You awake early with an exhausting hope of getting a quick start to your day. Lots planned, and even more to prepare. You see, when exploring the outdoors with kids (no matter what the age), the sole responsibility of groundwork falls on you. Especially when you’re a single parent. No matter if your setting off from camp or home. Still you have to make breakfast, prep packs, be sure you have enough food, snacks, water and emergency supplies on hand. And don’t forget the camera. My best photographs of my boys have taken place in the outdoors when they don’t expect it.
Here’s a few tips on hiking in the outdoors with kids:
– When loading packs for the hike, always make yours the heaviest. Kids get worn out faster and tend to enjoy the hike more when they don’t have the burden of a heavy pack. Have them carry a lighter pack with just their water and some snacks, they do want to feel like an important part of the group. Then you can avoid the “Are we almost done” whining. Instead they focus on the beauty surrounding them.
– In your pack, always have a first aid kit on hand. This is just good practice no matter who you are traveling with, or even if you are alone. But remember, kids are a little more daring out there. They will grab, climb, try just about anything if you let them. Therefor the smaller injuries happen like clockwork.
– Have a little extra water and snacks in your pack for the kids. Again, a lot less whining, and more enjoyment when the kids bellies are full. They have more time to focus on nature.
– It’s really just a good idea for you to carry your groups lunch. Partly to lighten the kids load, but also because kids like to play in water. And I don’t know about you, but I like my lunch dry. I don’t know how many times my boys have taken “unexpected” spills into the river.
– I wouldn’t say that you hiking in front or rear is necessary, just stay close together. If there are multiple adults in the group, one can lead, and one can bring up the rear. Children can have a tendency to wander. Always keep an eye on them, it’s easier than people think to get lost in wilderness. If you are traveling in Bear country, then it’s a good idea for an adult to lead the group.
– Remember to allow the kids to set the pace. Your hiking pace might be superman style, trying to get in a workout while also seeing the beauty surrounding you. But kids get tired much faster, make plenty of stops. Rest and replenish energy with drinks and snacks.
– If possible, allow the kids to have a friend come. Kids enjoy the company of other kids. It gives them someone they have things to talk about, something in common. Helps pass the time if they are less than enthused at the idea of hiking.
– Let the kids help decide where you are going hiking, maybe give them a few options of nice destinations, and let them pick which one. It will make them more excited to reach the destination.
– Emphasize fun, kids don’t really like posing for pictures. Be sneaky about it. Tell them to take a break, dip their head in the water, or climb a small boulder. While they’re busy having fun, snap some pictures. These will turn out to be better than pose shots any day.
– Inform your children about the importance of Leave No Trace. We pack out what we pack in. Tell them why we need to preserve these areas. And why it’s important to stay on the trail, not only for safety reasons, but the environmental impact as well.
– Always give your children compliments, believe in positive reinforcement. Tell them how good they are doing, how strong they are hiking “all by themselves”. This makes them feel more independent and they tend to enjoy the hike more.
– Inform the children about safety. What to do if they become lost, the proper steps to take if something happens to another in the group. Especially if your hiking alone with your kids. Remember, if something happens to you, they need to know what to do. Give them a whistle, tell them it’s for emergencies only. Blow 3 times of they are lost and to stay put, it will help you find them. Also works to ward off Bears when approaching blind turns.
– As a single father of 2 wonderful, adventurous boys. I love taking my kids into the woods with me, or discovering the desert. But I’m very well aware how easy it can be to get lost, turned around, or injured. You must always keep in mind the safety of your children, as a first priority. A grand adventure seems really fun until your fighting for survival. Imagine how much harder it would be for a child if something were to happen to you.
– Always try to hike either with multiple adults, or in a setting where it’s HIGHLY liking you will come across other adults on the trail. Kids will get scared if something happens to you. Remember, they look to you for protection.
– Leave a detailed description of where your party is going. This is just good practice, and it may save your life. In most cases where hikers were lost and later found, it’s because they told someone where they were going. It’s much easier for search & rescue responders to find you if they can narrow the search area.
– Teach your kids survival tips. Stay together, never leave the trail. Maybe inform them how to build an easy shelter, conserve food & water. And above all, teach them to look for landmarks when on the trail. If you become lost or turned around, you can gain your bearings by checking your surroundings. Don’t just grab onto whatever looks to be “the way”. Make an educated decision based upon checking your surroundings. Sometimes EVERYTHING looks the same, but maybe someone in your party notices a landmark you didn’t.
– Dress for the elements. Even if it’s a sunny day, short pants and a tank top might not be a great idea. A sunburnt child makes for a miserable hike and will ruin the rest of the trip. Always bring along plenty of sunblock. Give the kids a hat and sunglasses to wear. Carry a jacket, you never know how quickly the weather can turn. Do not wear open-toed footwear, or cotton socks (they dry very slowly, and will give you blisters).
– CARRY ENOUGH WATER… This cannot be stressed enough.
Joshua Riggins is a single father who loves sharing the outdoor experience with his two young boys Kemry and Caelan. You can read about his adventures, as well as gear reviews and trip reports on his website: https://experienceviaimagination.wordpress.com/