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11 Crucial Tips For Backpacking With Teens and Tweens

When my kids were born I tried my best to get them out into nature.  Before they could even walk I strapped them in a child carrier on my back.  As my kids grew short day hikes turned into longer weekend trips. Our hikes were a all day affairs filled with loads of games and snacks.  They had an absolute blast!

It wasn’t until my oldest turned 13 that everything changed.  She was more into cheerleading, boys and her beloved cellphone than spending the day with her family.  After the initial eye rolling she would reluctantly go and make sure to let us know how much she hated it.  

You can’t argue with nature.  In a child’s teenage years they’re going to want to spend more time with friends than family.  Just remember that if you stick with it they’ll normally come back around.

Anybody with a stubborn teenager knows how hard it is to coax them away from electronics and their social circle.  Luckily if you follow a few tips and bring some friends, food and fun they’re sure to have fun. Even if they’ll never admit to it.

1) Focus on The Fun

Middle schoolers have a serious need for fun activities.  They don’t want to just walk through the forest and experience nature.  You need to bring along some friends and figure out fun games to play along the trail.  

Remember all those silly games you played at summer camp as a child?  All those little games were designed to keep you engaged long enough not to get bored.

It’s all about making hiking work for your kids.  Get ready to play tag, hide and seek or maybe even carry a football.  You don’t need to walk 10 miles to have a fun and engaging hike.

2) Bring Some Friends

When other kids are around you don’t have to constantly find fun things to do.  Young teens/preteens are socially oriented and trying to figure out where they belong in the world.  

Whenever you’re planning an outdoor trip bring along a friend or two. Most teenagers aren’t going to whine and complain when their friends are around.  Just remember that unless the friends are outdoorsy/active you might want to keep the hike short. You might be better off going to a local campground and having the typical smore and a campfire evening.

3) Avoid Talking About The Negatives

Some parents always seem to bring out the worst in their kids.  They tend to send mixed signals often negative projecting insecurities into their children.  If you’re afraid of snakes don’t be surprised when your children are as well.  

When you’re kids go out into the wilderness try not to conjure up negative images.  Hiking shouldn’t be boring or scary. If it is, you’re seriously doing something wrong.  

4) Set Realistic Goals

You can’t expect every teenager to love backpacking.  Most teens prefer spending time with friends over backpacking with mom and dad.  They want to branch out and build their independence and that’s a good thing.  

Don’t expect your son/daughter to be happy about a weeklong backpacking trip.  Keep your expectations low and start off by planning short day hikes and weekend trips. 

Let your teen invite a few friends so everyone can get a feel for backpacking. Just remember that most teenagers aren’t going to have the skills and gear required for extended backpacking trips. 

Remember that young teenagers are still maturing.  Muscles aren’t fully developed and they won’t be able to handle long backpacking trips.  You don’t want one negative experience ruining your chance of future trips.

5) Mix Things Up

Hiking and backpacking doesn’t have to be boring.  Try to mix things up a little bit to keep everybody entertained.  Download a trail app onto your phone and try out all the trails in your area.  

If people start to get bored call a 10 minute break and bring out the snacks. Remember hungry teens are grouchy teens.  Younger kids will be easier to occupy than older teens. Keep your hikes short and plan your trips around fun activities like swimming, rock climbing, fishing, biking ETC.

6) Let Your Teen Create the Fun

Ask what your teenager wants to do on the trip.  Every kid is going to have a different idea of what’s fun.  Leave your past experiences and expectations at the door and ask what they want to do.  

Teenagers already have their minds set and you’ll never force them to like something.  They’re much more likely to enjoy the day if they came up with the idea.  

7) Focus on Their Interests

Try to plan your backpacking trip around your child.  Are they adventurous? Maybe you can take a rock climbing or mountain biking course.  Bring along a fishing pole, art supplies, photography equipment, whatever. Plan your trip around whatever your child loves to do.  

You can even further hone their skills by looking for local classes.  I would have never known I loved photography had it not been for a free YMCA course.  

8) Let Your Teen Lead

Involve your child as much as possible in the planning process.  Give them a short list of options, # of friends and general parameters and let them do the planning.  

Teenagers are capable of way more than you give them credit for.  Most young teens feel like nobody takes them seriously. Give them a little room to work and you’ll be amazed at what they can achieve.  

9) Bring Lots of Food and Snacks

You’ll never have enough food and snacks to satisfy a group of hungry teenagers.  Food is going to set the mood for the day. So pack easy to make yet satisfying meals and bring along more snacks than you could possibly need.  

10) Embrace technology

Banning cell phones sounds like a great idea,  but it’s the wrong approach. Making your teen leave their phone in the car start the trip off on a bad note.  It’s like you’re punishing them before they did anything wrong.  

Nowadays teenagers are constantly connected to their peers on social media.  Taking away their phone is killing their social lives.  

Plus it’s never a great idea to venture into the wilderness without being able to contact somebody.  You never know what kind of emergency will require a frantic phone call.  

11) Buy a Bunch of Fancy Gear

Go to your local sporting goods store and pick out a bunch of new gear.  Picking out new gear always seems to light a spark under my butt. There’s just something about buying camping gear that gets me excited.