This year will mark the third year that my dad has flown out to Colorado to go backpacking with my boyfriend and me.  Admittedly, the first year we decided to do this, I was nervous.  My dad and I had never even been camping together–we’d certainly never spent a week in the woods backpacking together!

It turned out there was nothing to be worried about.  The trip went perfectly, and last year’s mostly did too.  These trips have been some of the best times we’ve had together, partly because of the planning we’ve done beforehand.  So, if you decide to invite your parents (or best friend, or sister, or any other person) to go backpacking, here are some things to consider:

1.  Make sure this is something they really want to do.

We all know that sometimes people will do things just to please others. My dad had already done some solo backpacking and knew he enjoyed it.  So we knew he wasn’t just doing this to make us happy: he really wanted to go.

Dad loves to backpack and share it with the hometown newspaper; and hey, check out that awesome view of Uncompahgre Peak!

2. Think about ability level and personality. 

Is this person capable of carrying a 30lb pack and hiking 5-7 miles at higher altitudes? Are they the type of person who will enjoy (or at least not mind) sleeping in a tent, pooping in the woods, and bathing in a creek?  If you’ve answered “no” to any of these questions, rethink your plan.  Rent a cabin and do some day hikes in a state or national park.

My dad regularly hiked at home and was pretty fit. When he decided to come out the first time, he started hiking with more and more weight in his pack at home to prepare.

3. If you’ve made it this far, you can start to think more seriously about a backpacking trip and appropriate gear.

If your parent(s) needs gear, consider renting from your local REI for the first trip.  There’s no need to shell out tons of money for a sleeping bag, pad, tent, pack, etc. if this might be the only backpacking trip they take. REI rents lots of gear, including packs.

The other option is to borrow gear from friends or let your parents use extra gear that you might have.  We have an extra pack, extra sleeping bags and pads, and the perfect MSR Hubba Hubba tent for Dad.  Technically, it’s a 2-person, but it works really well for one person with gear to store.

Dad borrowed this REI backpack, sit pad, and sleeping pad from us. It makes air travel much easier when he doesn't have to schlep gear around too.

4. You’ve got gear, so where will you go?

Ask your parents what their ideal backpacking trip includes.  Are they looking for solitude?  Wide open and beautiful vistas? Wildflowers? Waterfalls?  Do they want to have leisurely days of 4-6 miles each or are they prepared for longer 6-9 mile days?

What are YOU looking for? What sort of hike would you like?  Chances are you might be able to find something for everyone.  Out here at least, if you’re hiking at high altitudes in summer you’re going to see waterfalls.  Snow melt is still making its way down from  on high in July, so you can assure anyone wishing for waterfalls that they’ll most likely see more than one.

Do some research with some wilderness hiking guides to pick trails that will provide the right length and level of strenuousness.  These will also tell you if a trail has “light,” “moderate,” or “heavy” traffic.  I find that moderately-traveled trails still provide plenty of solitude.  Lightly traveled trails are lightly traveled for a reason: they’re either too hard to reach, too boring, or too strenuous.

You’re backpacking.  Amazing views will arise at some point.  To ensure it, you can look for hikes that include passes or some ridge-top hiking.


5. What about food?

When dad hikes with us, we plan two dehydrated meals for dinner.  So, basically we have four servings of food.  We include desserts, too, just in case we’re still hungry.  We also plan three snacks a day, per person.  When we pack, we divide everything up: everyone carries his/her own snacks, and each person carries about two days’ worth of food.

6. At camp, who’s responsible for what?

We want Dad to have the best time possible, so once we get to camp, he is only in charge of setting up his tent and sleeping gear.  The BF and I go get water and make dinner.  By this time, Dad has usually crafted himself a “recliner” out of an old stump and is happily reading a book or looking through binoculars for elk.  If your parents want to help out, that’s fine too.  We have a system already in place for water, etc., so it’s easier for everyone if we just take care of those things and let Dad rest.  (Though he DOES always offer to help.)

7. Conversation? Sure! Conflict? No.

We all have those family topics that send us into fits of yelling and gnashing of teeth. Whether it’s your lazy brother-in-law, why you haven’t gotten that master’s degree yet, or even when you’re going to move closer to home, they exist.  The thing is, you don’t want these potential sources of conflict to ruin your trip.  Be upfront and honest. Before our first trip, I emailed my dad and told him that I wanted us to have a great time together and therefore we would not discuss X, Y, or Z.

Dad’s only reply was, “I completely agree.”  We have always had great trips together, partly because we just talk about random stuff like gardening, books, TV shows, “remember that time when…” moments: there’s no need to discuss anything serious.  In fact, isn’t that what we’re all out here to get away from?  Reality? The news? Civilization?

Why talk about something that might result in conflict when instead you can talk about what fails when you follow the new USDA rules for making jerky?

8. Take lots of photos.

These trips are ones I want to remember forever, and hopefully, you’ll want to remember your trips as well. Get photos of people hiking, relaxing, setting up camp and even take a few selfies!

9. Finally, don’t be disappointed if something doesn’t go right.

I’m typing this right now to remind myself of this very thing.  You’re out in nature. Things happen. Tent poles break, it rains, you don’t make it to the top of a 14er.  It’s ok.  Your parents aren’t out there to summit a 14er (or not just to do that).  They’re out there to spend time with you.  While none of you probably wants that to be when you’re all huddled in a 2-person tent as lighting strikes around you, if that’s what happens there’s very little you can do about it. On your next trip, it will be one of those “remember that time when…” moments.

10.  When all else fails, have a drink!

(Just one. You’re at high altitude, after all!)

If you like a nice whiskey and water after a long day of hiking, or even if you prefer just a hot mug of hot chocolate, go right ahead and make one for everybody.  Your favorite drink will relax everyone and will probably also help you sleep!

Your Turn: Do you have any tips for backpacking with family? If so, share them in the comments section below!

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