Are you looking to stretch your legs and get your teen off the couch? Perhaps you are searching for a way to connect with your teen, or maybe you’re an avid hiker already and looking for ideas on how to get your teen motivated out on the trail. This article covers everything you need to know about hiking with teens.
While teens often get a bad rap, we love hiking with teens – they are funny, physically capable, and hiking is one of the best ways to get them talking! No matter where we travel, we always work hiking into the plan and agenda and below we will share the best things about hiking with teens.
You might also like: 20 Best Hikes in the United States with Teens.
Why You Should Hike with Your Teen
Teenagers are going through a series of rapid developments; emotionally, mentally, and physically. Hiking with your teen gives them a chance to stretch and challenge themselves in every way. Here are just a few reasons to plan a hike with your teen:
- Teens need exercise and with stronger muscles they are ready to tackle more challenging hikes
- Teens spend too much time in front of a screen – a 2019 report by VJR Consulting found that teens spend more than 7 hours a day on a screen for entertainment
- Hiking with your teen gives you uninterrupted time to connect, to talk, and to work towards a common goal
- The world is an amazing places and many of the most amazing sites can only be seen by hiking
- Hiking presents a natural challenge and a feel of accomplishment that helps build self-confidence
5 Tips for a Successful Hike with Teens
- Bring Friends. Hiking with friends makes the whole activity more fun!
- Select the Right Hike – for many teens, a few miles along the beach is the perfect amount of challenge, while other teens may be looking to climb a summit or check off a long distance hike. The more you can get your teen to help with the planning the more invested they will be in the hike itself.
- Be Prepared – make sure you pack enough food, water and layers for everyone and check the weather before you head out on the trail.
- Let your teen enjoy the hike their way. This might mean a really slow pace, it might also mean they want to run for part of it, or perhaps they want to take photos or bring a book for the top.
- If you find yourself dragging your teen to the hiking trail, try pairing it with something they love – a hike and ice cream, a hike in a place they’ve wanted to go, or pick up their favorite sandwich on the way to the trailhead.
How to Choose the Best Hiking Trail with Teens
Choosing the best hiking trail to enjoy with your teen can often seem overwhelming since there are often many options to choose from. If your teen is interested, it is always best to get them involved in the planning process. Start with a general sense of the time you have to hike. A good rule is to assume it will take about 30 minutes to hike a mile and an extra 30 minutes for every 1,000 feet of elevation. Remember this is an estimate and a lot depends on the type of trail you are hiking and of course how fast you hike. It is always better to overestimate your hiking time to avoid running late or hiking out in the dark.
Once you know how much time you have, decide if you and your teen are looking for a short wander in the woods, or an all day challenge. I’ve found that my teens respond better to a full day epic hike if they have at least a few days notice but are usually up for a short hike even if I spring it on them.
Next, decide what type of hike you want to go on with your teen. Are you most interested in a walk in the forest, reaching a summit, finding a waterfall or alpine lake, or exploring a coastline? Often it is easier to sell your teen on a fun destination at the end of a challenging hike.
Once you have a sense of what you are looking for, it is time to research. There are lots of hiking guidebooks for every destination. If you are looking to hike near your home, it is often helpful to get a local guidebook to your region that you will use again and again. You can also use the online tool Alltrails to find hikes. Either visit the website or download the app. The best thing about All Trails is you can search trails by location, difficulty, etc. and read other people’s comments. I always try to read the last new comments that will tell you if there were any problems on the trail like closures, bugs, snow, etc. There is a free version or you can get a paid version in order to download a map and there are also several other similar tools online. Always remember to have a backup in case your phone stops working on the trail!
If your hike is within a National or State Park, you can often find additional information at a welcome center or ranger station and there are many blogs that share personal stories of the more popular hikes. Remember that many of these popular hikes are likely to be crowded so try to get an early start to avoid the people and get a parking spot.
When you’re planning a hike with your teen, don’t forget that conditions may be very different then what it is like at your home. The weather may be colder and windier, or there could still be snow on the trail. Always check safety conditions and pack everything you need.
What to Wear
Wearing the right hiking gear is not only important for looking right and being comfortable, it is also important to keep you and your teen safe while hiking. Luckily the outdoor clothing industry has done an excellent job making safe and comfortable clothes look cool! The best advice is to dress in layers of non-cotton clothes. You want to choose materials that are fast drying or wick away the sweat so you don’t get chilled when you stop moving. Always have an extra layer or two for when you stop. If there is even the slightest chance of rain, you will want to pack a raincoat layer that can also double as a wind layer. Clothes like jeans and cotton sweatshirts are likely to get wet and stay wet which means you and your teen will be cold.
In addition to clothes, what you wear on your feet is also important. Athletic socks or hiking socks provide extra cushioning and will also keep your feet warm even if they get wet. For most hikes, you and your teen should invest in a good pair of hiking boots (although for short, flat hikes, we often still wear sneakers or hiking sandals). Hiking shoes provide extra support for your ankles and are important if you are hiking a trail with roots and rocks. Whatever you do, don’t buy your teen new hiking boots and head off on a 10 mile hike. Make sure you break in the shoes around your house or on short walks to avoid blisters. You may also want to bring a hat and sunglasses to keep the sun off your face, or microspikes for hiking on snow and ice.
What to Pack
Depending on the length of your hike, you and your teen will want to pack everything you need and a little extra. Make sure you pack one extra clothing layer than you think you need. The easiest way to carry your hiking gear is in a backpack, although for shorter hikes a camelback or fannypack can also work.
Food – It is important to pack plenty of food – remember you will be burning lots of extra energy so always pack extra. The best food for a day hike includes protein rich foods and some quick, energy filled snacks. You want both foods that can stick with you and provide energy for hours and foods that can give you a quick boost. Sandwiches like peanut butter and jelly, bagels and cream cheese, or cheese, hummus and veggies are great. For snacks you can bring fruit, cut up veggies, trail mix, granola bars, cheese sticks, pretzels, or anything that is easy to pack. Don’t forget to bring silverware if you need it and always pack out all your trash and left over food. Talking with your teen about the importance of eating right to fuel their body for the hike is really important.
Water – always make sure you and your teen have enough water. For most hikes we bring along 2 large full water bottles to start for each person. If the hike is strenuous, or it is hot, always bring more (up to a liter per hour for each person). We also leave an extra bottle in the car so we have water as soon as we finish the hike just in case. Never drink the water on the trail without treating it first as it can have harmful bacteria that will make you sick. You can purchase water filters or drops to help treat your water.
Even if you are heading out on just a short hike, it is important to bring a few safety items with you. We almost always bring bandaids for blisters and a few other first aid kit items. For longer hikes, we bring along a small first aid kit. If there is even the slightest chance that you might finish your hike in the dark, it is a good idea to make sure you have a flashlight, headlamp or even a light on your phone.
Click HERE for our favorite day hike gear – make sure you double check what your teenagers pack as it’s no fun and can be dangerous to be stuck on a mountain without the right gear.
Safety on the Trail
Knowing what’s Safe
Unlike hiking with younger kids where you are managing their safety, hiking with teens means placing some of the responsibility for safety on them. Teens need to know when a situation is truly dangerous and when it’s a challenge that can be overcome. When I hike with my teens I get much more nervous watching them traverse a steep section than actually doing it myself. I have found that in general, individual teens have a good sense of what feels safe to them – it always seems to become more complicated when teens are showing off for each other. Keeping an open conversation about what is safe and what the plan is will help your teen keep a level head about safety. Here are a few of the safety concerns you should prepare for when hiking with your teen.
Have a Plan
Always have a plan and let someone who isn’t with you know where you are going. Be prepared to turn around if the conditions become unsafe.
Always check the weather before heading off on a hike and remember that conditions may be different where you are hiking than at home or even at the trailhead. If you are going up, assume colder temperatures and likely more wind. In the spring there may be snow at the top or lots of mud.
Remember you are heading out into nature! Never approach wildlife and be aware that you are sharing the woods and trails with many animals from bugs to bears. Make yourself aware of the possible threats in the area and learn how to deal with them.
It’s always a good idea to carry a first aid kit and an even better idea to know what’s in your kit and how to use it. Most of the time you will need band aids, but having a few other medications at hand will help fix small problems and keep going on your hike. Also remember that basic things like a headache are often a sign of dehydration.
Leave No Trace
Leaving no trace when hiking is important for the safety of the natural world and the environment you are spending time in. Teach your teen to pack out everything they bring in, including food scraps. Never feed wildlife on the trail or remove items. It is also important to stay on the trail and not cut off switchback to help decrease erosion and keep the trails in good shape for everyone.
Planning a Hiking Vacation
Almost every trip we take with our teens involves hiking and there are many amazing destinations where you can plan your entire trip around hiking with teens. If you are travelling in the United States, the National Parks offer amazing hikes, but don’t overlook state parks and national forests, especially if you’re looking to escape the crowds. If you are travelling internationally, it’s best to do a little extra research. Some places require you to hire a guide or get a permit. The important thing to know is that there are beautiful hikes around the globe for you to explore.