Friday, August 15, 2014

The Secret to Camping, Hiking, and Paddling with Kids Series – Part 1

Looking for Fish.
I live to camp. But my outdoor adventures were ruined time and again by my small child’s misery. It got so bad, I considered putting my nature habit on hold. Until…

I sat up, took note, and made a new set of rules to camp by. What worked for me? Through trial and for the most part error, I learned the secret to camping, hiking, and paddling with kids begins with Rule #1.

Rule #1 when camping with kids – ensure everyone is fed and hydrated, stays warm, and has protection from bug and sun exposure at all times. If these do not occur? The trip is over. Beyond this, proper gear for the kiddos and a new parental attitude create a more pleasant experience for everyone.

Gear for the Kiddos

All geared up!
Gear for the kiddos – they’re going to outgrow it or break it, so it’s just a waste of money. Right? Not necessarily. Are you on a wilderness trek for which you must be outfitted with good rain gear? Ensure children are similarly outfitted. Do you need sunscreen and a sun hat? Your child needs the same protection from the elements. Does your water bottle go everywhere you do? Your child needs a water bottle too.

Need a flashlight to walk to the loo in the dark? Yes, you guessed it. Your child needs light too. We could talk clothing, footwear, and a myriad of other gear, but you get where I’m going with this. If it’s a necessity for you, take care of the kiddo(s) too. If they have the right "tools for the job" they can learn to do the job themselves.

But what about just-for-fun gear. Use your good judgment here. Must you schlep along a pile of expensive outdoor “toys”? Of course not. On the other hand, is your trip all about fishing? Don’t expect your small child to quietly twiddle his thumbs while you fish. You’re child needs a pole too. Being made to feel a part of the action rather than an outsider will go far in terms of good behavior, as will the opportunity to learn new things and do things himself.


Paddling with kids

Paddling with Cousins.
Do you paddle into camp as my family often does? Your child needs a paddle too. Your child may not make a serious contribution to the miles paddled, and will likely paddle for only limited periods of time. So why bother? 

It will make your child feel like an important part of the team rather than a helpless tag-along. The exercise will help him sleep. He will learn to become a stronger paddler. Don’t forget the golden rule. Everyone wears a PFD in the boat, not just the child. Modeling appropriate behavior is a great educational tool.


Change your attitude, change your child

A break to stop and play.
Beyond the rule #1, you’ve done your duty as a parent. Yet, you know a bored child might be as much fun as a swarm of mosquitoes on a hot, muggy night. Thought towards making the trip include fun for children can make the difference between a carload of tired, happy campers rehashing fond memories, or silence and sour faces as Mom and Dad resolve never again to take a family camping trip.

So what do we do to entertain dry, warm, well-fed children who act like spoiled brats in need of a better attitude? We change our own attitudes. Let me repeat, we change our own attitudes. We stop viewing the trip as our expedition. We view it as a joint venture. The biggest of miles aren't always appropriate for small children. Time for kids to play and explore while the parents relax reduce stress and make time in the wilderness more enjoyable.

Does this mean we must pack an excessive amount of toys, or make the plan all about entertainment venues such as arcades and water parks? No, absolutely not. Nature and even camp chores will provide much entertainment if you keep your mind open to the opportunities.



Vampires in camp!
Beyond the basics of ensuring kids are physically comfortable and properly attired, the secret to enjoying the wilderness with children is in the planning. Forget about focusing on making big miles, or single minded pursuit of adult interests.

When planning your trip, plan as if it’s a joint venture with shared responsibilities and family fun rather than aiming for making massive miles each day. Make happy camping memories to last a lifetime. Stuck on what to plan? Check out Mama's 8 tips for keeping kids happy and busy in the outdoors.

Please share your ideas for keeping kids physically comfortable and properly geared up in the outdoors.

I’d love to hear from you. Please comment below.

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