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Last Updated on May 27, 2020 by Diane Hoffmaster
Family hiking can be a great way to get exercise and have fun with your teenagers. Or, it can be a horrible experience that will ensure your teens never set foot in the woods again! Here are some tips for hiking with teens so that your outdoor family adventure is one you will want to repeat!
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Make Family Hiking a Priority
My husband and I have always been avid outdoors type people. Long walks in the woods are far more enjoyable for us than a cruise or an island vacation. Yes, we would rather get dirty and sweaty than sunny and tan. Sorry, maybe that's weird!
Our love of the outdoors did not stop once we had kids. We threw the baby in a backpack and continued hiking up mountains. Of course, now, the kids have hit those fun teenage years (and even a 20 year old!) and we struggle to get them out into the woods with us occasionally.
Hiking with teens is a challenge. They enjoy it...deep down in the pit of their souls...I know they do. But, they are sloth like, lazy creatures with an unnatural obsession with YouTube videos and Instagram. But, my husband and I continue to make them join us on our occasional woodland hikes.
I keep hoping that one day they will open their eyes and be astounded by the beauty surrounding them rather than asking how much farther til we reach the visitor center. I decided to share a few tips for hiking with teens in case you decide to drag yours out into the woods!
Hiking with Teens: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Hiking with Teens: The good stuff: Taking your tween or teen hiking this summer? There are a few benefits to having teenagers along on your family hiking trip!
They need way less gear than they did as babies
Hiking with babies required diapers, wipes, jars of baby food, and about 6 extra changes of clothes for accidental leakages. Hiking with teens requires only that you bring the teen, along with enough food and water to feed a small nation.
They are big enough to carry the few things that they DO need
If you are hiking with teens, invest in a couple of sturdy hiking packs. Fill them with the above mentioned food and water. Throw in some bug spray and sunscreen and you are done.
Send them off on the trail...preferably far enough away from you that you can't hear them complaining about being a pack mule. Depending on how long you are planning on hiking you can fill one small pack and everyone gets to take turns carrying it. That is how we handle short day hikes and it causes less grief in the long run!
They have long legs that can easily travel relatively long distances
During the time between 'baby' and 'teen' there is a period of time where hiking distances may be limited. Small legs can't always travel miles over hilly trails. As long as your teenager is in decent shape, a 2 to 3 mile hike should be no problem. Start short and easy, then work your way up to the more challenging trails.
They are old enough to remember these special times and look back on them fondly as adults
This is why my husband and I keep plugging along with our forceful outdoor hiking habit. One day, I really hope that they will look back on these days fondly.
Time together as a family is important to me. I would rather spend it in the woods really talking to each other than at an amusement park standing in line for hours. (pro hiking tip: make a no technology rule for greater family bonding)
The downside of family hikes with teenagers
Hiking with teenagers isn't all fun, trust me. Eye rolling, sighs, and bad attitudes are all a big risk at this age. Here are a few of the things we have encountered with our own teenagers when we head out on a family trip to the woods.
They do not understand why you insist on no electronics in the woods
My one and only rule for our family hikes is no electronics. I bring my cell phone for pictures but I want my kids listening to the birds and the sound of rushing waterfalls, not their iPod music.
Keeping ears 'ear bud free' also means that we can actually talk to one another. Of course, we do make a few exceptions to the no technology on the trail rule.
A cell phone can be used for geotracking, recording trail mileage, getting info on nearby trails, or even sharing a photo on social media when we stop for a break. But, we try very hard to keep our hiking trips a no cell phone usage time.
They require large amounts of food and water to complete a ridiculously small journey
As mentioned previously, hiking with teens requires large amounts of food. Make sure it is high protein and dense because they have appetites similar to linebackers during football season.
Pack more water than you think you are going to need. A camelback hydration pack makes carrying water easy. It also lets them have a direct line to the water via a tube whenever they want a drink. No having to listen to them complain about how thirsty they are!
Teens are highly over scheduled
One of the hardest parts about family hikes when kids get older is actually finding the time to do it! Babies have very few prior commitments. Teenagers, however, have very active social lives and extracurricular activities.
We mark off free weekends on the calendar periodically and try to leave them unscheduled so we can hit the trail. Cutting back on commitments is also a good way to improve mental health in teens.
More Things To Keep In Mind When Taking Teens On The Trail
Whether you are thru hiking the Appalachian trail or backpacking in a local park, family hiking can be fun. Or NOT. Keep these hiking tips in mind before you hit the trail with your teenagers.
When hiking with teens, you are stuck in the woods, several miles from civilization, for quite a while.
They can, at times, be belligerent, argumentative and just downright unpleasant to deal with. This is not always enjoyable. Try to make it fun for them. We always stop for donuts on the drive out of town as a special treat. I am not above bribing my teens with food to ensure a pleasant disposition.
Start small, let them try Geocaching (searching for hidden treasure!) to make it more of a treasure hunt. Ask them (beg if you have to) to please try to keep their negative thoughts to themselves.
I know that may be asking a lot, but my kids know that this is something mom and dad enjoy. Thankfully, they are (mostly) mature enough to suck it up and deal with it quietly. And I do say MOST of the time!
They would rather be home watching TV and playing video games.
This is a fact that they remind you of every 20 seconds. Yes, I know...YouTube videos are WAY cooler than Mother Nature. But, try to come up with a few things to do on the trail to keep their mind off of their misery. Try bringing along a few minute mysteries to keep them engaged.
They have long memories
They will constantly remind you of that time you tortured them for hours by making them hike for miles in desolate wilderness. Yes, hiking with teens will result in weeks of them using your hike as an excuse to maintain their sloth like behavior.
"Mom, I KNOW I have been sitting comatose in front of the computer for 6 hours but last week you make me hike for HOURS".... Plug your ears and start planning your next hike!
Remind them occasionally of the cool things you saw or learned about during your journey. Make sure you take time on your hike to actually SEE the good stuff. You might admire the flowers while your teen is excited about a dead bug they found but hey, at least they are LOOKING, right?
Family Hiking Gear To Bring
Hiking with your teenagers can be incredibly fun but it certainly has it's challenges. Make sure you tackle relatively easy trails first and bring all the right gear. Hiking gear to bring for day hikes:
- A good set of hiking boots
- Trail food
- Water, (more than you think you need!)
- A first aid kit
- Maps of the area (yes, actual paper ones)
- Sunscreen and bug spray
- Sturdy walking poles (those come in fun colors so everyone can keep track of their own)
Make sure you follow all hiking rules and trail etiquette for both your own safety and the preservation of the land you are hiking on. Hiking with your family is a great way to reconnect. The quiet of the woods may inspire your teenagers to open up and really start communicating.
Or, they may just keep asking you 'are we there yet'. Please do not purposely LEAVE your teen in the woods...no matter how much you may want to! Do you go hiking with your own teens? Need more advice before you head into the woods? Check out these hiking tips for women that you won't find in the hiking books.
Diane is a professional blogger and nationally certified pharmacy technician at Good Pill Pharmacy. She has two college aged kids, one husband and more pets than she will admit to. She earned her BS in Microbiology at the University of New Hampshire but left her career in science to become a stay at home mom. Years of playing with LEGO and coloring with crayons had her craving a more grown up purpose to her life and she began blogging and freelance writing full time. You can learn more about her HERE.