Teaching Kids to Love the Backcountry.

Admittedly this is something I’ve done with a little bit of selfishness at the core of it.  The selfish drive is simply this: I love being outside with foot-to-trail and it is pretty difficult to do this if my kids are not willing companions in this activity. 

So, apologies to my daughter, if at some point she reads this.  (((GOTCHA :-P)))

All kidding, or not, aside.  It seems every week there are a few new articles circulating out there that speak to the importance of giving kids grass-roots opportunities to be kids.  This is a big deal for our family.   Its a chance for us all to unplug and be present and it's badly needed in our world today.

Getting our kids to love the backcountry has happened in phases.  When my youngest was still portable, I simply just went.  I carried her everywhere.   It was pretty easy actually.  The additional weight wasn’t impossible, though at times I’m sure I looks ridiculous with a baby on the front and a big pack on the back.  Her very early years were spent playing in alpine snow in July, playing in the heather (eating the heather) playing with sticks, dirt and watching the wildlife around her.  

kids and backpacking

As she grew, and we started depending more on her walking herself into our destinations, our day trips became short rambles and our overnight trips anywhere I could pack her in between 2-4 km.   So the first tip: Keep it Manageable.  Give room for kids to play on the way to your destination.  I’ve always believed that hiking is more about the journey than the reward at the viewpoint. 

kids and backpacking

Which brings me to my second tip.  Plan the trip around rewarding experiences.  Pick a trail you know has plenty of rewards along the way.  Rewards can be natural (big trees to check out, creeks, waterfalls, interesting plants, flowers and fungi, stunning viewpoints) or they can be created by you.   Bring chocolate kisses or jellybeans along.  Make a game of spotting and naming plants.  Ignite imaginations by listening to sounds in the forest and guessing what is making those sounds.   Get some kid friendly cameras and give them a list of things to find and photograph. This takes a little extra work and planning, but it will be well worth it for the good hiking memories you’ll be building. (muah-hahah).

Tip 3.  Food.  Bring food that you know the kids will love.  Sure, this may mean you’re packing a little heavier on the food-front and your trips are a little shorter, but remember you’re easing them into this.   Things like Mac & Cheese and hot dogs aren’t normally on my food packing list UNLESS it’s a family backpacking trip.

Tip 4.  Playtime.  Give kids lots of opportunity to stop and play along the way.  This will definitely kill your distance-over-time stats but if you’ve planned your trip accordingly, this should be a non-issue.  Plus, it gives you opportunity to drop your pack, grab a snack and pull out your camera and take some photos. 

Tip 5.  Gear.  Make sure your kids are outfitted with the right clothing for the weather.  Keep most cotton at home.  Choose fabrics that are lighter weight, wick moisture away and dry quickly.

Tip 6. Give your kids small, developmentally appropriate jobs at camp.  Show them how to filter water.  Let them walk the food to the bear cache with you.   Let them collect wood for the fire (if you’re having one).  Make it their responsibility to set up their sleeping mats and bags. 

Are there complaints, YES always.  I've come to realize this is just part of what our kids do.  This being said, they always have fond memories of our trips and show excitement when we start packing for the next trip.  If you keep at it, with a bit of luck, you just might find you’ve managed to foster some enthusiastic participants for your future backcountry excursions.  😉

Happy Trails ~ Jenn @ thebackcountrycollective

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