I was just having a conversation with a friend about when the best time to start backcountry camping with the kids is. I’ve sort of touched on this before, but the conversation has inspired me to address it again. In my opinion, the younger the better. I haven’t read any studies on this topic, but based on my experience with my boys, this is why I think they have taken to it so readily. Keep in mind that getting your kids out whatever their age is important and beneficial, so don’t be discouraged if you’ve waited to do it! Also…safety first. Don’t get yourself and the kids in over your heads. Start slowly and build to epic…don’t just jump right in 😉
1) They don’t know any different (suckers).
When my guys think of fun and recreational activities, their minds don’t (often) wander to movies or theme parks. They don’t lust after luxury rooms in fancy hotels or exotic foods from exotic places (except sushi of course, but who doesn’t?). They dream of the backcountry because that is what they equate with fun and family. Before they could even talk, they could trip.
2) They measure themselves with a tripping yardstick.
When they were little, they were told that they were too small to do some things like paddle the canoe or carry the portage pack. As
they have grown, they have taken on greater responsibilities and challenges and it makes them feel grown up. They keep wanting to go back to prove to themselves and to us just how far they’ve come.
3) They still think you’re the coolest (because I am).
You think the backcountry is awesome and they think you are awesome. When they are little, the sun rises and sets with you so they love what you love. It’s a great big love fest.
This one is self-explanatory. Active youngin’s turn into active teens who become active adults. No arm twisting necessary.
5) It impresses their friends.
When the boys are well versed in first aid, how to do boat rescues, get to start fires, when they’ve learned how to fight off bears and they get knives for their birthdays, they are the talk of the schoolyard…in a good way.
6) It’s hard to get them down.
Little ones put far less pressure on themselves to get things right the first time (relative to angsty teens who take a “who cares” stance when they don’t master something on the first try). Sure they can get discouraged. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly seen backcountry tantrums and tears. The older the kid though, the quicker they are to give up on a task that makes them feel weak or slow or is difficult and seen as not being fun.
7) Everything is fun.
Teenagers think everything is boring and beneath them. Little ones think everything is fun. Plain and simple. A two-year old will collect rocks and dig in the dirt with a stick for hours. They will happily gather firewood, or peg tents or fetch water because everything is a game. Teenagers will sit on a log staring off into space and occasionally grunt that “this sucks”.
Little guys naturally want to play in the dirt. Give them a chance and they won’t get all squeamish about getting their hands or clothes
dirty. Sitting on the ground, wiping their hands on their pants and picking bugs out of their food before chowing down are all things best taught early. Exposure to dirty stuff helps build a strong immunity and keeps your kids healthier in the long run.
The outdoor community is an awesome one. Friendly like-minded folks hanging out and going on trips together or simply sharing tips and ideas. But nobody likes being the new kid in class, I mean where are am I going to sit? I won’t know anybody! Start them young and they will make life-long friends and tripping buddies. It’s harder to break into a group that’s already got history and a couple of trips under their belts.
10) Never too much of a good thing.
Getting your kids outside for exercise and fresh air is good for them. Nurturing a connection to the environment and a sense of empathy for nature and its creatures is good for them. Spending time as a family without the distractions and trappings of the city is good for them. Nurturing a family bond that will hold up under the pressure of daily quibbles and bigger squabbles is good for them (and you). If all of this is good for them, then the longer they get to do it, the better!
There you have it. When should you introduce your kids to the backcountry? RIGHT NOW! Don’t wait, no excuses, take them out and take them often. By the time they’re “big” they’ll be superstars of the outdoors and happy, healthy, well-rounded nature-lovers. Who wouldn’t want that for their kids?