Boys in the Wild (Short Film)

A short film about the challenges we face when trying to expose young men to backcountry experiences.

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by Ryan Jordan | 2013-01-30 23:08:00-07

Introduction

In August of 2012, my son's Scout troop planned a backpacking trek across the Spanish Peaks, a unit of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness in Southwest Montana. You can read the photo essay here.

This trek was an interesting one for me. It was one where I observed the boundless enthusiasm and excitement of crossing a rugged mountain range by one group of boys (the ones that attempted it) and the cynicism and disdain for trekking by others who had no intention of participating in a hike like this.

I struggle to develop a strong thesis for why this is (although I'm rather sure our forum members will rapidly come up with one following the publication of this article!). However, I can't help but reflect on how our changing culture might be inhibiting backcountry participation by kids:

  • Lack of a mentor who is excited about it, and who can take them.
  • Lack of family members who do it.
  • Competition from other activities that might be less expensive, less hard, and more - how shall we say this lightly - beneficial for self esteem? (I find that wilderness is the ultimate smackdown for a teenager's inflated ego!)
  • A culture of entitlement that keeps kids from pursuing activities that cause discomfort.
  • Peer influence that redirects time to other activities (mall shopping, video games, lift served skiing...)
  • Single parent families where the time constraints of work-parenting-life lessen time spent outdoors.

This certainly isn't an exhaustive list.

I have no delusion about having all the answers, or solving what is probably not the biggest problems in boys' lives.

I'm not even sure I have the desire to see "all teenage boys go into the backcountry." But the topic makes an interesting study nonetheless, especially in the context of two roles that I'm playing today: a parent and a Scout leader of teenage boys.

Enjoy!

The Video

If you do not see the video player immediately below, please reload this page by clicking here.

Learn More About Trekking With Scouts

The topics addressed in this film are discussed in depth at Backpacking Light's BSA High Adventure Leader Training Course that we hold each May. Please consider joining us. The discussions we have about boys and backpacking are some of the highlights of our training time. Enrollment is now open for 2013.

About the Author

Ryan Jordan is an Eagle Scout, former Camp Program Director and High Adventure Program Director (Camp Parsons, Chief Seattle Council), former Scoutmaster (Troop 676, Bozeman), Montana Council BSA High Adventure Committee Chair, and a member of the BSA Fieldbook Task Force providing oversight for the next edition.

Read more from Ryan:

Technical Notes

The video in the rain was shot with a Panasonic TS-1. The rest of the video was shot on a Sony NEX-7 using a Sigma 30/2.8 and a Leica Elmarit-M 90/2.8. You'll see some blobs here and there. We were trekking during a bad fire season and those blobs are ash particles that settled on my image sensor while changing lenses. Most of the video isn't stabilized, so my apologies for the jiggles!


Citation

"Boys in the Wild (Short Film)," by Ryan Jordan. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/boys_in_the_wild_movie.html, 2013-01-30 23:08:00-07.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » Boys in the Wild (Short Film)


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Joseph Libera
(jvlibera) - MLife
Boys in the wild on 01/31/2013 08:41:35 MST Print View

Great video. My take-away from the video overall is the celebration of a wonderfully successful outing! I find very little to lament. Every generation has its challenges. I suspect that video-games, obesity, and nature-deficiency are no greater a barrier to well-being than child-labor, disease, violence, and poverty experienced by previous (and current) generations.

It seems that a real barrier to the younger generations enjoyment of the outdoors includes available adult leadership and preservation of the outdoor resource. Leading a small high adventure crew over a 5000 ft pass has always been and will continue to be the privilege of a minority of hikers. How do we leverage (or grow) available adult leadership to bring these experiences to more young people? All the while honoring LNT principles, and certain organizational requirements related to risk e.g. Consent Forms, Tour Permits (scratch that) Tour and Activity Plans, Med Forms (Parts A, B, C, and D?), Hike Safely, WFA, Hazardous Weather Training. I think that's it :)

I have no doubt that these videos, and opportunities presented by BPL such as Lightweight Backpacking for BSA will continue to motivate a small group of adult leaders to get outside and on the trail - with young men and women. That's reason to celebrate!

Joe Libera

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
Boys in the Wild (short film) on 01/31/2013 14:15:15 MST Print View

Excellent message and video! I can't wait to show it to my 12 year old only if I could get him off his computer.

Cody Bartz
(codybartz) - MLife

Locale: Northern Minnesota
Go outside! on 01/31/2013 21:20:34 MST Print View

This is a start. Nice video and well put words. I believe it is very true. Keep spreading the word and get more off the couch and in the outdoors!

Rod Braithwaite
(OddRod)

Locale: Salish Seashore
Convincing kids to backpack on 01/31/2013 21:32:33 MST Print View

FWIW, my daughter became very enthusiastic about backpacking immediately after I pointed out that, after getting a bit of kit & experience, it was the perfect way for her and her teen friends to escape the purview of adults.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Thank You on 02/01/2013 07:53:19 MST Print View

Thank you for all the great feedback on the video. The comments have stimulated my thinking so much. Some of it reinforced, with some new ideas to ponder as well.

Interesting that a few of the comments gravitated towards the assumption that kids today are probably going to be just fine tomorrow (past history?) even though they seem to waste as much time today as the last generation did, perhaps on different things.

I'm less fearful of kids wasting their time, as I am of them not being able to escape into a nature experience in order to (as I suggested in the video narrative) find some rest and reprieve.

An important trend I see across the past few generations is that the increasingly fast paced, information-rich, and economically complex world we live in today may require more simplicity and rest, simply to avoid psychological and emotional burnout, and if nature-connected experiences aren't in the quiver as a (very practical) coping mechanism for today's generation of young people, then we risk leaving future generations with less capability to cope with an increasingly stressful first world.

Jason Elsworth
(jephoto) - M

Locale: New Zealand
Boys in the Wild (Short Film) on 02/01/2013 14:10:20 MST Print View

I think these are valid concerns.

I have been meaning to read this
http://www.amazon.com/Last-Child-Woods-Children-Nature-Deficit/dp/156512605X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1359750465&sr=8-1&keywords=nature+children.

Andrew Zajac
(AZajac)

Locale: South West
Re: I personally think it's the parents who are the weenies ;) on 02/01/2013 14:30:49 MST Print View

I whole-heartedly agree that parent are quite a bit of the problem. How many 8 year old kids have the organizational skills to start backpacking without the support of their parents? Yes obesity and a sedentary lifestyle is becoming increasingly prevalent, but its not just among children. Get adults to enjoy the outdoors and their children will too. That said, I enjoyed the video beyond its pessimism aimed at our youth. Getting people exposed and out there is a great way to culture a love of the outdoors.

I would also love to see some facts showing that video games and social networking site are destroying this nation's youth and making them fatties. After all, don't we all here spend a fair amount of time perusing internet forums?

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Thank You on 02/01/2013 14:56:50 MST Print View

>>

An important trend I see across the past few generations is that the increasingly fast paced, information-rich, and economically complex world we live in today may require more simplicity and rest, simply to avoid psychological and emotional burnout, and if nature-connected experiences aren't in the quiver as a (very practical) coping mechanism for today's generation of young people, then we risk leaving future generations with less capability to cope with an increasingly stressful first world.

------------

This doesn't necessarily need to be true. We can harness the technology and complexities to make our individual lives better and less stressful.

If one needs to go into the wilderness to cope with life and to avoid burnout, then perhaps they should re-examine the purpose of their lives. Perhaps starting with, "why do I exist and what should I do?"

The purpose of my life is to "live a good life." That means I need to have certain values, which includes the need to be productive. I think that all people internally need to be productive. For me it works better to be specialized in certain fields, rather than trying to personally produce all the things I need. And I love my job. At the end of a long vacation, or a weekend trip, I look forward to going back to work.

Moving on the child rearing... just like most wild animals, parents need to prepare kids to become self sufficient as adults. That is our primary job. IMO, this includes strong bodies, strong minds, strong character (morals & ethics), and a strong work ethic. To me, this is job one.

We need a work ethic to backpack. If we break down any trip, we must realize that it is task oriented. Planning, cooking, set-up, take-down, daily destinations, working through terrain; these are all tasks. For me the task part is enjoyable, and at the end of the day I can think - job well done. Of course the wilderness aspect is good too. But for me it is not "spiritual," nor does it help me cope or escape some sort of unhappy existence back home at work. It is just a piece of a puzzle that makes me whole, so that my life is a "good life."

These are the things I tried to impart to my kids when they were growing up. When my kids were young and progressed through high school and then college, I had conversations with both of them regarding a career. We talked about a well paying job, versus doing something they loved. They both chose the later... Nicole is a school teacher and Joe is a biologist working outdoors with Desert Tortoises. Nicole is married and they do a lot of car camping; Joe backpacks and car camps too. So as a parent I feel good about how they grew up, and that they are well adjusted and happy adults - they too are living a good life.

Randy Cain
(bagboy) - MLife

Locale: Palmdale, CA
Great video!!!! on 02/01/2013 16:40:37 MST Print View

Fantastic, Ryan!!! Great video as well as insightful and thought-provoking narration! Keep 'em coming!

Kerry Rodgers
(klrodgers) - MLife

Locale: North Texas
Need to push them a little, preferably before teenage years! on 02/01/2013 21:16:15 MST Print View

Thanks, Ryan, that was really cool. I love it.

Finally, at ages 8 and 10, I got the wife and kids on their first "real" backpack: 3 days/2 nights, 5 miles per day last August in cool, lush West Virginia on easy trails. The 8-year-old boy didn't want to go (was afraid it would be boring or too hard for him), but once on the trail he loved it. Once he had chosen a stick to carry and seen a snake, the trail was his. His only complaining in 3 days was on the brief road walking segment--that reminded us how bad it could have been. Once back on trail, we were amazed at his instant attitude improvement.

Kids 3 day backpack in Cranberry Wilderness, WV, Aug 2012
Set on Flickr

My wife and I find we have to push our kids a little to try new things. Some of our friends have the philosophy not to push their kids, but then their kids just opt out. We are trying to make sure our kids have these introductory experiences before they are teenagers, so they won't be surprised at hardship then. Our kids don't like things they're not good at, so often, we just have to push until they see that they have acquired a basic proficiency. We hope this, also, will carry over into teenage years.

It also helps that we limit their computer and media time.

For backcountry, specifically, we are mostly limited by us parents' willingness to put busyness on hold and get out of town, since there's no backcountry closer than 4 hours' drive from here. The kids would go for outdoor play and car camping often, if we parents do all the packing and organizing. Our struggle is to get them to help with the work. Well, we haven't been out again since the summer--it's my fault! But they are asking occasionally for another backpack, and that is a very good thing.

I love the "reality smackdown" idea. But not only for the individual ego problem. When it rains or is cold or steep or whatever, everyone suffers that kind of hardship together, and I think that is also a good experience for the kids. A more subtle tempering of the ego, maybe.

Oh yeah, I should also say that our daughter is very inspired by Sunshine, and of course we know about her and Balls from BPL!

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Need to push them more, preferably before the teen years on 02/01/2013 21:36:01 MST Print View

I agree, starting them early is a good idea too. Much easier to teach them a new hobby when they are younger, more impressionable and less busy. If you start young it will probably continue into their teen years.

By the way Kerry looks like a fun trip. I recall you'd mentioned wanting to get your kids out backpacking and it looks like you succeeded.

David Eitemiller
(DavidE) - MLife
Fathered and Mentored on 02/10/2013 15:51:23 MST Print View

Ryan,

Thanks for putting this aspect of offering what we enjoy and benefit from in the wild place to these kids and to your son. The film was motivating and as other have said inspiring. What inspires me is to see older men, fathers, making the effort to intentionally pass on what they know to their sons (and daughters) - or to others.

Many of the people I go to the wilderness with (especially family or close friends who aren't as "extreme" as me as they say), so appreciate getting to places and experiencing something they never would be able to if they did not have a mentor and guide and leader that could get them there. I am often surprised by that reaction as I don't see it as anything unusual to put a pack of gear on and start walking into wild places. But what a legacy and gift it is to be able to show someone how to eat well for 5 days in the wilderness, how to establish a shelter that will keep you safe in anything that is likely to hit, how to navigate over a pass that seems unsurmountable to them, how to pause and enjoy a vista and quietness and the poetry of the wilderness and be confident you are safe because of the skills they have but didn't before they were shown how.

This is the fathering and mentoring that many of young kids value these days, but in my experience, just don't get that much. So its inspiring to see it happening - well done!

Dave

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Fathered and Mentored on 02/10/2013 16:29:59 MST Print View

"This is the fathering and mentoring that many of young kids value these days, but in my experience, just don't get that much. So its inspiring to see it happening - well done!"

Very good point David. When I was a kid spending time with both my parents was a normal and expected thing. Unfortunately for many kids nowadays it seems to be a rare thing. Between business and family breakups it seems a lot of kids are missing out on time with parents. That is a shame because I didn't just learn outdoor skills from my parents, I picked up their values along the way. I'm a better person because they spent time with me doing "fun" stuff.

I don't have any kids of my own but good for Ryan and all the other dads out there who are making time to do meaningful activities with their kids. They definitely need it.

Kathy A Handyside
(earlymusicus) - M

Locale: Southeastern Michigan
Re: Boys in the Wild on 02/26/2013 12:02:17 MST Print View

Do Girl Scouts ever do anything like this? When I was young, girl scouting seemed very boring - they never did anything adventurous and outdoorsy like the boys did, which is why I never joined. Have they changed? I never hear of girl scouts backpacking or doing anything like the boys do. Seems sad to me.

Greg Pehrson
(GregPehrson) - MLife

Locale: playa del caballo blanco
Re: Re: Boys in the Wild on 02/26/2013 12:24:38 MST Print View

Kathy,
I think it really depends on the leader. I was part of an urban Boy Scout troop that never went backpacking, meanwhile, my mom was a Girl Scout leader for many years and took the girls full-on winter camping, in tents in the snow, building fires, learning map and compass skills. Additionally, the GSA used to have a high-adventure National Center West in Wyoming (part of their "Wider Ops" program); my sister went for years. While that center doesn't exist anymore, here are some of the national and international adventures available to Girl Scouts (from whitewater rafting in the US to backpacking in the Andes): http://www.girlscouts.org/forgirls/travel/destinations/event_list.asp?catid=0

James Davis
(jeanjim93)
Getting Young People into the Wild on 02/27/2013 21:54:44 MST Print View

I enjoyed the film. Thank you for sharing it. I agree that for some kids, and for some adults not yet hiking, the outdoor experience would be very beneficial. But I also have to agree with the research you cited that states money and time are the two main reasons that “Insiders” are not becoming “Outsiders”. Regarding the money factor I believe the costs of gear and clothing is prohibitive for many people in this time of economic recession and alternative approaches should be provided by the teachers and experts for those people for which money is truly a barrier.
I recently retired from the health care arena and saw in the last decade the welcome change from the routine prescribing of expensive brand name drugs by physicians to the prescribing of just as efficient generic drugs by physicians when appropriate. And this was more affordable for patients. As I increased my backpacking time on the trails and started researching the latest information it struck me that backpacking is still in the expensive brand name prescription drug phase. I recently put together a routine gear list by retail price and it topped $1500. (And this did not include GPS. It did include the SPOT equipment.)
I believe we have to come up with alternative gear lists for kids and their parents in order to increase participation. I believe some of the Boy Scouts Scoutmasters are also coming up with affordable alternatives for their troop members. For example, why can’t a $5 army surplus thin wool sweater meet the needs of one of the clothing layers? It wicks quite well to my understanding. What are other affordable alternatives that keep the kids relatively safe, dry, warm, able to filter their water, and able to cook on their backpacking adventures? Can we get a routine gear list down under $300 or is that unrealistic?

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Getting Young People into the Wild on 02/27/2013 22:34:09 MST Print View

I remember a scout master put together a list of "sorta UL" gear for budget conscious scouts doing Sierra trips. I think the "Big Three" were tents and occasionally tarps, cheap external frame packs, and cheap synthetic sleeping bags. I think by careful packing they kept baseweights to around 15 pounds and I think the total price was about $300. I wish I could remember who it was.

You can get 30 degree bags for $40, packs for $50 and tarps for $20. It won't be as nice or light but you could outfit a group of kids for fairly cheap.

Kathy A Handyside
(earlymusicus) - M

Locale: Southeastern Michigan
Re: Re: Re: Boys in the Wild on 02/28/2013 07:05:02 MST Print View

Thanks for the information, Greg. I appreciate it. It's good to know that there are some things for the girls, too, who want outdoor adventure. Too bad the center closed down. Are girl scouts allowed at Philmont, or is that strictly for the boys? The reason I ask these questions is that, from my own experience, outdoor adventure has made me a stronger, independent adult. Not only that, but I think all kids these days would benefit from outdoor adventures - something to get them away from the computer and video games. Plus if they can develop an appreciation for the outdoors, they may be our next protectors of wild places. Thanks again! :)

john parker
(orclwzrd) - F

Locale: Illinois
Out with youth on 03/24/2013 20:19:35 MDT Print View

For those that have youth, boys and girls, that are 14-21, the BSA has a great program that dovetails right into this idea. The program is Venturing, the youth are in charge and we as Advisors guide them. I do have a vested interest in this, I'm the Venturing Advisor for my Council. On the other hand, after an exhausting, exciting, fun weekend out with the youth, I'm reenergized again to deal with the office some more. Let's get these youth out into nature and show them what they are missing out on! Great Video Ryan, I'd love to work with you putting a Venturing program together!

John

brian H
(B14) - M

Locale: Siskiyou Mtns
Kudos on 09/03/2014 13:59:09 MDT Print View

Kudos Ryan on a great piece. I enjoyed your theorizing on the state of today's teens.
What great photography, especially the avalanche of cloud vapor at the end.

Here's an org I have volunteered in for the past 6 years, Boys To Men. We celebrate something that has been lost in our culture: the rite of passage from boyhood to manhood. Our local chapter - So. Oregon, unlike the one in the link below, does not place emphasis on fatherless boys (although we agree with the idea!).

The work we have done with teen boys has been just fascinating for me.

http://boystomen.org