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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

Is there a certain area your interested in camping and how far are your willing travel, how long do you plan on staying out?  I saw you mentioned the Catskills but if your son has not camped overnight before I recommend something less than five miles per day and maybe only one night as a trial run if your in the backcountry.   I also suggest the highlight of trip be something such as a waterfall, mountain top, or place of significant historical value.  Also if you have not camped or hiked in a while the parks are extremely busy and crowded this year so wherever you go there might be others staying or traveling in your area that can affect the experience positive or negatively.  Apologize for having more questions than answers but the Catskills Mountain Club might be a great resource this is email email:  info@catskillmountainclub.org.  Best of Luck

I think you are very smart to keep the pack light on him.  I echo what chstaff says about keeping the hikes short (under 5 miles).  Also, use the camp time for fun (cooking, fires, wildlife spotting, little hikes, star gazing, etc.).  Leave with him wanting more, not so worn out that it becomes something he doesn't want to repeat and I count that as a win!

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

Dad,

Since this is your son’s first backpacking experience, “Fun” is the objective, so limit your adventure to just a few days away from home.
 
Include your son in the planning, prepping and packing part of the experience, of which builds up the excitement of any backpacking journey. 

My suggestion for a Father / Son Activity:

Introduction to Climbing: Basic Bouldering and learn to tie climbing knots. If he finds those are fun, it opens a new healthy activity for future knowledge and team building, for destination backpacking father / son  experiences. 

Remember, it will be a shared experience your son will remember the rest of his life.

Have a great adventure.

 

 

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I would definitely begin with fairly simple day hikes and go from there.  What in the outdoors appeals to him?  Build on those interests and let him take the lead.  If he does not have any particular interests, and at this stage of life he may not, expose him to as much as possible, keep it varied and assist him in investigating various appeals.  Be a safety watchdog.  At this age, safety is not usually a big concern, but he is an individual and we are all different.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.
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I started backpacking with my kids when they were infants (I carried them), and have spent a lot of time backpacking with small kids.  They are teens now, and both of them still backpack with me. 

 One thing my kids really hated when they were little was if I didn't know where we were going to stop.  During that stage it was really helpful to reserve backcountry campsites at a National Park so I could point to a map and say, look that's where we are going and I can't change my mind because it's reserved. 

A 10 year old might like to bring a stuffed animal or a favorite toy, even though that's extra weight.  My teenagers still like to bring a small stuffie (they have Folkmanis finger puppets). 

From the start I made my kids carry the things they might need during the day so they wouldn't have to ask me.  Their standard day pack has a sun hat, a sun shirt, a rain poncho, a water bottle, sunscreen,  lip balm and a tube of afterbite (not sure it does anything, but it made them happy when they got a bug bite). They each have a  small bag (Sea to Summit 1 liter lightweight dry sacks) to fill with their own selection of snacks in the morning before we hike.  Now that they are teens, they still fill water bottles and snack bags before we hike (and they still like to hog all of their favorite snack).

It will help drum up some excitement to let your son buy something for the trip, My kids were very excited about freeze dried astronaut ice cream, but even about things like rain ponchos, mess kits and water bottles if they got to pick their own.  They really like to have their own gear and not just "borrow" it from me. 

Make sure you aren't the one doing all the work.  Give your son tasks like setting up the tent, getting out the sleeping bags or fetching water.  If he's like my kids, you should let him try to do stuff himself and he'll ask you for help if he needs it.   My kids especially love getting water, particularly if it's a spring you can drink from but even if you have to treat or boil it. 

When you get off the trail, stop for ice cream on the way home and make it a tradition.  That way you can talk about how good the ice cream is going to be during the trip.  


I just loved reading all of this. What wonderful tips. 

Make sure he knows what to do if he gets 'lost'....stay put and use the whistle around his neck if needed....3 whistles = help.

Let him make mistakes....don't automatically jump in if he is doing something wrong.  Let him figure it out on his own if possible.  Also find a safe place to scramble up rocks....really fun.

Of course take clothes to keep warm and dry but let him (and you) get dirty and not have clean clothes every day.  That may reduce your 60 lb pack quite a bit.

Before the trip have him draw a checkerboard on his sleeping pad.  Out there have him look for dark and light small rocks to play checkers.  If he has no idea of what that is....time to teach something that is not electronic. 

This is the perfect time for him to start being comfortable with silence and peacefulness instead of constant craving to be busy or needing noise.  Wilderness is a sacred place that deserves respect and attention.

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Thanks for the ideas and suggestions. The current plan is to do the Slide, Cornell Wittenberg trail from the parking lot by the rod and gun club. First day with a pack will be somewhere around 4 miles. It might be a little more as there are two routes to the top of Slide. One is steeper so I will see what looks like the best way for him the day of. The next day would be a day hike out over Cornell and Wittenberg which is also about 4 miles. Then the next day we would be back to the car. Overall I think it is a doable route and even if we have to take a lot of breaks 4 miles shouldn't take that long. 

Once before he enjoyed a scavenger hunt on a day hike, so I made up a few for him to do with plants and animals I would expect to see in this area. He seems excited about that. I also decided to add a little weight for him to carry in the way of a digital camera. I thought he might find it fun to take pictures of what he finds interesting rather than just what I thought looked cool.  

My son also loves Legos and made a "camping" figure for both of us and the pup. Not sure why but for some reason I am carrying a machete...but maybe that was the only knife he had. But I suggested he bring them and we can set them up in places to take their picture, then we can recreate the same picture. It might be an epic fail, but he was interested in having something to play with a a little and being plastic I figured we wouldn't have to worry about them getting ruined in the rain.

The ice cream on the way home sounds like a great idea, I will have to watch for places on the way up. If nothing else my son loves to eat and ice cream is always at the top of the list. So talking about a nice cold treat when it might be warm and humid out might be a good diversion.

The legos are perfect. You might be camping with those legos for  years to come!