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How to take your Teen Backpacking for an Unforgettable Experience

Teens Backpacking

Taking your teen on an overnight backpacking trip can be an amazing, unforgettable experience. This article will explore how to take your teen backpacking and share some of the benefits and tips about taking your teen backpacking.  Read to the end for practical advice on gear and where to go to have an amazing backpacking adventure with your teen.

Looking for ideas of where to go Backpacking? Check out 10 Amazing Backpacking Trips with Teens in the US.

You may like other guides to getting outside with your teens:

5 Reasons Backpacking is a great Adventure with Your Teen

Over the years there has been increased attention on getting younger kids out in nature and disconnected from everyday life and technology, but it is just as important to get your teenager out into nature.  Taking your teen backpacking can provide a lasting memory and create a challenge for you and your teen to overcome together.  Below are just 5 reasons to consider a backpacking trip with your teen.

Give your Teen a Break from the World

Today’s teenager is busier than ever between school, sports, activities, technology, friends and the pressure to transition from little kid to adult.  Taking your teen backpacking gives them a break from this world even for a short time and can help reduce stress.  Just knowing you are carrying everything you need with you in your backpacking pack can help shift your perspective.

How to take your teen backpacking
How to take your teen backpacking

Give Teens a Safe Challenge

Teens need to be challenged and encouraged to get out of their comfort zone.  Teens are naturally looking for ways to challenge themselves and a backpacking trip is the perfect way to provide this challenge and help boost their self-confidence.

Share Amazing Views and Beautiful Places with your Teen

If you’ve spent time hiking with your kids or teens, you will know that some of the most beautiful natural places can only be seen when you explore on your own two feet.  Backpacking with your teen gives you the chance to immerse yourself in these places when all the hikers have gone home for the day.  Some of my favorite memories of backpacking with my own teens are the quiet mornings and star-gazing evenings.

 Connect with your teen

If you’ve read other articles on this site you will know that I am a huge proponent of getting your kids outside on an adventure as a way to connect and grow closer.  Teens are constantly engaged in a push and pull with their parents – pushing them away, but also wanting their input and approval (although not always being willing to let us know they want our approval).  Backpacking gives uninterrupted time to connect and talk with your teen about what’s happening in their life.

Create Shared Memories

When you think back to your own teenage and childhood memories, you most likely remember some of the bigger moments: holidays, family vacations, or when something went wrong.  Creating these deep shared memories provide you and your teen a common moment to look back on in the years to come.  It is precisely these shared memories that form the basis of family connection for your entire life.

How to take your Teen backpacking. Teenage girl backpacking in the Rocky Mountains
How to take your teen backpacking: Teen backpacking in the mountains

How to take your Teen Backpacking for an Epic Trip

For folks who’ve taken their kids backpacking since they were small you probably already have a good sense of all that goes into planning an overnight backpacking trip for kids.  For new backpacking families, you may be looking for advice on backpacking with teens and how to plan an epic backpacking trip.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Bring their Friends Backpacking: Sometimes it’s fun to bring along a friend for your teen’s backpacking trip.  

Start Easy but Plan an Amazing Backpacking Experience: You want your teen to LOVE backpacking, so start with something that is easy enough to build their confidence, but has something amazing to make the effort worthwhile.

Make Backpacking Fun, Not Scary: Even if you find certain parts of backpacking scary or uncomfortable, be careful not to stress these concerns to your teen.  As a family, you can talk about safe backpacking practice (such as wildlife encounters, dressing properly, etc). Teens need to develop their own sense of what is safe to become successful adults.

Find the Best Backpacking Gear you Can: You teen is going to be much more comfortable if their backpacking gear fits and keeps them comfortable.  In the next section I share lots of suggestions for backpacking gear.  That said, don’t let this stop you from getting out to explore.  Even if you don’t have the newest gear, you can often put some things together to make an overnight work for you and your teen.

Get your Teen To Help with Planning the Backpacking Trip:  One skill that teens need in life is practice planning.  Getting your teen involved in the planning process means they will be more invested in the success of the family backpacking trip.  Let your teen help plan every part of the trip including where you go, what you eat when you’re backpacking, and what gear you pack.

Teen and dad backcountry camping in Idaho
How to take your teen backpacking: Dad and daughter on a backpacking trip

What to Take Backpacking with your Teen

It’s important to pack right for your camping trip with your teen and it will go a long way to keeping everyone happy on your backcountry camping trip.  Below are some gear suggestions – if you already have some of the gear, don’t go out and buy everything new – most of the time you can get by with some of what you have and build up your backpacking gear over time.

Choosing the Best Backpack for your Teen

Choosing the best backpacking pack will make a huge difference for the success of your trip.  You will need to consider several different things:

Volume

The volume depends on how long you are going and what you need to pack.  The smallest backpacking pack you would want to consider is 30 liters.  This would be barely sufficient for a single overnight and you would need lightweight gear to keep things small and tight.  For multi-day trips or for carrying more gear you would want to consider up to 70 liters.

Weight

Your backpack will be one of the heaviest things you and your teen will carry, so you want to consider the lightest pack you can get or afford.  The type of frame will impact the weight of your backpack – and the more you plan to carry, the heavier the pack.

Other Considerations

Make sure you have a waterproof pack or have a pack cover.  If you are borrowing a pack or using an older pack, you may want to consider water sealing. We often pack individual items in plastic bags if we know that it will rain a lot.   Also consider how you will pack your bag and whether you want lots of small pockets on your bag, or a more streamlined pack. 

Click on the link to see a great option for a backpacking pack: Osprey Backpacking Pack.

How to take your teen backpacking: Visiting a backcountry hut in Slovenia

Selecting a Backpacking Tent for Your Family

Like your backpack, your tent will be one of the more expensive pieces of gear for your backpacking trip with your kids.  The biggest considerations in selecting a tent will be size, price, and weight.  Tents are becoming increasingly lightweight which means if you have an older tent, it might be time to upgrade.  Also note that a car camping tent is different then a lightweight backpacking tent.  Can you use one for backpacking? Absolutely – we have dragged a car camp tent up the mountain many times, but if you are looking to buy something new, you will want to consider a lightweight tent. 

Try to purchase a tent you will use on multiple occasions.  If you are going backpacking with just your teen this time, it may be tempting to get a 2 person tent, but consider what happens when you want to take a friend next time.  

Click on the link to see our top choice for a backpacking tent.

Sleeping Bag and pad

Make sure you and your teen will be warm enough on your next backpacking trip!  You will want to make sure you and your teen have a lightweight/warm sleeping bag.  Remember to check the weather and be prepared for much cooler temperatures where you are sleeping than you might find at home.  

A sleeping pad will not only keep you comfortable, but will also keep you warm by providing a layer between you and the ground.  There are many sleeping pads available that roll, inflate and compress down for backpacking.

Choosing the Best Backpacking Clothes for Your Teen

The weather and climate where you’re backpacking will dictate a lot of what you need to pack.  A few good rules to follow are: dress in layers, choose non-cotton or quick drying materials, and bring one extra layer than you think you need.  For most of our backpacking trips with our teens we bring/wear: shorts, t-shirt, pants, long sleeved shirt, fleece, underwear, 2 pairs of socks, rain pants, rain coat.  You may also want to consider a winter hat or other warmer clothes if it is going to be cold at night.

Choosing the Best Backpacking Boots

Unlike hiking where you can sometimes get away with sneakers or lightweight hiking shoes, you will need a pair of hiking boots for you and your teen.  Hiking boots will have better ankle support when you are carrying a pack and will provide more waterproof ability.  ALWAYS break in your hiking boots before you head off on a backpacking trip with your kids.  We usually wear them around the house to start and on short walks.

How to take your teen backpacking: Visiting a hut in Italy

What to Bring to Eat on Your Backpacking Trip

Stove – you will most likely want to bring a small lightweight stove and fuel on your backpacking trip with your teen.  There are many options now that are lightweight and easy to carry.

Dishes, Pots and Pans – while you can use your own, home dishes and pans, it is best to find the lightest weight options for your backpacking trip with you teens.  Only bring what you need to cook the food you plan to eat.  We often pack tupperware instead of bowls since we can also back out food waste or leftovers.  You should also bring a multi-tool or knife of some kind.

Water Purification – Unless you plan to carry ALL your water, you will need to bring a way to treat your water (never drink water directly without treating it first).  You can bring a water filter, boil your water for several minutes, or treat your water with purification tablets.

Water bottles – at a minimum, you should plan to bring at least 2 liters of water/person (in 2 different bottles).  You will need more depending on where you are backpacking and how often you can get water on the trail.

Food – You will need meals and snacks on your backpacking trip.  You can purchase pre-made backpacking food directly or create your own backpacking food.  It is important to bring protein rich foods that can stick with you on the hike as well as quick energy boosts like fruit.  Also consider the packaging and try to minimize the packaging when possible.  Some of our favorite meals and snacks for backpacking are:

  • PB and Jelly or honey sandwiches
  • Cheese, veggies and hummer wraps
  • Trail mix
  • Granola bars
  • Apples
  • Pasta with cheese, sauce, etc
  • Rice with Taste Bite curry
  • Burritos 
  • tea/coffee/hot chocolate

Extras – Below is a list of several other important items to bring on your backpacking trip.

  • Head Lamps/Flash Lights  
  • Trail Map and/or Book
  • Hiking poles
  • Camera
  • Compass
  • First Aid Kit
  • Camping Game/cards
  • Camp Chair
  • Tooth Brush and other personal items
  • Trash Bag
  • Bear Bag or other storage depending on your location

Leave No Trace

Exploring the amazing world outside with your teen is a privilege that we all need to protect.  It is important to leave no trace when you are backpacking.  This means packing out everything you pack in, including your food scraps, minimizing your off trail walking, camping on established/durable surfaces, minimize fire impact, respect wildlife and leave what you find.

Teenage boy backpacking in the mountains
How to take your teen backpacking: Teen Backpacking in the Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

Great Places to Backpack with Teens: Make it Epic, Easy and Fun

Where you decide to backpack is a personal decision and depends on where you live, how fit you and your teen are, what gear you have available and what your goals are for this trip. In general, choose somewhere fun (something with views) but something they can easily accomplish.  A good rule of thumb for distance when backpacking is that you will travel 1 mile/hour on flat ground and add another hour for every 1,000 feet of elevation.  That means if you are going 5 miles with 2,000 feet of elevation (a good distance to backpack for your first trip with your teen) it will take you about 7 hours.  Remember this is an average and it may take you longer or shorter depending on you and your teen.

You will want to research backcountry camping since some places require a permit to spend the night in the backcountry or you will need to reserve a backcountry site.  Otherwise you can do dispersed camping in the National Forest following the rules by the USDA.

If a backpacking trip feels too intimidating for your first backcountry experience with your teen, another option is to stay in a backcountry hut.  There are amazing huts and cabins you can reserve in both the US and aboard, such as the Colorado 10th Mountain Division, the White Mountain Huts, NH, the Tam McArthur Rim Huts (Owl Yurt), Oregon, and so many more.

Amazing Programs and Organized Backpacking Trips

Choosing an adventure backpacking program might be the right decision for you and your teen.  There are many programs that specialize in youth backpacking excursions.  Some focus on family experience, while others are just for teens.  Here are a few, but there are many others you can find depending on your location, time availability, and cost.

Do you have any thoughts about this post on how to take your teen backpacking? Drop me a comment.

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