One scene I cannot forget: I was five miles into a hike to Berry Creek Falls at Big Basin Redwoods when I noticed a toddler, maybe 14 months old at best, wandering around in his diaper with his admiring mom and dad nearby, doing their best to keep him from wandering into the poison oak.
Taking the tot on a 12-mile hike, how’s that for getting him started early?
Jane Huber’s latest blog post describes the necessities of taking your 3-year-old along. For instance:
Choose the right kind of trail. While the whole family adores singletrack trails through woods and coastal scrub, these aren’t best for us. Very narrow trails aren’t wide enough to accommodate 2 hikers walking hand in hand, which is essential when we are hiking on trails with a drop-off on one side or that are very steep. It’s also essential to be able to see a good distance in front and behind us, because quite often Jack will plop down on the trail to play with leaves or rocks or heffalump traps, and when he does this I need to make sure a bicycle (or mountain lion) doesn’t come barreling down the trail and run into us. Hiking-only trails eliminate the possibility of bikes and horses, but wide fire roads through open grassy landscapes work best.
What usually happens when grown-ups drag their kids out on the trail: everybody goes where Dad wants to go and puts up with it because, well, he’s Dad and his crazy habits are just part of the package. Jane’s not proposing caving to a toddler’s whims; she’s trying to see the trail through a child’s eyes. Shorter hikes, fatter trails — which too many hiker types reject out of hand (or foot).
Camping Blogger makes a similar point about his kids:
While they might dismiss some great natural wonder as “ho-hum,” they will spend hours playing with salamanders in a mountain stream. It is important for us, as parents, to remember that our children’s interests are not always aligned with our own. If we are to promote and develop our children’s interest in nature, it’s important to let them explore nature on their terms – wherever that may lead.
While I sympathize with the notion that getting youngsters interested in nature will foster a new generation of environmentalists, I doubt many kids will consider it an especially compelling argument for dumping their Xbox. And if you know of any kids who buy “you’ll thank me for this when you’re a grown-up,” call a research scientist to look into this peculiarity.
Perhaps the secret is to match your outdoor forays to whatever your kid is into indoors. One hiker told me his vid-crazed kid was nuts about geocaching. If they like solving puzzles, orienteering might be worth a look. Scouting is an obvious choice, but some kids will be turned off by the absurdly out-of-date outfits.
Your suggestions welcome as always.
I think you are underestimating the draw a good day outside has on a kid. While you may not initially get a kid to drop the x-box for a hiking trip. A series of positive fun experiences in the outdoors will build a foundation in which a kid may choose to come out rather than stay inside.
Taking your kids camping is a good intro, with a stream to walk beside and play in and a bike to ride in the campground. Walking to waterfalls are great intros to hiking. As they get old enough, teach them to tie simple knots and do lashing, and they can entertain themselves for hours with lots of rope in the woods (do I need to remind people that this should be adult supervised?) Then teach them to build campfires and cook fun stuff like dump cake in a Dutch oven (supervision again). Then take them on a longer walk to a cool overlook. Then let them choose what food to cook next time and maybe where to hike. Introduce them to the idea of keeping a spreadsheet on where they’ve camped and far they’ve hiked.
Hey, wait a minute, we do all that in Scouting. It’s called “progression,” a little bit at a time at the kid’s pace instead of the adult’s agenda.
I have so much to say on this topic, it’s not even funny. As my dad said, I had 20 years of backpacking experience by the time I was 23, and then I’ve taken many groups of adolescents into the wilderness since then (and lived to tell about it!).
In lots of conversations with my parents about what they did (and from my memory), here’s my two cents:
The question is far less, “Are my kids ready for backpacking?” and more “Am I ready to take my kids backpacking?” My first backpacking trip was a 1.5 mile hike on the Chilnualna falls trail outside of Yosemite. My brother was 1 and still in diapers. (My parents have since suggested this was perhaps a bit extreme, especially since his stomach had problems and they ran out of diapers.) Clearly this was more of a hassle for my parents than it was for my brother. After that, we went on trips every year, and by the time we were 7 and 9, we were doing 8 miles in with our Kelty frame packs. Usually by the time we were 6 miles in or so, we would get REALLY whiny. Sometimes weepy. If you saw us, you might have thought my parents were sadistic, forcing their poor little children to hike up huge mountains. However, whenever we got to the lake (or wherever our base camp was), my parents would want to lie face down in the tent, and my brother and I, released from the confines or our packs, were filled with energy, demanding my poor father set up the fishing poles for us. (In other words, we were fine.) I’ve seen this happen with teenagers, too. The mental commitment is very important on the part of the adults if you’re going to get your kids out and have them become wildlanders.
I think also, it just wasn’t something that was a choice– it was something we did with our family, like eating dinner every night together. I don’t know if my parents ever thought, “What will make the kids like backpacking?”– it was just more a decision they made about what kind of a family we would be (one that went hiking and backpacking) and they have two adult children who adore backpacking/trails/hiking as a result. We still try to meet up every year for a backpacking trip and I’m sad when I can’t because of work.
Having said that, my parents were also really great about letting me bring friends along. Fortunately I knew a lot of athletic kids (I swam growing up) so my friends had no problem with the physical part of it, but this could have been an issue for other kids.
Kids will quickly lose interest in their electronic stuff if it’s just not there. I’ve taken lots of kids out who have never been in the wilderness and the interest they have in just playing in a stream is incredible. I’ve had countless jaded, disaffected youth tell me, after I listened to them whine for an hour as we finish some climb to a summit or view, that it was totally worth it.
In closing, I don’t know that I ever felt “dragged along.” I think also that the amount of time we spent backpacking as a family, with no other distractions (tv, phones, radios, movies, restaurants, etc.) other than our own conversation made us a much stronger family. There wasn’t a lot else to do on trips other than talk to each other, and while I may not have appreciated every moment as a teenager, there were always moments (even in my joyous adolescence) where I remember having great conversations or laughing really hard at something together or singing around the campfire.
So yeah. Make yours a backpacking/hiking family. I think it’s one of the best gifts my parents have given me.
I have to agree with Peter. Being a 22 year old who has fallen in love with backpacking in the past year I can say my parents didn’t drag me outdoors. We did some car camping growing up, no more than a trip a year.
Video games leave me with a feeling of having wasted my time. Physical exercise gets the blood pumping and by taking hikes and enjoying the outdoors I experience what others only dream about. It also provides me a large degree of confidence that I can handle myself in situations without outside assistance.
While my Mom only came on a few hiking trips and never on a fishing or hunting trip my Dad took me along from the time I was in diapers. (Mom liked camping but didn’t like hiking.)
One of my earliest memories is being tied to the top of his pack, lying on his sleeping bag and wishing Dad would walk smoother so I could take a nap.
(When I was tired he normally carried my in a sling in front, but I always remember the Yellowstone trip where he carried me on the top of his pack best.)
Anyway, the point of this is that all the time spent outside in my youth carried over into my adult life and I’ve always enjoyed hiking and camping.
All it takes is getting them out there. I take my kid out there and she loves it. It’s sad that more parents don’t let their kids experience the great outdoors.
I remember when I was a kid and I would off hiking and exploring everyday, now a days most kids have a hard time walking from the couch to the front door.
I am a mountain biker, but I can relate to the subject. I’ve taken my kids (5 & 9) on a few hikes at the local park. Now that they both bike, I take them mountain biking and they really seem to enjoy it. At the end of the day, if the parents have a great attitude about enjoying the outdoors, you will more than likely pass it on to your kids.
I took all three of my kids on their first backpack trips when they were three years old, and at various times they continued to hike with me as they got older.
I think you can really simplify the answer to the “what does it take” question to one key factor: hiking must be fun.
Adult hikers whose goal it is to introduce kids to the outdoors so that they will continue to enjoy this and make it a part of their lives over the long haul can pretty much forget anything else if they keep this in mind.
I introduced car camping to my two sons a couple of years ago when they were at ages five and seven. We went to the Adirondacks in New York during the Fourth of July weekend. They loved it. We did short hikes during the day and they played in a lake afterwards. We even watched a firework display at a town near our campground on the 4th of July. It was their first time hiking over a mile and their first time hiking mountains.
I find that at their age, they don’t care that we were hiking to a mountaintop with great views or two miles into the woods to see a spectacular waterfall. They were more interested in the things they saw along the way. Just as with a long car ride, they will ask, “Are we there yet?”
I keep them going by pointing out unusual rocks or trees and making up some story. Their imagination and curiosity usually takes over and keeps their mind off the physical aspect of the hike until we are at our destination.
I think car camping is a great way to introduce kids to the great outdoors and to hiking by taking them on short hikes around the campground. Make sure the kids have plenty of time and opportunity to help out and learn around the camp such as setting up the tents, cooking, cleaning up, keeping food away from wild animals and, their favorite activity, the camp fire.
Took my son camping when he was just 3 months old. Car camping not backpacking yet though. Geocaching is good if your off-springs need motivation. As is a frisbee; simply chuck it along the trail and they’ll chase after it (only works for a short while as they will soon get wise to the ploy!)
We were out walking on Blackheath in the Surrey hills (UK) yesterday and although not quiet five he managed to do a fair few miles without wanting a shoulder carry. Story telling came up him rather than me talking about the different trees and moss and heather, etc.
Come the summer I’m going to see if we can do a short backpack trip.
For those wanting resources to teach kids about this, you may want to check out an award winning children’s book called “Anna Goes Hiking.” In the book Anna goes on her first hike with her parents and learns all about the outdoors and nature. The back of the book has a place where children can identify animal tracks, learn about the animals Anna saw on her adventure (what they eat, where they live, how big they get, etc.) and finally a “Here is what to bring if you want to go hiking too” page. The books are available on amazon or our website http://burburandfriends.com/products
My daughter loved the fact that we could shop together and get matching shoes 🙂 She really felt like she was a “pro” with her gear on.
She like to look on this site with me for new things we can buy for snow time.