Camping with boys is the same as camping with girls in a global sense. But there’s a world of difference in the details.
My kid-camping experience for the past 21 years has been almost entirely with my daughters and their girlfriends. I am an international authority in surviving camping trips with girls. With boys, I’m a novice.
At a June party, when I expressed some curiosity about what it must be like to backpack with boys, my old Spokane Mountaineers climbing partner, Mac McCandless, unselfishly made any of his five boys available, although I was a little nervous when he said, “You can take custody for as long as you want them!” I finally agreed to take the youngest three of his offspring if Mac would promise to quit kissing my feet and screaming, “Please! Please!”
The differences between camping with boys and camping with girls began to emerge even before we reached the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness trailhead.
Girls talk, talk and talk in the car.
Boys grunt, poke and punch.
I was loving the companionship of having Riley, 8, Ryan, 10, and Conor, 12, in the pickup. I even got in a few jabs myself.
The two older boys borrowed backpacks from my daughters, revealing another difference.
Girls have hips.
Boys don’t. The backpack hip belts would have been virtually useless, except for another thing:
Girls carry nothing in their pockets. Indeed, they usually wear shorts with no pockets at all.
Boys stuff their pockets full of essential items, such as yoyos, electronic games and candy that turns to goo in the summer heat but serves to keep their hip belts from slipping down around their knees.
Girls dismiss any gaseous emissions from the father-figure in their group with a simple, “Eeuu.” Unless you’re out for at least three days, girls will try to give you the impression that they don’t belch or fart. Beyond that, plug your ears and hold your nose.
Boys respond immediately to gaseous emissions in the same language as the father figure, only louder and longer. Boys celebrate bodily functions.
Girls will tolerate at least one stupid dad-joke because it gives them an excuse to say, “Eeuu, sick” and then go off to do their own thing.
Boys will follow like puppies anyone with a repertoire of stupid jokes.
Girls are fascinated by the space-saving function of headlamps powered by a pair of tiny AAA batteries.
Boys favor big, heavy two or three D-cell flashlights that can illuminate distant mountains, blind marauding bears or anchor a boat.
Girls could live their entire childhood without a knife.
Boys equate camping without a knife on the same incomprehensible plane as living without a stomach. A boy’s sense of worth and adventure is proportionate to the number of blades and gizmos in his multi-tool. Boys will eagerly go light on water or underwear, but don’t expect them to spare the knife.
Girls view sticks as firewood or utensils for cooling marshmallows.
Boys consider sticks to be swords or bats.
Girls swim in a mountain lake
Boys see a lake as another target for rocks.
Girls would never expect a tent fly to be a good parachute.
Girls don’t make you wonder about the response time for emergency medical evacuation from the wilderness.
The McCandless boys were returned home relatively unscathed. I later received thank you letters that featured personal drawings of their favorite backpacking memories, including close encounters with mountain goats, roasting marshmallows and making waves in a clear mountain lake.
I thought of them again the next week when I cleaned out the pickup.
Girls leave evidence of a good kid-camping trip in the form of beads, barrettes, ponytail bands, candy wrappers and dirt.
Boys leave candy wrappers, dirt and blood.
But now that I have refreshed my experience with both genders I’m reminded:
Girls and boys both leave an equally rich cache of good memories.