How to keep your tweens and teens interested in hiking and backpacking

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SALT LAKE CITY — Spending time with your children is important no matter how old they get, but how can you keep teens and preteens engaged in outdoor recreation during their sometimes rebellious years?

“Kids need to spend time outdoors — a fun, healthy, beyond-the-ordinary place,” according to an article from Recreational Equipment, Inc. “Backpacking is a great way to help them appreciate all the beauty and adventure that the natural world offers.”

Here are some ways to keep your teens and tweens excited about hiking and backpacking:

Tent on a backpacking route in Moab; Photo by Cara MacDonald,
Tent on a backpacking route in Moab; Photo by Cara MacDonald,

Don’t make it scary

Parents can send negative messages when they use too many ‘don’ts’ leading up to a trip, according to Backpacker. Don’t indicate that the outdoors is dangerous and filthy by telling them not to get too far from you or instructing them not to get dirty.

Start them hiking young

The more accustomed children get to hiking long distances as a child, the more receiving they will be to it as a teenager, according to REI.

Bring other teens with you

“Teenagers prefer to be with other teenagers,” outdoors writer Tim Hauserman said in The Tahoe Weekly. “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.”

First time backpacking?

Don’t camp more than a mile or two from the trailhead on the first night, REI suggested. If you need to bail for whatever reason it won’t be a miserable trek back the way you’ve come.

Make it fun

Middle schoolers require almost constant fun to stay entertained, according to Backpacker. Playing games and riddles as you hike, occasional games of hide-and-seek and more can all help your kids stay entertained as you hike.


See how your children react to new outdoor situations and adjust your expectations and ambitions for them accordingly, REI suggested. Seek to keep the adventure from becoming too challenging.

Hikers near Flaming Gorge Reservoir; Photo by Cara MacDonald,
Hikers near Flaming Gorge Reservoir; Photo by Cara MacDonald,

Let kids lead

Teens and tweens love to be taken seriously, according to Backpacker. Involve them in the planning process as you map out your trip so they feel like you are exploring together rather than being dragged along on a trip.

Invest in gear they can use in college

Hauserman said, “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.”

Don’t take away technology

Taking away phones and electronics is usually a punishment, according to Backpacker. If you take away phones when you go backpacking, your child will associate it with being a punishment. Let them carry their phones — they probably won’t have service anyway.

Tap into their interests

What sort of activities does your child like? Photography? Art? Backpacker suggests planning a trip around your child’s interest, whether you plan it yourself or attend an outdoor skill class or camp together.

View from a tent on a backpacking route near Flaming Gorge Reservoir; Photo by Cara MacDonald,
View from a tent on a backpacking route near Flaming Gorge Reservoir; Photo by Cara MacDonald,

Gear up

Teens and pre-teens like to feel like they belong, according to Backpacker. Get them all the gear they need and get them comfortable with using it before you go so they’ll fit right in on the trail.

Keep your child’s load light

Teens and preteens get discouraged by exhausting journeys, REI said. Be their sherpa and carry the heavy items for them.

Give them added comforts

Make sure they are consistently warm, safe and dry to keep spirits up, according to Backpacker. Some well-timed treats may also help.

Teenage years are a great time to teach your child valuable outdoor recreation skills they can take into the rest of their lives. Take advantage of these impressionable times to get them even more excited about hiking and backpacking.

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Cara MacDonald enjoys both engaging in outdoor recreation and writing about it. Born and raised in Utah, Cara enjoys skiing, rock climbing, hiking and camping. She is passionate about both learning about and experiencing the outdoors, and helping others to learn about and explore nature. She primarily writes Outdoors articles centering around wildlife and nature, highlighting adventure opportunities, and sharing tips and tricks for outdoor recreation.


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