Any parent who has traveled any distance with their children has gone through the special joy that only traveling with your family can bring. Although there are the negatives of getting to your destination, "are we there yet," or, "I have to go to the bathroom," and then there is always, "you child has been kicking my seat since take-off, can you please make them stop!"
But arriving at your outdoor destination opens up a world of new wonderment to a child. With some careful planning, patience, and understanding, a trip to the outdoors can be made a wonderful experience filled with life long memories, versus a death march that will scar a child for life into never visiting the outdoors again.
How Far In One Day ?
In planning an outdoor adventure, this is usually the first question a parent asks to themselves. How far can my child go in one day? This article can not provide you a mystical number, but some common sense can. The average adult in average health can travel on foot from eight to twelve miles on any given day. Terrain, weather, load, and motivation are all factors that can effect how much ground can be covered.
When traversing ground of foot with children, you should not expect them to move more than five miles in a day. You should equip your child with good footwear, proper wool socks with Wick Dry or Cool Max weaved in or liner socks. Cotton socks retain moisture which make for uncomfortable feet and blisters, as does cheap, "department store," footwear. The best rule of thumb is the, "whine factor." If your child is complaining a lot and looks distressed, they probably are. Another good gauge is your own body. Are you feel tired or sore? If you are, your children probably started fading a long time ago and may just be suffering in silence.
You can increase the distance a child can cover by preparing an interesting route with frequent stops. Hiking through five miles of woods might be a good time for quiet reflection as an adult, but to a ten-year-old mind it is hell on earth. Stopping at formations, waterfalls, rivers, little known historic sites, ghost towns, etc. all break up the trip, and make it more exciting for the grownups. Another good approach is to setup camp early and do some short distance solo hiking to clear your personal mind and move at a pace your more comfortable with.
How Much Can They Carry ?
Unlike distance, this is an easier question to answer. For every five pounds of person, it is acceptable to expect them to be able to carry one pound of gear comfortably. Some factors like the quality of their boots and pack, and physical condition weigh (no pun intended) into this equation.
For every five pounds of body weight, the average child can carry five pounds. In the below example your child could carry 16 lbs.
80 lbs. / 5 = 16 lbs. gear
If a child is overweight you need to factor for this. For every five pounds overweight, you need to subtract one pound. So if your child had an ideal weight of 80 lbs., but weighed 100 lbs. you would use the example below:
(ideal weight / 5) - (actual weight - ideal weight /5)
(80 lbs. / 5) - (100 - 80 / 5) = 12 lbs. gear
There are two examples to the left that outline this formula. If your child is overweight (this is a major problem in the United States) you need to factor this equation for the excess body weight the child has to carry in addition to the gear. In the example to the left, a child that should weight 80 lbs., but weighs 100 lbs., can only carry 12 lbs. of gear comfortably. Now this may seem like ample weight on paper, until you realize that one gallon of water weighs close to nine pounds (including the container to hold it). The bottom line is that especially in younger children, you should not have major expectations on them carrying a lot of gear. If you can get them to carry the twelve basic essentials for hiking, you probably should not expect them to carry more.
The quality of the pack is also important. If your child is under five feet tall, you will probably have a very hard time finding a pack that fits them properly. If you plan to get a day hiking type pack, you should try to get one with a sternum strap. The sternum strap on higher quality packs helps keep the shoulder straps on the shoulders, and with young children who have not gone through puberty, this is a major issue as their shoulders have not gotten broad and the packs tend to slip on the shoulders causing a lot of stress. A good day hiking pack that does not have a frame, will cost between $45 and $150 depending on the features you select.
2 Miles Away What Now ?
This is the worst dilemma a parent can face. When a child has, "had it," there is no logic or reasoning with them. An exhausted eight year-old does not care about spending the night in the woods, all they care about is stopping. The first thing you can do is take their pack. You can carry your pack plus your child's, readjusting the straps so your pack is on your back, and you child's is on your chest. In the absolute worst case scenario, you may have to carry your child for a while. Distance heat and boredom can take their toll on young travelers. The most important thing, don't let it get to this point - which due to variables like the weather and injury, can make things very difficult.
How Can you Compromise ?
There are a number of things you can do to make the overall experience better for your children. Set rewards for reaching your daily goal, or do fun activity during your trip. If your visiting Yellowstone National Park, endure the crowds at Old Faithful to give your children a thrill. Then go on that backcountry hike in geyser country. When the child can stand closer in solitude to see a geyser go off, they appreciate the hike even more. Acknowledge your child's accomplishments at the end of the day. Show them on a map how far you have gone. They will have an incredible appreciation for the time and distance they covered.
Tried All Of This And Still Not Working ?
The sad fact may be if you have tried everything is your children just may not like being in the wilderness. Approximately 40 million people today participate in camping, which is one of the top ten exercise mediums in the country. That leaves a lot of the population that doesn't. If your children are miserable on your outdoor adventures, you might want to seriously think about leaving them with a relative when you go on your trips. The worst thing you can do is force them to participate, because you can scar their attitudes on the outdoors forever at an earlier age.
Junior Ranger Program In Your National Park
The United States National Park System has a program for children ages four to fourteen they call the Junior Ranger Program. Almost every National Park, and some National Monuments participate. Visit any ranger station and ask to sign up your child(ren). Your child(ren) will be given specific activities to perform through the day on their own geared towards their specific age group. Most programs require sitting through at least one ranger led program, which at most parks are of excellent quality. Believe it or not, picking up trash, which is typically one of the requirements, is one of the most popular activities for children who will eagerly compete over who can find the most trash, and they provide a valuable service at the same time. The Junior Ranger Program is free and includes a certificate of completion, although some parks do require a minimal fee of one too two dollars to get a patch when the program is completed.
Remember It's A Different Era
Children can have a wonderful time in the outdoors filled with cherished memories of wonderful sights and time with their family. A little careful planning, proper selection of equipment, and realistic expectations all make for an easier time in the outdoors. Realize you will have to travel at a slower pace and will not cover as much distance with a child as you would with a group of adults. Make sure your child has quality, comfortable, and well fitting footwear. Try to do fun things on your outdoor adventures and plan things around your children. Don't get frustrated with their shortcomings in the field, and let them know when they are doing a good job. By following these simple steps and ideas, your children will have a wonderful time in the great outdoors.But you also need to remember that kids these days are kids of technology.It will take alot to keep them interested in the outdoors but something that they will never forget........ I never did !