Backpacking with teenagers

Our kids spend much of their lives looking at their phones and computer screens or heading to sports activities. This leaves little time to do what their parents spent most of their time doing when they were kids – playing in nature. A great way to get kids disconnected from the digital world is to have them fill a backpack with everything they will need for a few days and hike to an amazing lake in the wilderness.


A quiet moment of reflection. 

While the benefits of backpacking for children are profound at any age, teenagers especially benefit tremendously from the experience. Teens are being bombarded with emotional and physical challenges and could use a breather. There is nothing like quiet time and being responsible for oneself to put life in perspective. The trick of course is getting your child on the trail. How does one get a teenager out on a backpacking trip? More importantly, how do you make sure he or she enjoys it and wants to do it again?

“There is nothing like quiet time and being
responsible for oneself to put life in perspective.”


The easiest way is to begin backpacking with young kids, so that by the time they are teenagers, backpacking is part of their summer lifestyle. If that train has left the station, there are still a few tips to make for a successful first backpacking trip.

081816-BackpackingTeens_landscapeExplore Desolation Wilderness with your teenagers.

Teenagers prefer to be with other teenagers. 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.

If you don’t have it, beg for and borrow the equipment you will need. 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.

081816-BackpackingTeens_TeensTeens like to hang out with other teens.

If you are not already an experienced backpacker, read a good backpacking primer to make a list of everything you will need. Then take another look and cut back to just the essentials. It is all about being light and getting by with less.

Pick an awesome camping spot and stay there at least two nights. This will allow one glorious day with no expectations and free time, when kids will rediscover the joys of play and using their imagination. Ambitious kids may want to head out for a day of hiking from camp, but others could be satisfied to spend the day lollygagging on the boulders, swimming or whatever else strikes their fancy.

Author Tim Hauserman and his daughter, Sarah.

In fact, perhaps the best bet would be to leave those in camp who want to hang and give the ambitious ones a chance to hike with you. Those left in camp will discover one of the great missing experiences of a child’s upbringing: Time alone being responsible for themselves. It’s a good life skill to acquire because before you can say, bada bing, they will be away at college.


Tips for backpacking with teens

  1. Start backpacking when they are young
  2. Bring other teens with you
  3. Borrow equipment if you don’t have it
  4. Invest in gear that they’ll use in college
  5. Only carry what you need
  6. Set up camp for at least 2 days


Tim Hauserman is a long-time local and author of several books on the outdoors, including “Tahoe Rim Trail: The Official Guide for Hikers, Mountain Bikers and Equestrians” and “Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children.”



READ MORE – Tim Hauserman shares tips for camping, backpacking & hiking.

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On the Tahoe Rim Trail | Go play in the woods