Access Special Features, Register Now!

Keeping Teenage Boys Happy in the Wilderness

It is finally here, we are taking our Boy Scout troop in the AT thru the GSMNP. The only question now is how to keep teenage boys motivated to complete the 76 miles?


It is finally here, we are taking our Boy Scout troop in the AT thru the GSMNP. We feel we have planned well and our gear is up to speed. The only question now is how to keep teenage boys motivated to complete the 76 miles? Any suggestions as to how convince them to keep digging? I have some ideas but wanted to get some from you all. I love the magazine and read it monthly, have used it as reference several times in the past. Keep up the great work!

Submitted by - Brian


Dear Brian, When my candy-starved kids were little, Skittles did the trick. I would dole out a few every 10 minutes or so. Once they hit the teenage years, it gets a bit more complicated. To get some ideas, I consulted my friend, BACKPACKER Northwest Editor, Mike Lanza. He posts stories and images about his adventures, many with his family, at his blog, His book, Before They’re Gone–A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks, won honorable mention in the 2012 National Outdoor Book Awards. Mike came up with some great tips: -Having a group of boys is a good start: With friends around them, they will be less inclined to whine. Emphasizing that everyone feel free to speak up right away about any potential problems, like a hot spot on a foot that could become a blister.

That gives you a window into setting a rule: They should speak up if they have an issue, but no whining. -These are teenage boys, so carry more food than you expect to need and feed them frequently. That will stave off most problems. Plan a short break every 60 to 90 minutes for snacks, or remind them to eat (and drink) while hiking. -When dissension threatens, find a swimming hole for a break, or invent games to play on the trail that will distract them from the effort of hiking.

Try the “rhyming game,” where you start with one word and everyone has to come up with a rhyming word until all but one player is eliminated. Have them invent a word game, like a contest to name song titles of their favorite bands. -Give out a daily prize (candy bar, or being relieved of that night’s kitchen cleanup duties) to whoever identifies the most wildlife. -If you have boys who hike at really differing paces, have leaders separate into faster and slower groups, so you don’t punish the fast as well as the slow by forcing them to stay together. -Assign duties that give them a sense of pride in responsibility. Teach them how to read the map and let them take turns leading. In camp, assign who gathers wood and builds the campfire or lights and monitors the cook stoves. Assign the most desirable duties by choosing boys who demonstrated leadership that day on the trail by staying positive, carrying extra group weight, arriving in camp early to help set up tents, etc. -And, of course: Tell ghost stories around the campfire after dark, while roasting marshmallows or s’mores.

1 Comment

  1. DaveS

    I laughed when I read Eddie S’s comment. That did go through my head also.
    NW Scouter makes many very good points.
    My troop went on monthly hikes to the top of 10K peaks in the mountains around Los Angeles. Usually every summer we would go to the Sierra for a week long trip. The other trips had taught us how to handle altitude and distance.
    We would let the older (faster) scouts go ahead to a designated stopping point. The top or saddle was a common point. The next good shade or water source is great also.
    I learned from these trips how to keep putting one foot in front of the other until the goal was met. we learned from the example of our Scoutmaster the ability to lead from the back of the group. There was always one adult as the last person in the sometimes long string of kids.
    As Bill pointed out, checking gear before the trip is important. On the shorter trips we frequently had someone leave something important behind. Nothing like experiential learning.

Leave a Reply