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Not just children can be whiny on long backpacking trips. I am interested in learning how to boost morale with both, adult groups, or when hiking with children.

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Nothing like having company. How about swapping stories before hitting the sack? –  Don Branson Sep 13 '13 at 23:30
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Oh, also, singing on the trail. When I'm solo hiking I sing. It lifts morale and scares the bears and pigs. Actually, my singing scares most any living thing. :) –  Don Branson Sep 13 '13 at 23:51
    
:) I'd be interested in the answer too. Personally, I've just shifted away from long single trips to taking long day hikes and staying in hostels. At least in Colorado, at least on week long trips to Colorado. It breaks things up a little bit, and makes it feel more like a vacation. –  DavidR Sep 14 '13 at 14:04
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Geocaching or letterboxing often works wonders if there's some on your route (and there will be a lot of the time) - turns a (I quote!) "boring walk" into a "walk with a purpose" for many I know. –  berry120 Sep 16 '13 at 19:06
    
Tell them to have fun or else you'll make them trudge another 5 miles in the rain to arrive at camp after dark. If that doesn't work, send them to scout ahead left at the next intersection while you quickly take the correct path to the right. Then there are other options envolving mine shafts and steep ravines. –  Olin Lathrop Nov 25 '13 at 21:42
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7 Answers

This goes for kids and adults:

Make sure they have enough food. Have them eat trail mix and fruit before they get hungry (same with water and thirst).

Don't over-do it. Take what you think a reasonable hike would be, then multiply it by the ratio of their height to your height (or, for adults, by the number of years they have been doing backcountry travel by your years). Then multiply it again by 50%. Now you have a reasonable goal...or, you get the idea.

EMPHASIZE THE JOURNEY NOT THE DESTINATION. This goes for the parents and the kids. Stop along the way to marvel at the things you see on the trail, big and small. Encourage the uninitiated to lead the way and explore a bit. If your hike ends up being 1 mile and you learn a lot about that strip of land it is better than going 4 miles and needing to crack the whip the whole way.

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I've been going backpacking for several years. The things that always keep me positive are the views and appreciating the little things.

Additionally, a pack of cards to play games, sometimes I bring a little speaker to play music at night and bring a small piece of rope to practice tying different knots. Most of all, campfires. I've never sat next to a campfire and not been happy. All of these are lightweight and easy to do.

Lastly, I always like to look at the map and see what I've accomplished. It gives meaning to what I'm doing and how far I've traveled.

Onward and Upward!

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On canoeing trips, especially with a lot of people, I schedule at least one "stay put" day for every two or three moving days. This allows different people to do different things:

  • hike up to a hilltop, lookout, waterfall etc - the stop is strategically positioned to put this side trip in reach, and the hikers will carry only a day pack rather than all the camping stuff, which is set up in camp for the day
  • swim and sunbathe
  • lie in the tent and read / listen to music
  • cook something that requires being in camp, such as hot soup for lunch instead of trail food all the time
  • fish

In a large group, this also lets people who've been rubbing each other the wrong way get some time apart. But in any size of group it lets you appreciate WHY you came on this trip - to spend some time in beautiful places doing pleasant things. It is also a good way to get blisters, sunburn, sore knees or other minor irritants a little bit healed, so someone isn't trudging along the trail in pain. And knowing that tomorrow is a rest day can help you get through today. Similarly, remembering yesterday's great views, or delicious lunch, or blissful peace, can give you a little more oomph today.

You can also take this approach in the small. Just stop - maybe don't even take off your pack - and look around you for a minute. Or call a rest break for everyone at a lake edge or a lookout or just a nice rock or log. Enjoy where you are, have a swig of water, maybe eat something, and then carry on.

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Backpacking trips force people to live at a radically different pace than what most people are used to. There's a lot less stimulus that we get in a city. Most outdoorsy people find it wonderful, but there are people out there that just don't. Some people are just wired to need more stimulus. That's OK, not everybody is the same.

When I've gone on trips out West in recent years (to Colorado, or the Eastern Sierras), I'll treat the trips more as vacations than as pure backpacking trips. My friends and I will go on day or overnight hikes, but also plan on spending some time in town (staying in hostels or hotels), and also doing general touristy activities (going to local restaurants, driving to touristy areas like the tourist loop in Yellowstone, or visiting breweries if I'm in Colorado). I find that interacting with the locals is often the most fun part of travel. And having a break for a day in the middle of a week long trip goes a long way towards keeping everyone's spirits up.

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You could make some checklists of the local common flora & fauna and try to turn it into some kind of friendly competition to see as many as possible.

I know this is at least a great motivator for myself, to get up early in the mornings, to keep my disturbance to a minimum and to always have moments of excitement when you see a new species.

And, always a reason to return for the species you didn't get to see :-)

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When hiking with small children, you can boost their morale by throwing candies in front of you and pretend to follow the trace of the easterbunny, or something like that. In my experience all of them have very happy memories of this experience. But i never tried that with adults :)

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When on long backpacking trips, what I do is to take a day at a time. I have seen many lose morale when they start to think about the number of days left in front of them. For me, taking a day at a time keeps it simple and easy to manage.

Sometimes even a day gets pretty sapping(has happened to me a few times). And during those times, the one-step-at-a-time rule seems to work for me. Forget about where you need to get by the end of the day. Concentrate on the next step instead.

As Don mentioned, singing does help. But then, if you are in a group, not all might be comfortable with it. Hence sometimes I prefer to sit down and think about my friends who would be working their asses off in the sorry world which I would have left behind(call me a sadist :P). Also, thinking about what a cool story the backpacking would make can lift up your spirits up by a huge margin. (Imagine telling, "I almost gave up due the the rains and snow, but something made me to push forward" :P Sounds pretty cool. Doesn't it?)

Happy backpacking!

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I've told people of my experience trudging thru the snow in street shoes uphill both ways, but they don't seem to believe me. –  Olin Lathrop Nov 25 '13 at 21:46
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