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BY JEFF ALT
It’s summer. The kids are out of school and you still have stories to pitch and write. But the great thing about being an outdoor communicator is that you can often bring the kids to work.
Both my children were only a few months old when my wife and I took them on their first hike. They’ve been hitting the trails with us ever since. We wanted to make sure our kids were exposed to the outdoors before they ever held a tablet or watched a television show, so they would always know they could have fun outside, hiking, splashing and running with friends and family. Another bonus, is that my job has evolved into a family affair and it makes going to work all the more fun.
Here’s how to introduce your kids to the outdoors so that everyone is excited for the next trip. While these are specifically for hiking, they apply to, or can be tweaked to fit, a variety of outdoor pursuits.
Start ‘em young: Ergonomically designed baby carriers make it easy and fun to carry your infant and toddler with you wherever you hike.
Let the kids lead: Follow the leader. Hike at your child’s pace and distance. Whatever your child takes interest in, stop and explore that bug, leaf or rock with them. Getting to the destination is less important than making sure your kids have fun.
Count down to the adventure: Psych the kids up with pictures, videos, websites and highlights of the places they will go and the things they will see.
Suit up in comfort, style and the latest technology: Take this checklist with you shopping so you get the bases covered:
- Footwear: Until your kids are walking consistently on their own (birth to 3 years old), fit them with a comfortable pair of water resistant shoes. Make sure the three and older kids are wearing lightweight trail shoes or boots with a sturdy sole. A Vibram sole with a waterproof breathable liner is preferred. Wear non-cotton, moisture wicking, synthetic or wool socks.
- Clothing: Dress for the weather. Wear non-cotton synthetic, wool and fleece clothes and dress in layers. Wear multipurpose clothes like pants that zip off into shorts or shirts with roll-up sleeves. Pack a waterproof breathable rain parka. Dress for the season with a fleece hat and gloves or a hat with a wide brim for sun protection.
- Packs: Get age and size appropriate backpacks that fit each hiker comfortably.
- Trekking Poles: Get a pair of adjustable, collapsible poles with an ergonomically designed handle for each person — kids and adults.
- Fresh, clean water: You can get a hydration hose system for your pack or just use bottles. Disinfect wild water using high-tech portable treatment water systems such as a UV wand or micro-straining filter.
Communication: Bring a smartphone so you can take lots of pictures and if there’s connectivity, email to family or upload to your blog or Facebook page. Carry a GPS unit to keep you located on the trail and for geocaching.
Bring water and food kids love: Hand out snacks and water as needed on the trail. Pack their favorite snacks and bring plenty of water. Stop often for a drink and a snack.
Pack fun items: Let young children fill their adventure pack with a bug catcher, magnifying glass, binoculars, a camera, a map and compass, whistle, or flashlight. Let your little adventurer take ownership and pack a few items of his own.
Play games and bring a friend: Play “I Spy” as you walk along, create a scavenger hunt, make up rhymes, and sing songs as you walk. Pack along a plant and animal identification guide for your older child. Let your social butterfly bring a friend. Intrigue your computer savvy child with the high-tech hiking gadgets like GPS, headlamp flashlights and pedometers. Use your GPS and take your kids on a geocaching adventure.
Take advantage of park activities and guided nature experiences: Utilize and enjoy the amazing services and resources offered by our parks, trail and recreational system and associations.
Don’t forget: Pediatrician recommended suntan lotion and bug repellent. A first aid kit. Bring a compass and map and brush up on how to use them. Learn how to make a shelter to keep you warm and dry. Keep matches and a lighter in a dry place and know how to make a fire to keep warm. Carry a whistle and a signal mirror in case you get lost. Pack a survival knife with a locking blade. Bring a head lamp flashlight, extra batteries, 50 feet of rope or twine, and always have several feet of duct tape for that unexpected repair.
Write about it: If you aren’t already out on assignment, think about pitching a story about your family adventure, whether it’s about photography, fishing, hunting or some other outdoor pursuit. If it involves kids in the outdoors, it might be worth your while to pitch your family trip or adventure to travel publications, parenting or family magazines. You could even pitch a story about getting out with kids to outdoor publications for which you regularly contribute. ♦
— Jeff Alt is an award-winning author, keynote speaker and hiking expert. Alt is the author of “Get Your Kids Hiking,” “A Walk for Sunshine,” about the Appalachian Trail and a forthcoming book: “Four Boots One Journey” about the
John Muir Trail. Talk to him about speaking at your next event at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit his website: www.jeffalt.com.