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Backpacking for the first time with my son - suggestions?

So I haven't been backpacking or camping for real in about 20 years so most everything I have is ancient and heavy. Back then I was the only one with a "decent" pack so I carried most everything for the group which meant I had a rather heavy bulky pack, often well over 100#. Realizing I am not in my 20's anymore and also knowing I am responsible for another human means I needed to drop weight and bulk to make sure I was able to do this hike hopefully without injury. I replaced a couple of key pieces of gear like my tent to make we stay dry and sleeping pads to reduce bulk and weight. We were supposed to go this week but Elsa had other plans for us. It is one thing to have some rain, another to have the potential of flash floods and worse yet lightning while we are trying to get over the highest pt in the Catskills. Probably wouldn't be the best first experience. Since we shifted our plans I have some more time to rethink my gear and was wondering if anyone had any input.

My goal is to do the bulk of the work so my 10yo son will be more likely to enjoy himself. But with that said I am giving him a day pack that will have some snacks, a water bladder and our spare clothes so he feels like he is contributing. I am carrying everything else and right now my pack is weighing in at 53# so day of I will be sitting around 60 which I am comfortable with. 

Since I think I can handle a bit more weight and bulk I would consider bringing extras just to make sure he enjoys himself and wants to go again...which by the way means he will have more than snacks and clothes! But to set the hook is there something people would recommend I have for a 10yo boy? Back when I started we cooked over a fire, now I have a stove but for me the smell brings me back to those days. Plus, even though we don't need it for cooking or warmth (summer trip) I think it is an important skill to learn. So I am leaning towards bringing some kind of a saw/axe to be able to collect wood. But on the flip side, often these areas are stripped of all dead wood so it could be weight for nothing. Also I am concerned it could be discouraging and not get him engaged like I would like.

So is there something I should plan on doing or not doing to keep his interest?

By the way thanks to this forum for one excellent suggestion....I plan on letting my son take the lead so he can set the pace and explore. Rather than my past experience of just grinding away.

17 Replies


Don't tell him about the ice cream till in the car going home.  He may want to hurry up the outdoor experience to get the ice cream.

Also you do not have to entertain him all the time.  Let him be bored and discover for himself where curiosity and exploration lead him. 

Hide the Logos sometimes.  Just my opinion but you may discover a different little guy being exposed to such different environment.  

Well it turned out to be a great trip. Going in the weather was threatening rain but never did so we only saw one other person. He also thought it was cool that the top of the mountain was in the clouds but as we descended again we could start to see some other peaks. 

I did have him help with a few things but for the most part I let him explore the forest around camp and take pictures of what he thought was cool. I know have about 300+ photos to go through. But he enjoyed it enough that he wants to go back. I told home each time we go he will get more jobs from planning to cleaning gear well as carrying more weight but he is still in. 

Lego figures only came out once for one picture on the top of Cornell. He didn't even bother on Wittenberg. Next time they will stay home.

Overall it was nice to just hang out and play cards and pass the pigs, even the story dice were fun. We made some great memories which is all I really wanted to do.

That’s fantastic news. Thank you for the follow up about your memorable camping adventure with your son. 👍

0 Likes other thing. All of my gear with the exception of my tent is old. So the PU coating in my packs, bags, fly etc are all sticky. Ultimately I want to replace these items but gear has changed so much I would prefer to have some time to figure out what works for us....and that is assuming he really wants to go regularly. So rather than dump several hundred right now I would like to try to limp along with what I have and slowly replace stuff. After looking around I saw some people suggested talcum powder to help with stickiness, others recoated the fabric but it seems like the best way is to strip in a bath of IPA, dish soap and water then recoat. But I think I would need several gallons of that solution and what the heck do you do with it when you're done? Any other suggestions? I was thinking of just getting a pack liner so none of my new gear picks up that tackiness but just wondering if there are better solutions.

Not to waste a lot of time or money, I suggest an empty five gallon bucket full of a Dawn dish soap and warm water solution. Reverse the gear inside out and immerse separately and throughly manipulate by hand. 

Dump the soap solution, and repeat the process. 

Rinse with clean water repeatedly, until no soap reside remains. 

Hang your gear on a clothesline and allow to dry throughly. 

If any “transferable” stickiness remains on the inside of your pack or bags, consider using gallon size freezer zip lock bags for your packable items, and tall size garbage bags for bulky items. 

If the fly that came with your tent is relatively new, and still has “transferable” stickiness after washing, contact the manufacturer of the tent, and determine if they have any recommendations, or if you can purchase a replacement fly separately.

An alternative is to rent the needed equipment from REI, until it is determined your son will continue the desire to go camping, and then invest in new or slightly used equipment from REI. 

I know you mean isopropyl alcohol, but your post made want an india pale ale.  Glad the trip was a success!

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

That would be a waste of good beer!


1) Give your son something light other than clothes to carry. Maybe the titanium cookpot! In fact, I'd set a weight goal... 10 pounds maybe? And sit down with him and your pile of gear and involve him in figuring out what he should carry.

2) Reduce his clothing as much as possible. He's really not likely to need to change, so it's probably an extra layer, maybe raingear, and maybe an extra pair of underwear?

3) Give him a compass and a map, and teach him how to use them (assuming you remember). Don't insist he get it right, yet, but get him to help you verify your position whenever the topography lends itself to it.

4) Get him a small multitool. One of the manufacturers makes one for kids... you install the knife blade when they're older.

5) Involve him in the planning and decision making, before and during. Little things matter, like letting him pick the lunch spot. You always have veto power, but try to guide... ask questions about things he should consider (like whether or not there might be snakes under that log!) rather than just saying no.

6) As others have mentioned, teach him to stay put and use a whistle if you get separated. Also, in the unfortunate event you're hurt, he should know that three of anything is a distress signal. Three times on the whistle.  Banging rocks together three times. Flashing a light three times. Whatever.

7) If you carry an emergency beacon, teach him to use it. Again, just in case.

😎 Teach him to stop if something hurts. Hotspot on one toe? Stop and take care of it. Thirsty? Stop and drink.

9) Make it about the journey, not getting there. No rushing to keep up. Save that for the way back to the car as it's about to rain!

10) Get him a small microscope/ monocular combination. See something interesting on that log? Stop and look at it!

My son is 21 now, and we try to do at least one trip together each year. We didn't do as much outdoors as I would have liked when he was younger, but I always encouraged him to do as much as he wanted, with supervision if needed. He learned to make his own decisions, as well as learning the necessary skills.

Most of all, have fun! And if you're not, figure out why, and fix it.

(Oh, and never mind the fire, unless you're in a place with plenty of fuel, no fire danger, and a good fire ring already established. So, probably a front-country site. Never too early to teach him Leave No Trace!)