Reality Hiking: You become distracted by a backseat squabble and make a wrong turn. Your kids lose their minds as you backtrack. The trail you wanted to hike is closed, leaving you with a more difficult option. You’ll be hanged if you’re giving up after coming all this way. You grunt at your kids until they tumble out of the car and complain their legs aren’t working today. On the trail, they whine that there are too many trees. When you come to a natural rock garden, they whine there aren’t enough trees. Along the riverbank there is a rough path to a small island. The kids roar in excitement. You have forgotten there was heavy rain a week ago. The clay riverbank has not forgotten. Your kids proceed to slip and slide in the mud, nearly careening into the water below. One sees a spider as you all attempt to climb back up the bank. She screams. The second child gets mud smeared on her butt. She screams, too. Other hikers come running. You assure them no one is dying and shove your kids up the embankment. The other hikers stare. You walk back to the car and plot a path to the nearest Dunkin Donuts for comfort.
The second story happened to me a couple years ago. Following that event, I considered the fact that I hadn’t taken into account trail conditions, my children’s skill level, or my inability to assist them simultaneously in a tense situation. Some of you are nodding your heads. High five.
Ignorance, while hilarious to recount, is too risky a thing when hiking. There’s a simple cure: education. I interviewed Jonathan Slider, the director of Trailblazing Hope Outdoors, on trail safety with kids:
S: In your experience, what’s the biggest safety concern while hiking?
J: There is not one major concern when it comes to safety and hiking with kids. It is inevitable that kids are going to fall down and scrape their knee or another part of their body. It is the small things that can add up. Not wearing proper footwear, not having enough hydration, swinging sticks or rocks being thrown are all concerns that must be considered. It is imperative to remind kids that hiking in the woods is like going over to someone’s house. We must respect the home/habitat of the plants and animals that live there. It is not a big jungle gym for them to climb all over. When boundaries are in place this maximizes safety and promotes fun.
S: Does that change based on whether you are solo or with another/other adults?
J: I don’t think so. It is obviously nice to have an extra pair of eyes to help watch little ones, but there is also a chance of being distracted when talking with another adult and not giving full attention to the kids. Kids like to wander and run ahead. It is inherent in them to have a sense of independence from their parents/guardian. They will often times express this by running ahead or dragging behind. It's all about moderation and explaining to them that the trail will always be there and that they should conserve energy.
S: For parents wanting to give their kids a simple, but effective, rundown on safety measures while hiking, what do you think they should cover?
J: It goes back to the thought of them visiting someone’s house. They shouldn’t be picking up rocks and sticks and throwing them or running off trail. This helps keep them safe, as well as the plant and wildlife. They should look with their eyes and not their hands. I love this saying because kids want to pick up anything that moves, sometimes endangering whatever it is they found. This also applies to plants. If they can’t identify it, they shouldn’t touch it. Things like poison ivy, sumac, and oak can make for a very uncomfortable time. There are also things like ticks and chiggers. The former can pose great health risks and should be screened for after every adventure in the woods. Chiggers are nasty and can last for a few weeks.
S: I would simply like to qualify Jon’s statement about poison ivy, etc., making for “a very uncomfortable time.” My experience has been somewhat different. By that I mean: hell. The “I’ll ruin your life, burn down your house, and make you want to flay all your skin off while begging for relief” hell. Weeks, even months of hell. Also, looking like something out of a horror film. But, that’s my experience. Moving on.
S: What safety equipment or clothing do you recommend?
J: The proper hiking apparel is important for a few reasons. Wicking material helps keep cool in the summer and dries quickly. Wool or synthetic socks offer the same benefits. In the cooler months, layering is extremely important. They should also wear proper footwear. No need to buy a pair of hiking boots that they’ll quickly grow out of, so just a decent pair of sneakers with good tread on the soles. Also, bring a first aid kit. There are cost-effective first aid kits specific to hiking that you can purchase on Amazon or at your local outfitter. Always be prepared. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. If they are going to bring a backpack, make sure it fits properly and there [are] not superfluous amounts of things in it that are not relevant to the trip. The last thing you want to do is be carrying extra gear. If you purchase them their own daypack for hiking, then it is a special piece of gear that they can have. Making them “official” hikers. I would recommend buying one that is no more than 20 liters in capacity.
S: By “superfluous amounts of things…that are not relevant to the trip,” I think Jonathan means your child’s entire set of toy dinosaurs, 9 hardcover books your daughter wants to read while you walk, a rock collection, 17 stuffed animals, or 6 sets of underwear. Three sets of underwear should be enough. Accidents happen.
Per Jonathan, here are links to additional resources for hikers with kids:
A great post from REI: Hiking with Infants, Toddlers, and Kids
Simple First Aid kit on Amazon: M2 Basics First Aid Kit
Kids Daypacks at REI: https://www.rei.com/c/kids-backpacks
Thanks for reading this four-part series on Hiking with Kids. Check back for more blog updates on hiking each week.
Hope From the Trail
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