By Michael Lanza
Several years ago, on a four-day, family backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon when our kids were nine and barely seven, our son, the oldest, told me that he wanted to carry his own backpack. Up to then, both kids had carried daypacks when we backpacked with them (as our daughter still was). I got him a kids pack that fit him and kept it light—with only a liter of water and his sleeping bag and pad and stuffed animals in it. By about 30 minutes into the second day’s hike, he told me the pack was too heavy. So, following one of my own rules about taking kids outdoors, I removed his bag and crammed it into my already overstuffed pack.
Something my son, now 15, did recently, affirmed (yet again) the wisdom of keeping our kids’ packs light when they were little.
My son told me earlier this summer that he wanted to take two of his buddies backpacking; neither had ever been before. So we recently did just that in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, for three glorious days filled with beautiful hiking and campsites where we swam in lakes ringed by jagged peaks. (The photo below is from our recent Sawtooths trip, which I’ll write about later at The Big Outside.)
That Grand Canyon trip spotlighted for me one of the keys to raising kids that love the outdoors: Do whatever is necessary to ensure they enjoy it when they’re little, so that they’re eager to go out again.
How does a parent do that? I’m not sure there’s one formula for success. But our kids, now 15 and 13, love our many family backpacking, dayhiking, paddling, skiing, and climbing trips, and I think it’s in large part because we made sure those earliest trips were fun for them. “Let Them Ask to Carry More” is tip #7 in my enormously popular story “10 Tips For Raising Outdoors-Loving Kids,” in which I offer some insights I’ve learned about getting children to want to go outdoors.
You may also like my stories “10 Tips For Getting Your Teenager Outdoors With You,” “Boy Trip, Girl Trip: Why I Take Father-Son and Father-Daughter Adventures,” “10 Tips For Keeping Kids Happy and Safe Outdoors,” “My Top 10 Family Adventures,” and “5 Tricks For Getting Tired Kids Through a Hike.”
Plus, see an excerpt from my award-winning book about taking our kids on a year of wilderness adventures in national parks facing serious threats from climate change, and a menu of all of my stories about family adventures at The Big Outside.