Mother Nature has finally decided to give up the grudge on this winter.
You can imagine my surprise this week when I looked out the window and watched the little temperature gauge creep into the “+”. This was especially great since I had literally stopped checking it because every day was below -20˚C. When you’re stuffing two or perhaps three kids into full snow gear to go outside for approximately ten minutes, this creep into the positives was heartening.
My backyard on a sunny day is glorious. It’s awe-inspiring and just has a way to make the small things in life seem rather — well, small. I never fail to come back from one of my adventures feeling alive, clear headed and positive. So all I could think was let’s go–let’s go–let’s go.
Get Outdoors: Hiking with Kids
The one thing no one seems to tell you is kids come with a pile of gear. Once upon a time, I used to go out hiking and would grab my backpack (full of first aid gear, geocaching supplies, dog cookies and extra batteries), fill up my water bottle and hook the dog to the leash. That’s it. I could be out of the door in about 5 minutes. On a good day now, I’m lucky if I can make it out in under 30 minutes with team parent, or 60 minutes if I’m doing it solo.
Hiking with Kids: The Process
If you’re new to hiking or outdoor adventure with children, the key concepts are simple:
- Dress for the weather. Even though it’s warmer, I dress Mr J in his snowpants until all the snow is gone. I also layer him up with hats, gloves and boots. He typically removes the hat and gloves if he’s hot and unzips a bit. Better too hot than too cold. In the summer, we typically do long pants, running shoes, sun hat, sunscreen and sunglasses.
- Try an exciting title. I always tell Mr J we are going on “adventures”. He can’t say adventures but calls it walking and gets excited. (So does the dog).
- Pick a short distance to start. A small trail loop (think 0.5km or less) will give you a good idea of your child’s endurance. There is no rule of thumb here – you know your kid best!
- Don’t expect to walk quickly. Carrying a load of baby plus an inquisitive toddler doesn’t make for a quick speed. But we’re not running a timed event here, anyway.
- Point out interesting nature objects. Ask your child what they see? Play 20 questions, I Spy or just listen! Nature will give you great views, neat birdcalls and unique growing plants if you take the time to look & listen. That Indian Paintbrush you’ve seen 50+ times, it might just be the first time your child notices it or its texture.
- Know thy trail. If at all possible, try your local trail out first so you can identify if there are any areas that might be troublesome. If unfamiliar, take a picture of the trailhead map with your phone before you head down one – this can give you a quick route out if you need one or help you find your way if lost.
- Be prepared to turn back. If all else fails, be prepared to throw in the towel and return home or to the car. Some adventures don’t work out as we planned and there’s no sense in making everyone miserable to get to your intended destination.
Hiking with Kids: The Gear
For a quick starter hike, I typically pack my fanny pack with a few essentials.
- Water bottle for each person
- Small first-aid kid
- Snacks – Homemade GORP (trail mix with peanuts, raisins and m&m’s)
- Cell phone
For a longer afternoon hike, we bring our backpack.
- Two reusable lunch containers with snacks for everyone
- Snacks: Apples, juice & homemade GORP
- Water Bottles for each person
- Bigger first-aid kit
- Cell phone
- Extra set of mittens
- Handheld GPS
- 1 diaper for each child & wipes
- Garbage bags
Suggestions To Get Started
- Take a Walk In the Park Day is March 30! Head to your local park and get walking.
- Check out your local Conservation Authority or Provincial Recreation Areas. There’s probably a lot of fun & adventure to be had for free or cheap.
- Jump on a piece of the Trans-Canada trail near you.