How to Get Your Kids into Backcountry Camping


, by Charlie Boscoe

Photography by: Songquan Deng

Introducing your children to backcountry or wilderness camping can be a challenging experience, but a lifetime of fun awaits those with the patience to see it through!

Let's be honest - getting your kids into outdoor sports is HARD. Unlike video games, hanging out with friends, or playing ball sports, outdoor sports usually involve some element of discomfort, and the rewards they produce are far more subtle than a quick dopamine hit. You get out what you put in, and convincing kids to put some effort in is a challenging task. Skiing with kids is tricky, as is biking, swimming, hiking—you name it. If it's hard, then making kids do it is harder still. 

RELATED: How To Get Your Kids Into Skiing

Wilderness camping with kids is the ultimate challenge of all outdoor activities because there's so much scope for suffering! Even the most challenging day hike still ends up - unless you really mess it up - with everyone sleeping in warm beds with full stomachs. In contrast, the wheels can really come off when wilderness camping, so you need to have your plans dialled and your execution on point if you're to convince your kids that shunning the couch for the evening and their beds for a night in the woods is worthwhile. 

Here's how to go about it.

Lakeside camping at sunrise - one of life’s true pleasures! Photography by: shutter_o

Embrace the Planning

For some adventurers, planning is a necessary chore, but for others, it is all part of the fun. If you can encourage your kids to join the second group, you'll not only deepen their engagement but also make the fun last longer because it will begin before you've even left the house! Ask your kids to help get the gear off shelves and print off an equipment list to work your way through. Having your kids read the list and you are checking items off is great fun and engages little minds before the trip has even begun.

Make a Gear List

Regular readers of my articles will know that I'm a big fan of gear lists. The amount of outdoor adventures ruined by forgetting a key piece of gear (and just about everything has the potential to be vital in the right, or wrong, circumstances) is remarkable. I've forgotten my ski boots for a ski tour, my stove for a multi-day hike, and my headlamp for an alpine climb, so I'm speaking with some authority here. Work with your kids to create a gear list, and constantly use and refine it.

RELATED: The Ten Essentials For Every Outdoor Adventure

Start Small and Simple

Begin with backyard camping or short, local trips. Set up a tent, cook outdoors, and sleep under the stars to give them a taste of the camping experience in a familiar environment. 

Throwing your kids into the deep end isn't a way to enthuse them about either swimming or wilderness camping - start with cooking dinner on the camping stove one evening, then add in a camp in the backyard, then go to a campground for a night. Only then should you think about attempting a wilderness camp. A successful trip always beats a failure, so keep the wins coming by not overreaching.

Keep it fun out there! Photography by: everst

Gear Up for Comfort 

Outdoor gear is unrecognizable from what we used 25 years ago, let alone 50 or 100 years ago. Staying warm, dry, and well-fed has become exponentially more straightforward with the advent of modern gear, so take advantage of technological advances and buy decent equipment. Ensure the kids have appropriate and comfortable gear, such as a good sleeping bag, a warm jacket, and proper footwear. Comfort is key to a positive experience - not many kids want to go wilderness camping again if the first attempt involved shivering, blisters, and hunger!

Choose Kid-Friendly Locations

Opt for campsites with things to do for kids, whether it's swimming areas, nature trails, or natural playgrounds. Look for places with interesting wildlife or natural features like lakes, rivers, or waterfalls. Organize activities like hiking, fishing, scavenger hunts, or storytelling around the campfire. Bring along games, books, or crafts to keep them entertained. As any parent knows, distraction can be key!

RELATED: How to Prepare for Your First Thru-Hike

Be Patient and Flexible

Be prepared to adapt your plans based on their energy levels and interests - keep the schedule relaxed and allow plenty of time for exploration and play. Few activities with kids go exactly as planned, so have a Plan B up your sleeve at all times and be prepared to use it, whether it's an alternative campsite or some spare food in case of a stove malfunction. Try to anticipate issues and get ahead of them.

A beautiful mountain camp in the Carpathian mountains, Ukraine. Photography by: Creative Travel Projects

Create Traditions 

Establish camping traditions, like a special campfire treat or a favorite campsite. Traditions can build anticipation and fond memories associated with camping, making the whole process more familiar. The more you can make wilderness camping feel like something you do regularly rather than an occasional big deal, the better. 

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Celebrate Achievements

Acknowledge and celebrate their accomplishments, whether it's hiking a trail, spotting wildlife, or learning a new skill - positive reinforcement can boost their confidence and interest in camping. We all like a pat on the back, so making your kids feel as if they've done well and been an active part of the camping experience is a great way to enthuse them. Designing a wall chart with different skills to master and wildlife to spot gives your kids something to look forward to next time you go out, and ticking off achievements gives them goals to work towards. 

Wild camping in the Lake District, England, overlooking the Langdale Pikes at night. Photography by: Tom Whitfield

Involve Them in Everything

At the start of the article I recommended getting your kids involved with planning, but there's no limit to how much they can participate in the whole wilderness camping experience. If you're camping with young kids, then they aren't likely to provide much assistance, but as they grow up, they'll be able to help with tent erection, firewood gathering, and even cooking once you trust them with a stove....Be prepared for the occasional spillage!

Learning to wilderness camp is a long and - at times - challenging experience, but a lifetime of fun awaits those with the determination and patience to see it through!