1. Packing for the basics
There’s what’s called “the 10 essentials.” This is a list of 10 items you should have in your pack in case of emergency. These are: navigation, sun protection, insulation, illumination, first-aid, fire starters, repair kits, nutrition, hydration and emergency shelter. To these, let us also add extra peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, their favorite toy elephant, crayons, paper, whistle, stuffed bear, diapers, three changes of clothes for each child, a backpack carrier for the kid who can’t walk so far yet, candy, princess-themed water bottles, goldfish crackers and toy cars. Be sure to leave room in your pack for rocks they hand you because they’re convinced they are gold or fossils (I leave the rocks where they came from on the return trip), trash from their snacks, trash from other hikers and dirty diapers.
Remember the essentials.
2. Wilderness know-how
We live in Ontario Canada; there is lots of poison ivy. So it’s important to teach them not to touch strange plants, and also not to put leaves in their mouths. Also, don’t put rocks in your mouth. Don’t put ants in your mouth. Don’t put — what is that thing? Dear God what is that? Spit it out — don’t put ANYTHING in your mouths, OK? OK!
Also, skunks and porcupines do not want you touching them, and if they let you touch them, you don’t want to.
Wilderness know-how is important.
3. The circle of life
“Hey look – a heron! See it dive to the lake and — oh dear. No no, it’s OK, don’t cry. That heron is just taking his fishy friend for a ride, so fishy can look around. Now he’s taking him to the top of a tree… and… ripping his head off with his beak. Wow, look at the blood. That’s his way of saying hi to the fishy.
The circle of life.
Proper hydration is important at home and on the trail. I don’t feel comfortable hiking without a full camelbak, and my kids need matching water bottles. I probably won’t drink a full camelbak on a three-mile dayhike, but that excess is good because one or both kids will figure out how to unscrew the top of their water bottle and dump its contents on the trail within the first four minutes of the hike. Then while they’re playing in the mud, they’ll get thirsty and demand more to drink. This is where you refill their bottles with your camelbak. Then when they see the camelbak in use, they only want to drink out of it, forget their bottles. It’s more fun to suck from the tubing of a camelbak and then spit the mouthful of water on their sister, eventually leaving you with none.
Proper hydration is important.
5. Pace is key
Hiking with children can force a parent to adopt a zen-like attitude. This may be because a toddler is only interested in the here and now. They don’t care about making “good time” on the way to a destination, “feeling the burn,” or even reaching that destination. They care more about getting on their bellies, touching a rock and watching ants march back and forth. They care more to stop and lay on the ground and run dirt through their fingers, then turn over onto their back and watch the clouds and circling hawks. And also you better stop and climb every rock you can, and practice jumping off it over and over. If you face plant, that’s OK — there’s probably a pretty pebble right in front of you. Better pick it up, turn it over and over, decide it’s a fishy fossil and tell mommy all about the backstory to the fossil. OK, time to get up and walk to the other side of the trail. There’s a ladybug there. Go say hi.
Pace is key.
And that is how kids end up teaching you how to hike.