When kids haven’t been properly trained to wander trails far away from the mall, it can be hard to convince them that it is a reasonable idea.
While that isn’t why we started taking our young lad out at the ripe old age of 1, it has helped a lot since. So here is my theory on preparing kids for a life of wandering in the mountains and living in a van. (I would be so proud).
Infants in the backcountry.
If you have an infant, take the hiking and camping now. My child has always seen photos of himself in the mountains, so he thinks this is normal. We do not have arguments about going out. The same with tents. He thinks sleeping in a tent is sleeping in a really cool nest.
I used a baby bjorn holder.
No suspension and his view was truncated, but since he is always right up against you, the child is warm and comforted. It can also be worn on the front so they can sleep better.
My boy would lean waaaaayyyyyy back out behind me and giggle a lot. I held feet.
Toddlers through 5 years old – starting past easy carrying years.
Toddlers are much like babies – a bit more amenable to being hoisted into the hills. That said, once you are not going to haul their baby butt the whole way, travels slows down to a glacial pace. This is where you need to suck it up. Your expectations are what are going to hold back future awesome hikes.
You are used to hitting a trail and covering some serious ground at what, to you, is a relaxed and comfortable pace. If you are 3 feet tall, a comfortable pace is slower and every rock, flower, bug and stick is super interesting.
Suck it up. Let them be happy. To cover ground, toss that kid on your shoulders every once in a while and haul down the trail. Also carry food enough for an army. You will run out anyway. My son’s first 4 mile hike involved a lot of shoulders and 3 hours. He was 2 and a half though, so I was still happy (and so was he).
Multiple kids? Friend, you have to start young and train them to walk farther earlier and make sure your significant other and friends are in shape too.
Starting at 8-14.
God help you.
OK it isn’t that bad, but now you need to really delve into both your and their expectations. You may need to pull back a bit – chances are first day out with a pack is going to be different for them so make the first trip super fun. Do something impressive, but not insanely hard.
Generally get ready for a lot of whining. Issues brought up: showers, bears, bugs, electronics, food, walking, going up, going down… Address concerns early. No they won’t shower, but they can bring wet ones (4= a bath) or jump into a nice “warm” lake. Discuss the definition of “warm” later.
Maybe pick the first day so you are not climbing 3-4,000 feet. Don’t be nuts but not too easy either – they will enjoy the adventure more in retrospect if they do something cool. My nine year old just hiked up 2000+ vertical feet to over 12,000 feet. Did he complain? Constantly. But the snowball fight on the top of Medicine Bow was worth it even for him.
Teens to 20 – to the backcountry.
By this age, lets hope they have an itch to get out too.
If not, you can help that along by leaving old Alpine magazines out, forbid them to watch climbing videos and insist that it is too dangerous for them, and leaving John Muir’s writing around.
Chances are if they want to come out, you can get them somewhere interesting. Again, plan to be a little more comfortable than you might normally travel. As someone who likes to travel light, this is a hard thing for me, but on a first trip or so, it may help acclimate the teens. Not too comfortable, though. I am speaking of a little extra tasty food stuff. Really, carrying up to 35 lb. and some more kid friendly food is enough.
A note on carrying your house with you. Stop it. I have watched groups torturing teens out on the trail with packs that are enormous and heavy. Carrying 60+ lbs is not going to convince anyone that this is fun and sucks the life out of some splendid views.
So, get those kids out into the hills. The backcountry awaits and lets face it, as a Geezer yourself, you need to train the people who are going to haul your gear in a few years.