Teen Backpacking Trips
Archived Q&A and Reviews
My almost 16 year old son and 4 to 5 of his 16 year old friends are planning a backpacking trip in the Sierras next month. They want to go by themselves and are doing all their own preparations, buying their own supplies, taking a cell phone, etc. We have given him a tentative OK to go, depending on what we think of their plans and pending talking to the parents of the other kids involved. One boy has hiked this area several times with his family and is an experienced backpacker. The others, including my son, are not. One boy who may or may not get parental approval to go was planning to drive them all there. If he doesn't go, the parents of the experienced backpacker would drive them all and pick them up. I feel more comfortable having a parent do the driving, especially mountain driving. Has anyone had experience with teenage solo backpacking trips and know what we should be aware of and prepare for, or reasons why this is a bad idea? I am not a not a backpacker/camper and am not familiar with the Sierras.
Sr. year my son and 5 friends (incl. 2 girls) went camping in Pt.Reyes for 3 nights. They had a fantastic time. I thought of it as pre-dormitory living where they had to figure out how to eat, clean-up, get enough sleep, etc. I sent them with a cellular phone w/ explicit instructions to use it only for emergencies (which there were none of). I'd be concerned about mountain driving, so thumbs up for the parent driver to Yosemite. Sunscreen and lots of water and water purifying tablets are essential. This, plus a good first aid kit and a long rap about safety (buddy system, water purification protocals, dehydration, bears) should suffice especially since Yosemite is a mob scene in summer- they're less likely to be stranded in the wilderness than they are to be over-crowded.
Regarding backpacking safely in the Sierra with a group of 4 or 5 teenagers--all I can say is, it all depends. There are safe places and unsafe places, and there are safe (i.e. careful) kids and unsafe kids. It's encouraging that they seem to be planning thoroughly and that you're reviewing their plans; you might want to get a more expert opinion, maybe from someone at REI or Wilderness Exchange.
As someone with 30 years backpacking experience in the Sierra Nevada and elsewhere, and as a Scoutmaster with 10 years of experience working with teenaged boys, I think a teen-aged backpack trip is definitely something that is doable by this group, pending answers to some questions I might have about the trek and the group.
What isn't clear here is the length of the backpack trip in days and miles. If most of the group is not experienced, I would not recommend more than 3 days and 15-20 miles, so that the inexperienced hikers can test their equipment (and personal mettle) without getting too far from civilization.
Has the group applied for (and received) a permit for the area they will be traveling in? Also, some areas are now requiring extra precautions to avoid bears feeding on backpackers' food, including the use of the Garcia bear containers.
I would also recommend some pre-trip training in the use of stoves, map and compass, and first aid.
I do not think that any of the boys should drive to/from the trailhead. In my opinion, a 16-year-old does not have enough driving experience to negotiate a mountain road while fatigued and possibly distracted by his carmates. The disadvantage of not having a car at the trailhead is balanced by having a cell phone for emergencies.
I will be happy to share a backpacking equipment list that we provide for our Scouts. I would also be happy to answer any other questions by parents or trekkers. YiS, Alan Scoutmaster, Troop 24, Berkeley, California
Re: Backpacking advice: I started backpacking extensively with other teenagers starting at age 15 and it was a great experience- but I had done hundreds of miles of backpacking before going without an adult, and went with other experienced teens. For this to be safe however, I think that the experienced teen needs to have enough experience to really know what he is doing in the wilderness, including handling bad weather (even in the Sierra's!), route finding, dealing with bears, and basic first aid. I would want to make sure his parents feel he has the experience and maturity to lead a trip with less experienced backpackers. I would also want to make sure the other teens were mature enough to show good judgment and responsibility without adult supervision. I never had cell phones, but this would make me feel safer as a parent. Whether this would really work depends on going to limited areas of the Sierra's (e.g Tahoe area) where cell phones actually work. -- Rick
There are a lot of closer, safer and easier places to backpack locally. I would look into some local areas and insist my teenager try them out first. It would also help them train for a subsequent trip to the Sierras. If it was my kid, I would just stay nearby wherever they went. -- Nita
Thanks to all who responded about the teenage backpacking trip in the Sierras. My son ended up not going because a death in my immediate family, so he stayed home to attend the funeral instead. Sometimes you wonder if you are getting through to your kids and then they do something that makes it worthwhile. Missing this trip was a major disappointment and expense since they had already purchased supplies. We did not get a single word of complaint from him. We voluntarily reimbursed him for his expenses because we were so proud that he did not ask or complain.
A word to the dads out there. Do not do the typical guy thing of avoiding doctors and toughing out symptoms and illnesses. You are too important to your families.