Tips for planning a multigenerational family backpacking trip
The five-day backpack around Labor Day is the only family tradition my family has ever been able to create and maintain. One year we did a loop in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness in Colorado while bagging some 14,000-foot peaks along the way, and another year we did the Bechler River Trail in Yellowstone. We’ve also tackled the Teton Crest Trail in Wyoming, The Beaten Path in Montana’s Beartooth Wilderness and plan to explore the Sawtooths in Idaho next.
As the years go on, we seem to live farther and farther apart from each other; but taking a backpacking trip is a great mini-reunion for the members of the family that load up their packs for it.
The main motivations for traveling as a family are to spend quality time together while creating lifelong memories. I’ve been traveling, road-tripping, hiking and backpacking with my family my entire life — and I don’t take this experience for granted. Trekking into the backcountry with your spouse and kids or parents doesn’t need to be an adventure relegated only to the most-outdoorsy of folks. It can be a cherished memory, and perhaps new tradition, for newcomers and experienced adventurers alike.
The biggest part of family backpacking trips is in the planning and expectation management. Over the years, we’ve learned a few things to make the trips more fun and memorable for everyone that I want to share with anyone considering such a vacation. Following these tips will help you get the most out of your family backpacking trip in order to create the best memories possible.
LET THE SLOWEST PERSON SET THE PACE
It’s natural for every hiker to move at a different pace. My younger brother blazes up the trail, while my legs carry me a little slower.
When the group gets spread out, it’s hard to regroup for breaks or even forks in the trail. Because we were too far from each other during our Bechler River trip, some of us had to backtrack a few miles to take the proper turn. Even if the faster-paced hikers stop periodically to let the slower hikers catch up, the break-rate will never be even. Slower hikers may need a long break for lunch, but are cut short because the other hikers — who have already been on break for ten extra minutes — are ready to go.
If the slowest member of the group leads, the trip will allow for more bonding and memory-making. No one will get lost or miss a turn. Hydration and fueling up will be easier to manage. Everyone in the family will feel a part of the team rather than trying to catch up all the time.
BE OPEN TO ALTERNATE ROUTES
Plan as you may, the weather or the health and safety of the group may still require an alternate plan be made a few days before, or even during a trip.
Some trails won’t allow for alternate routes past a certain distance and that’s ok; but as you’re planning your trip, make sure you know exactly where your final “Choose Your Own Adventure” options are. Especially for the first few trips you take with multigenerational teammates, having the flexibility to hike more or less to outrun unexpected weather or care for an injury is critical.
Along with proper planning, part of being open to taking an alternate route is cultivating a go-with-the-flow attitude while on the trail. Make sure that everyone knows what to expect on a trail and has the freedom to speak up about any issues that might arise.
DON’T SKIMP ON FOOT HEALTH
No one wants to stop the entire group after hiking only five or ten minutes, but if your feet are rubbing wrong or you have a pebble in your shoe, don’t be too proud to stop and fix it before the problem escalates.
My family and I bring along so much moleskin (largely on my behalf) that we joke about how we should have invested in the product.
Foot health is the foundation of your trip. If your feet are miserable, then you are going to be miserable. It’s hard to enjoy the regal views and rare wildlife if every step brings searing pain.
Don’t wear brand new shoes on a multiday hike. Make sure you have tested your sock/boot combination on similar terrain before committing to a backpack. Bring sandals, moleskin and bandages, as well as a first aid kit outfitted with plenty of foot repair tools.
CREATE A “SPIRITED” TRADITION
Part of our tradition, now that we’re all adults, is that everyone brings along a water bottle filled with a whiskey of their choosing, and we enjoy one each night circled around a campfire recounting our favorite parts of the day. It’s worth the extra weight, no matter how long or short the trip.
THE JOY IN LOW-MILEAGE DAYS
This one is a newer lesson for my family, but one we’ve taken to whole-heartedly. While logging miles on miles can be fun and allow you to see so much of the beautiful backcountry, taking it down a notch can provide just as many, if not more, exclusive experiences.
A low-mileage day can allow for extra fishing, book reading, sun-soaking and blister-healing. It lets us really dig into our surroundings by spending more time looking at them rather than focusing on hiking through them.
Backpacking isn’t just for elite athletes, but rather a great adventure for families to take together. We took our first family backpack trip when my younger brother was too young and small for a real backpack — he carried his load in his school book bag. Kids are never too young to enjoy the backcountry with their families, and adults are never too old to feel like kids again.
Give your family more confidence to plan your own trips, and you may just make your own traditions out of it.
We’ll see you on the trail!
HOLLY PRIESTLEY is a writer, podcaster, creator and adventurer who lives in her 1997 Ford van with her dog and travels the western United States.