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Backpacker Magazine – September 2001

Take Your Family Outdoors

Camping with kids can plant a wild seed in them that will grow as they do-but only if you get them Out There.

by: Alan Kesselheim

12 to 18 Years

Trail-tested tips

Child's Play
Gear and tips for kids only.
arrowInfant to 2 years
arrow2 to 6 years
arrow6 to 12 years
arrow12 to 18 years
  • Let the big kids hike ahead. Teenagers have more energy than you do, and need personal space. If it's safe, allow them to hike at their own pace. Use trail junctions, water crossings, and other landmarks for meeting points. Bring a buddy. A teen who takes a friend along has a good shot at having fun in the wilderness.
  • Keep birds of a feather together. For groups with more than one teen, have the teens pack their own tent and set it up far enough away that they don't keep you up all night.
    Photo by Gordon Wiltsie

  • Fuel the flock. Growing teenagers-especially boys-need to eat a lot and often. Stuff their pockets with trail mix and energy bars so you don't have a feeding frenzy at every meal.
  • Teach, don't do. Kids age 12 and older are ready to learn backpacking skills and chores. Teach them how to use a compass, pick a campsite, work the stove, hang the bear bag, clean the water filter, and so on.
  • Plan lots of free time. Physically, teens may be capable of hiking all day, but that doesn't mean it's good for them. Throw in a deck of cards, Hacky Sack, or Frisbee. Bring a field book and make a contest out of identifying plants. Allow time for swimming, snowball fights, writing in journals, and sketching.
  • Don't skimp on gear. Many teens are able to carry an adult-size load, and it's unfair to ask them to do it with a child-size pack.
  • Lead by example. It won't be long before these kids will be backpacking on their own. It's up to you to teach them low-impact camping techniques and respect for the wilderness.
Like everything in a teenager's life, finding the right backpacking gear is more complicated than you might expect. In some ways, they're young adults who can use grown-up gear, but in other respects, they're still youngsters. In general, buy them adult products that are durable and adjustable in fit. You'll save money in the long run if big-ticket items like packs and sleeping bags don't have to be replaced again.

Boots. Teenagers' feet grow fast, so don't invest a lot of money in top-of-the-line boots that will be two sizes too small by the time they're broken in. For three-season hiking, choose lightweight footwear with adequate ankle support. If you plan on-trail hikes only, durable sneakers may be adequate.

Raingear. Buy good rain protection, or else you may have a wet, unhappy, and possibly hypothermic teen on your hands. That said, a good old-fashioned rain slicker can keep a growing kid dry without breaking the bank.

Packs. Don't borrow Uncle Earl's old pack, and don't stretch out another season with that pack you bought your daughter when she was 9. Several manufacturers, including Kelty, REI, and L.L. Bean, make youth internal and external frame packs, or you might be able to fit your teen into a women's size small pack.

Base layers. Teens can wear the same clothing you do. Perfect fit and costly technical features aren't necessary, but it's important that layers keep your teen warm and dry.

Resources Jack Wolfskin, (888) 378-9653;
Kamik, (800) 341-3950;
Kelty, (800) 423-2320;
Leki USA, (800) 255-9982;
L.L. Bean, (800) 809-7057;
Madden Mountaineering, (303) 442-5828;
Molehill Mountain Equipment, (800) 804-0820;
Patagonia, (800) 638-6464;
Painter Outdoor Gear, (888) 714-4888;
REI, (800) 426-4840;
Timberland, (800) 445-5545;
Tough Traveler, (800) 468-6844;

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