Actually Helpful Advice on Getting Teens to Start Backpacking


If you wish you’d started your kids on camping, hiking and all that good outdoors stuff, but didn’t, and now they are teenagers, all hope is not lost. I so appreciate this dteeikhdss
article in Tahoe Weekly
sent to me by its author, Tim Hauserman, on how to become a camping family even at a late-ish date. The advice strikes me as smart, straightforward and not shilling for this company or that.

After suggesting that of course starting when the kids are young is probably the easiest thing to do, Tim continues:

Teenagers prefer to be with other teenagers. So gather together a group of kids who would make good trail mates — preferably ones with similar ability levels. If your kids are backpackers, find other backpackers. If your child has never donned a pack, heading out with a friend who just hiked the John Muir Trail might not be a great idea.

If you don’t have it, beg for and borrow the equipment you will need. Invest in a few things that they could use in college, even if they don’t end up being regular backpackers, such as a good, lightweight sleeping bag and pad, a lightweight tent and high-quality synthetic clothing, such as a fleece shirt and Gore-Tex rain shell.

If you are not already an experienced backpacker, read a good backpacking primer to make a list of everything you will need. Then take another look and cut back to just the essentials. It is all about being light and getting by with less.

Pick an awesome camping spot and stay there at least two nights. This will allow one glorious day with no expectations and free time, when kids will rediscover the joys of play and using their imagination. Ambitious kids may want to head out for a day of hiking from camp, but others could be satisfied to spend the day lollygagging on the boulders, swimming or whatever else strikes their fancy.

In fact, perhaps the best bet would be to leave those in camp who want to hang and give the ambitious ones a chance to hike with you. Those left in camp will discover one of the great missing experiences of a child’s upbringing: Time alone being responsible for themselves. It’s a good life skill to acquire because before you can say, bada bing, they will be away at college.

Boiled down, here are his wonderful Tips for backpacking with teens:

Start backpacking when they are young

Bring other teens with you

Borrow equipment if you don’t have it

Invest in gear that they’ll use in college

Only carry what you need

Set up camp for at least 2 days

Thanks, Tim!

Turns out he is author of several outdoorsy books, including “Tahoe Rim Trail: The Official Guide for Hikers, Mountain Bikers and Equestrians” and the fantastically titled,  “Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children.”


Not a bad place for a kid to spend an afternoon.

Not a bad place for a kid to spend an afternoon.

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20 Responses to Actually Helpful Advice on Getting Teens to Start Backpacking

  1. Edward Hafner August 21, 2016 at 11:18 am #

    Visit for get outside and go exploring ideas for kids 10 to 16 in places close to home or half a world away. Most of Alec’s early videos were done on shoestring budgets in local Texas State Parks not far from his home near Austin. Those early efforts helped to develop Alec’s focus on endangered wildlife. His family and support team as well as loyal viewers continue to encourage his “Stay Wild” attitude to life.

    No reason your kid can’t do the same.

  2. PacMom August 21, 2016 at 12:07 pm #

    I never once went camping as a kid. Joined the Navy as Corpsman at 18 and Jumped into it by volunteering for “8404” Field Medic training. Ughh! I was Not Good at the “Field ” part of it. Fast forward I married a man from a Scouting background and All 3 of our teens are now proficient in Camping away from Mom and Dad. Hiking w/ Mates no adults. Using A Knife. Making a campfire. My 16 y/o recently dId a 12 Day Philmont/ whitewater rafting trip only used phone like 3-4 Times to update us on his Adventures. I’m So Glad they have this experience!

  3. lsl August 21, 2016 at 1:22 pm #

    As someone who regularly takes niblings camping, I agree with all of that except the synthetic clothing. If a spark from your fire lands on your clothes, synthetics will melt to your skin. Natural fibers won’t. Instead, bring a wool blanket & hats for keeping warm, and wear linen & cotton to stay cool, and use layers.

  4. Stephanie August 21, 2016 at 2:23 pm #

    One of the things I love about my kids’ school is that they have a couple camping trips through the years. Fourth grade goes to Yosemite, and does several practice hikes during the school year in local hills beforehand. Sixth grade does science camp, which is heavy on the outdoors. Eighth goes to Catalina Island to camp. It’s not in tents on any of them, but the cabins are all low tech, and there’s little time for the kids to use anything with a screen anyhow.

    Yosemite is the big favorite because it’s the only one that the entire family is invited to come along. They encourage parents to sign their other kids out of school that week.

  5. SanityAnyone? August 21, 2016 at 3:47 pm #

    Join scouting at any age. Long term friendships, cooperation, fun, skills, fitness.

  6. Phoebe August 21, 2016 at 4:19 pm #

    I’m a teenager (13), and this is awesome! Love the picture. That’s me.

  7. JimK August 21, 2016 at 4:59 pm #

    Great ideas, and couldn’t agree more. I’m glad my kids got started when they were 3 and 1 – bugs, rain, whatever don’t deter either one.Scouts is a great way to build on those skills – where else do you get to play with fire and knives?

  8. Papilio August 21, 2016 at 5:10 pm #

    Too bad the summer is almost over, or I’d ask you when you’ll be leaving 😉

  9. Donald Christensen August 21, 2016 at 5:25 pm #

    We need help from the Pokimon Go programmers. I wish they would make the camping areas more popular for the Pokimon to hang out at.

    Of course I think that camping and hiking would be MUCH better without the G#$&@*M game. However I think it would get more kids out there and some would eventually stop playing as much when they see the great outdoors.

    Then again, perhaps a bigger population of Pokimon on the hiking trails will ruin the experience for those of us that hike without the annoying game.

  10. Norman Smith August 21, 2016 at 8:22 pm #

    Sounds like either Boy Scouts or the co-ed program Venturing, for 14-21 year olds

  11. sexhysteria August 22, 2016 at 4:57 am #

    What about the risk of stranger abduction, bear attacks, acid rain, and back strain – not to mention getting lost? But at least you can’t die in a car crash in the woods, which is the most common cause of death in young people.

  12. Warren August 22, 2016 at 7:50 am #

    Making your own shelter instead of taking tents is also a fun and exciting option.

  13. Beanie August 22, 2016 at 11:13 am #

    I never camped as a kid, so when I got married, my husband introduced me to it. It wasn’t my favorite activity, but every once in a while, okay. Now our kids are Cub Scouts and we camp with Scouts and as a family. We all love to hike too. My kids have made me love it (although I still prefer campgrounds with running water and flush toilets). We’re planning our 4th and 5th camping trips of the season–we don’t really have time, but we’re doing it anyway, because we only live once, we might as well pack in as much outdoor fun as we can!

  14. Peter August 22, 2016 at 2:01 pm #

    Invest in a few things that they could use in college such as […] a lightweight tent

    Whew! College is getting tough! Back in my day, we had dorms…

  15. Dean August 23, 2016 at 5:16 pm #

    Thanks, Sanity
    Agree completely. My family did not camp, but I joined Scouting some 65 years ago, and have enjoyed “free range” for more than 60 years, introducing dozens–more like 100s–of youngsters the joy of the out of doors, from the Pacific Coast of California, to the the Alps of Bavaria, and from below sea level in Death Valley to the summit of Mt. Whitney Just got a note recently from one of “my Girl Scouts” who’s now a grandmother, thanking me for introducing her to camping, canoeing and hiking (including Mt. Whitney)…she and her progeny now camp, hike, fish and (for those helicopter parents out there) >horrors!< hunt in the mountains of Idaho.

  16. hineata August 23, 2016 at 9:45 pm #

    @Warren – no worries with THEM building their own shelter, long as I can drag in my fancy waterproof, hailproof two-roomer. I’d bring a flush toilet too – in fact, I would camp sans tent if I could only have a flush toilet – but they have yet to connect sewage pipes to much of NZ’s bush and forest land, lazy sods :-).

    @lsl – only thing I would disagree with you on is the wool clothing. Synthetic (polyprops etc) are much faster to dry than wool, and warmer as well. Also, personally I’ve never seen anyone badly burn themselves with an outdoor fire or gas cooker. If they look like they’re about to, I would suggest they probably need a little more tuition on fires etc. before going it alone.

  17. Warren August 24, 2016 at 12:37 am #


    When camping and we built our own shelter a flush toilet was called a log and shovel.

  18. hineata August 24, 2016 at 1:36 am #

    @Warren – same here….plus longdrops, which is why I have a passionate relationship with indoor plumbing ☺

  19. E August 25, 2016 at 2:09 pm #

    Couldn’t agree more. Grew up camping (learned to walk at Acadia Nat’l Park) and have continued to camp with my own family. Started backpacking when I was in my 50s.

    There are *so* many options for families. We always thought our kids had so much more freedom and room to roam camping then they’d have when in hotels (we took/take those trips too). The internet and social media has made research and planning so accessible.

    For people with teens, I’d suggest looking for “walk in” camping options. It’s not *really* backpacking and allows you to bring items that aren’t necessarily lightweight since you can make a few trips to back to your car.

    I was camping near a group of teens at a walk in setting when I was testing out my backpacking gear before my first real backpacking trip. I thought it was wonderful that their Dad helped them carry stuff in and then left them for the night. I did have to ask them to be quiet when they were still up gabbing after midnight. It tickled me because they talked for HOURS about video games and MMORPGs. I was thinking these kids really DID need to get out.

  20. E August 25, 2016 at 2:11 pm #

    @hineata — totally agree, the ‘technical fabrics’ are much better for backpacking/hiking because of their weight, their performance when wet, and how quickly they dry.