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Hiking with Teens

By Diane Spicer

The only qualifications I have that make me able to comment on hiking with teens are these:

I raised two of them.

I once planned and executed a week long backpacking trip with a dozen Boy Scouts, along with 3 other adults.

And I've worked with this age group in other venues: as a teacher, a parent, a Girl Scout leader.....

... and I've noticed a few consistent characteristics in teen hikers which need to be considered before you take them out on a hiking trail for a family hike.

Hiking motivation

First of all, WHY do they want to hike?

  • Are they motivated to earn a badge or some other recognition?
  • Are they looking for camaraderie?
  • Do they want to impress someone?
  • Is their idea of hiking shaped by a movie or book character?

Knowing the answer to these questions is important, because it helps you plan a safe but rewarding hike/backpack trip.

There's nothing worse than trying to drag unwilling teens up a trail.

Solid, realistic motivation must be there, or hiking with teens can turn into mutiny.

Planning a hike
with your teen(s)

Notice that it's "with", not "for".

Involve your teens in all of the planning phases.

Drag out the maps, spread them out on the table, suggest a few options, then let them decide.

If they don't know how to read a topo map, or aren't familiar with how distance, elevation, and seasons work together, explain the impact of those variables on a hike.

  • If you're not sure, why not learn together?

Gear up

Do a pack check prior to leaving. This is crucial!!

  • I had to confiscate a wind up alarm clock and an electric shaver (no kidding) from 1 kid's pack prior to setting off for a week on the trail, so be sure they're not lugging extra weight around for no discernible (to you) reason.

And check to see if they have the ten essentials for safe and comfortable traveling.

A boot check is a great idea, too:

  • Do they fit?
  • Are the socks going to work with the boots?
  • Are the laces frayed and ready to snap?
  • Are the soles too worn to grip properly?
  • Have they been laced correctly?

To round things out, here's another mom's take on hiking with teens.

Food makes a good hike
even better

Another key factor: trail food.

Make sure you have the right mix of nutrients and tasty stuff, or you're going to hear complaints like you can't even believe.

Be prepared

Be prepared for some wonderful surprises.

  • I've seen bickering teens pull together to establish a great base camp under adverse weather conditions, given just a gentle nudge in the right direction.

Play to each teen's strength, and guide the emergence of the natural leader(s) to get the job done, whether it's cooking dinner, getting up a steep trail, reading a map, or scouting the best swimming hole in the river.

You'll see a side of your teen you may not have dreamed existed, if you give her/him some outdoor space.

for hiking with teens

If your teen is part of an established social group, that's the easiest way to get him/her on a trail.

Why not let the adult group leaders do all of the planning work, and you can go along for the hiking fun?

But if you'd prefer to use an organization that is not affiliated with a particular social, political or religious point of view, consider these:

You have my admiration and gratitude for getting the next generation out on the trails. There won't be any trails in the future if they don't value and appreciate outdoor time.

Kudos to you!

Purple shooting star flower heads bending over stalksIf you hike with teens, consider yourself as brilliant as a shooting star.

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