As young grandparents, 🙂 we look forward to the time when we can take our grandchildren on the trail to experience the beauty that we’ve seen. Perhaps you are parents and are wondering if it is safe to take your little ones out on the trail. Should you strap on the child-carrier and head to the backcountry? It depends. Here are some things to consider.
What is the earliest you should take a child hiking?
Well, you can pack an infant into a child carrier if you are comfortable with that. Toddlers may not do so well in carriers. We’ve heard a few toddlers crying their way up the trail in those things. It didn’t look like much fun either. Toddlers also can’t walk very far so the 5 mile hike may be a bit extreme.
In my opinion, the ideal age to introduce a child to hiking is around 6-8. One idea is to start out car camping and combine it with day hikes near the campground. The earlier the better, you’ll get less whining that way! We have seen children as young as 7-8 on long backcountry trips. Just remember, those little legs have to take twice as many steps as we do. On a 10 mile hike, an adult takes approximately 20,000 steps.
– Many trails have wild animals that can present a real hazard to children. While mountain lions are rare, coyotes are not. A child who startles a female bear with cubs is in real trouble. Heck, if an adult surprises a bear, it means trouble. Rattlesnakes are common out west and often do not provide much warning. Back east you have rattlesnakes, moccasins and more. The venom may be more potent on a small body, so consider the risks. If you take the little ones into the backcountry, keep them close at hand.
– Terrain can present significant challenges to children. It may be too risky to take them where a fall can cause serious injury. Start out with easy treks to build up their trail legs and confidence. Stream crossings can be dangerous – use common sense here.
– Hydration is critical. Water is heavy, so plan your hike accordingly. The hydration bladders that fit in packs work best because kids can sip as they walk. Monitor their water intake to avoid dehydration or heat stress. Avoid sodas or drinks with a lot of sugar.
– Nutrition is important too. A good breakfast and plenty of snacks for the trail. Trail mix, energy bars and food with protein like beef sticks. Sturdy fruits like apples and oranges are great on the trail.
– Sunscreen is important as is a good first aid kit. If your child is allergic to bee stings, the epi-pen is the first thing you pack. If not allergic, a credit card is a good way to get the stinger out. Just scrape with the edge of the card-it works better then tweezers. It’s good to keep a topical cream for bee stings in the first aid kit. Just ask my wife, it works within minutes. Ticks can be a real problem. Be careful if you use bug repellants like permethrin on small children. Otherwise, light clothing is best. Always check the kids at the end of the day for those pests. Ticks will gravitate to the head, armpits, groin. Have some tweezers in the first aid kit and ensure you get the critter’s head if you pull them out. Use an alcohol pad to clean the bite area and watch for any symptoms like fever, spotted rash and lethargic behavior. If you remove the tick before it gets too embedded, it should be ok. By the way, ticks freak me out, I hate them.
When nature calls:
– Keep a baggie with some single ply toilet paper, hand sanitizer or handi-wipes. Carry a cat-hole shovel if appropriate. Teach kids early about leave-no-trace (LNT) practices and how to properly bury waste. Don’t bury the handi-wipes, they don’t degrade easily. Believe it or not, they will adapt quicker to going outdoors than most adults. Keep them in sight for safety reasons.
– A pair of trail shoes, small backpack, hydration bottle and a hat are a good start. As you progress, a set of trekking poles and maybe some gaiters on those dusty trails.
Hiking presents amazing opportunities to teach young ones valuable lessons on wildlife and being good stewards with our beautiful land. You can talk about survival, navigation, meteorology, geology and so many other life lessons. Give it to them in small doses or you will bore them quickly.
Hiking is a great way to spend time with your children or grandchildren. It can lead to an appreciation of nature and our national parks. It can teach young people how important it is to be good stewards of our environment. So, take a hike! – with your kids.
The title should really have peaked your interest. How does a husband convince their wife to do anything? As we say in the military – here’s the Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): It takes time.
Most things worthwhile take some effort. Typical of our manly ways, we tend to go for the gusto – straight away. Backcountry, or multi-day hikes take a bit of planning especially for someone who has never been. Specifically on the backcountry hiking, it’s easier when you live in an area that is conducive to camping and hiking. Either that or you have enough time and money to vacation in beautiful wilderness areas.
Living in southern California, we are within a days’ drive of the High Sierras which has made it uber-easy to do this outdoor activity. However, every state in the union has locations for hiking. From the Appalachian to the Continental Divide to the Pacific Crest Trails, including the national and state forests – there are many areas where you can get off the beaten path. Imagine Denali in amazing Alaska, or Waimea State Park on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
For me, I was determined to do an outdoor activity with my wife that we could enjoy together. We started by day hiking. I bought a book on trails within San Diego County and we began going out on Saturdays. We would pack a lunch and make a day of it. The more secluded, the better. Eventually, the hikes got longer with more elevation change. While flat terrain is a good break, the challenge of a good cardio workout made it more than a walk in the woods.
We would mix up mountain hiking with desert treks as the seasons allowed. We developed a love of the outdoors and an appreciation for the creation. As believers, we observed God’s handiwork in the land and His animals. We also enjoyed each others’ company as we took breaks and drove to/from our hikes. The time in the car is a great time to talk about your marriage – and life.
You really don’t have to be equals as far as physical conditioning. In our case, she kicks my butt on the trail. However, consider the physical condition of your spouse. Start out with easy, short hikes and make a date out of it. It helps to start out with a trek that has awesome scenery. End with a sunset and/or dinner at a new café. We’ve discovered some decent eateries while out on the road. We also established a tradition of celebrating with a cup of hot tea after reaching each summit.
There were times when I pushed us too hard or it was too hot, but we learned from our mistakes. Once, we were almost swept into a lagoon in a rushing tidal inlet. We often share that story with others and always laugh. Another time, we got off track on a snow-covered mountain in the Sierras and bushwhacked for a couple of hours. Every year, there are new stories to share.
Day hiking presented an opportunity to do some camping. We eventually combined car camping with some hikes. If your spouse hasn’t camped before, car camping is a great intro. It allows for conveniences like coolers, chairs and bathrooms. If your kids are grown, go to campgrounds when school is in session. Much less crowded….
During this time, we also visited epic locations like Yosemite. Some places just leave you yearning for more. The Sierras are this way. I imagine the Rockies and so many other areas are similar. Eventually, we did a 3 day backcountry trip to the highest peak in our area – San Gorgonio. It was difficult, but rewarding. It really proved that she could hike in the backcountry with a full pack and sleep in the wilderness. We still laugh about being awakened at midnight by the spotlight of a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s helicopter looking for a lost hiker. Wilderness hiking builds memories.
I won’t exaggerate, it took a few years to get my wife into the backcountry on an extended trip. We worked up to it. I made sure that her needs were taken care of and that she felt safe. I gradually built up trust and gained some knowledge on our wilderness treks. Over the years, We’ve been lost a few times, but a handy GPS and some map skills would get us back on track.
I really could have made this blog a lot shorter by stating that backcountry hiking with your spouse (or significant other) isn’t going to happen quickly. Start out with day hikes, progress to car camping and do a short backcountry trip that has awesome scenery. “Now you’re cooking with peanut oil” Phil Robertson-Duck Dynasty, A&E.