3 Day Hike with a Young Apprentice

I saw a notice on one page about an individual looking to take a young son out on a hike. It is a three-day hike meant to teach a few things and share skills.  What this father was looking to do was gather information useful to his trip so he could ensure its success.

Deciding what activities to include can be difficult. There are so many options to consider, and they can’t all be included. Being as this is a kind of introductory outing, I think there is a reasonable selection to be made, broken down by day. If it were me, the framework would look something like a three-day hike and exploration trip.


  • Choose an area that offers some seclusion, but is within a region where rescue ops can be undertaken if there is a serious problem. If it is within a Ranger Station area, contact them for information on predators and dangerous trails.
  • Decide if you want to stay within cell phone range. Most wilderness areas do not have coverage. If it is a necessity, TEST it beforehand by making a trip. Assume that a one day hike will remove you from a service area. Consult with others, but always remember that local conditions may not reflect regional conditions. Your camp site might well be a “dead zone”.
  • Examine the area in person, if you can, or study it by reading hike reports on hiking forums.  Look at topography maps. Identify streams, rivers, lakes and seasonal water resources. Check with rangers or wilderness guides to see if there is a fire danger or restrictions on fires in a camp site. Identify any wildlife threats from predators,  snakes or disease carrying insects such as ticks and mosquitoes. Is there a possibility of a rapid change in weather? Can you prepare for that?
  • If possible, file a hike report with responsible officials. Often, this is a Park Ranger. Let them know where you will be, and when you will be back. See if they will accept a no-show as a potential problem. If you are headed to a desert area, your only official resource might be a county sheriff.
  • Chose a hike that will not push your physical limits. An instructional trip is not meant to be a forced march. If your young apprentice is exhausted at the end of the first day’s efforts, the next day will be hard to tolerate.
  • Bring with you enough equipment and supplies to allow for a much longer stay. You may be a bush-craft expert, or a life-long hiker, but a serious situation is made more survivable if you have what you need to minimize its impact.

Day 1

Hike at a pace that will preserve your energy. Be intelligent and avoid fatigue and injury. Pace yourselves and remain hydrated. Checks your packs often and make adjustments to keep fatigue at bay. Stop and rest when needed. Talk. Joke.

Stay alert. Let your efforts create a living model for your apprentice. Show him how to remain aware of his surroundings. Watch for other hikers, problems with the trail and surrounding terrain and dangerous critters of all sizes. The biggest can of bear spray you can get is a great tool to keep on hand. It works on predators other than bears, too. Carry a weapon if the rules allows for it.

Show him how you use your map and compass to verify your location and direction of travel. You should have a GPS unit recording way points at regular intervals as a back up to map reading. Keep the map as your working tool. Be sure your apprentice understands the function of the map.

Dig a latrine, a potty trench /hole, and teach him how to cover up when finished. Tell him about the importance of keeping it away from water sources, and down wind. It should be within range of assistance from the tent, visible with night vision devices, if included.

The hike should be planned to allow you to reach camp with at least 4 hours of light left, accounting for early sunset due to terrain or vegetation. You will need time to relax, set up camp and get in a meal. This is a good time to set up any perimeter alarms you might have in mind, get a fire going and talk about the day. As for alarms, a simple length of wire around the camp site, adorned with clamp on fishing bells, will work in most places. Rocks in cans work, too.

Day 2

Explore the surrounding area. Identify key terrain features, and try to match them to your map. Draw on it if need be. Add detail to the map and show him why extra information can be useful. You could even show him how to recreate a map based on landmarks.

Is he into collecting bugs? Interesting stones? Leave plenty of time to explore and play. Verify water sources and quality. Look for local edible plants, based on a good plant chart. Show him some emergency medical techniques such as splinting a leg, cleaning and patching a gash or building a travois. You might even have time to build some alternate shelters out of simple materials. Play games. Sing songs, if you can sing. (I’m horrible at that.) Teach some basic knot tying.

Stalking. Within a well-defined area, play a stalking game. Hunter and prey. Be sure that when you are out of sight of each other, you both carry a loud sports whistle – metal construction. Getting located quickly is a necessity in the bush, dessert and woods. Don’t risk dangerous separation.

Distress notification. Show him how to build a smoky fire, how to use a signal mirror and a loud metal sports whistle to help nearby rescuers zero in on your location. Whistles are great. Maximum noise for the breath expended. Even an injured little girl can make one of those things sing like a fat lady.

Practice studying the immediate area. Focus on studying one visual zone at a time, watching for movement, shadows or anything that seems out of the ordinary.

Set up where you can see the night stars, and practice finding a north reference for night time navigation. Show him how a red lens flashlight preserves night vision. Explain how looking to the side of an object at night helps “see” it more clearly.

Day 3

Break camp and pack up. Teach responsibility in the ways of packing out your garbage, and leaving the site in good condition. Any fires should be dead and cold. Latrines? Bury them well.

Check your footwear, including socks, and hit the trail.

See if junior can guide you both out with the map. You will have GPS and your orienteering skills to check his work. Give him the lead, but always be ready to counsel against a bad path. Leave early enough to allow you to get back in time, and notify any authorities that you made it out okay.

Things to Consider

All during the trip, while hiking and camping, water sources are a teaching tool. Show him how to find clear water – that fast-moving water is best. Teach him how to filter it with some cloth, and how to treat it chemically or by boiling it. Water sourcing is critical to survival. Make this point stick.

Pack a tent, but make sure it’s a lightweight one. There are some three-mantents around 7lbs that will give you room to sleep and store some supplies that you want out of your packs.

Cook away from the sleeping area if your meals will be cooked in the open. Mountain House styled packaged meals can cook with hot water, in their own bags. These don’t attract too much attention. Frying dinner in a pan may be a dinner bell for bears. Such open aromatic meals should be cooked down wind from the camp, and any leftovers stored away, in a sealed sack or zip-lock bag, hung up above the ground out of reach by hungry critters. In short, don’t leave an aromatic trail back to you, where you might be rudely awakened in the middle of the night.

Keep your tent location out of areas of water runoff, or where new rain might leave you in a stream. High ground, but hidden well. Do not set up near game trails, as predators will often use these to locate a meal.

If you don’t have bed rolls or mats, insulate the tent floor from the earth with leaves, pine needles or mulch. It will keep the earth from sucking the heat from your body, even with a sleeping bag.

Review your wilderness first aid information ahead of time.

Don’t pack so much instruction into the trip that it obviously becomes a class. If your youngin’ can’t stay engaged, you’re wasting his and your time.

Don’t go to the limits of endurance. That’s for later.

Have a plan for if YOU become incapacitated. If the apprentice can’t carry or drag you out, he’ll need to be able to get out on his own. This is a big issue. It’s not likely to happen, but it has serious consequences of it does. Maps, GPS and markers will assist in an un-escorted exodus. This is also why it is important to make sure someone capable knows where you will be. If the two of you have to stay put, then a rescue is much easier to affect.

Be prepared to deal with changing weather.

Take time to talk. Listen well. You might have opportunity to counsel or share life’s wisdom. Be ready for unexpected revelations. This entire trip is a mentoring exercise, and may lead to mentoring of a type you can’t foresee. Building relationships is a surefire way to get the most out of a teaching experience. It makes for good fun, too. With trust comes understanding. Two people with common likes and concerns can have a load of fun when the regular day-to-day stuff is left behind.

Equipment You  Might Want to Bring

The usual hiking gear is up to you to decide upon. I’m assuming you know plenty about it. But aside from a good frame pack, sleeping gear, water prep, etc., there may be a few thing you want along with you.

  • Binoculars. Good for sighting landmarks in the distance, checking out threats or just plain sightseeing. They are versatile and depending on the type, they can be lightweight.
  • Night vision. A decent Gen-I night vision monocular can be a comfort when needing to do what bears do in the woods. From the relative safety of your tent opening, you can illuminate the surrounding visible area and check for beasties. The IR illuminator will make their retinas glow brightly. Scan. Study. When it’s clear, go do your business. The night can be your friend, but sometimes it picks sides…. Below are a couple examples of these, if you are not familiar with them. They have decent reviews, as far as Amazon reviews go. Two price points.

  • Spare shoes. A good set of lightweight cross trainer /cross country shoes can serve as a backup to your hiking boots/ shoes. I recommend a good set of boots that come up past your ankles. If they are lost or damaged, hiking out will be a problem. While cross country shoes are not the best choice, they are a good combination of conformal footwear and light weight. If you can carry a second set of boots, good for you. Consider the terrain and what you are willing to bring.
  • Two compasses and two maps. Two is one, and one is none.
  • Spare water filtration /treatment.
  • High energy bars suited for an extra day’s hiking. Backup calories on hand beat game on the trail. This is a class – not a endurance marathon or proving ground.

To sum it up, keep the list of topics interesting, but not overwhelming. Consider what your tag-along’s interests are. Talk about it ahead of time, and see what gets the juices flowing. Don’t overload him. Be safe in your planning, but include the possibility of something going terribly wrong. Allow for discovery and rescue in your plans.

As an afterthought – it would be wise to be sure of your own conditioning. If you need to train in order to get into good shape, get going now. The hike might be a little “stretchy” for junior, but it should be a cake walk for you. Being in good condition is just as important as knowing your stuff when it comes to setting a great example. When he looks at you, and sees a capable adult, he will want to follow that lead.


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