensive that they can give as gifts to children they meet.

Other related posts:

A “Travel Light” Backpacking Checklist for Babies & Toddlers 

A “Travel Light” Backpacking Checklist for Moms & Dads – coming soon!