Children delight in the tiniest treasures. Spider webs, dew drops, a crawling bug, colored pebbles. What an incredible opportunity we have to take our children into the woods and teach them about nature. For parents, there can be real joy in discovering nature on a kid’s level.
Whether You Go on a Family Outing
Or an Adventurous Excursion
Safety Always Comes First
The main thing to consider when hiking with babies and children is that you will have to modify your goals, whether it is your choice of destination, distance, or environment. When you go hiking with a baby or a toddler, you will need lots of extra gear, in addition to carrying the child. Pick a location that is easy to get to, kids-friendly, and not too far away.
Teach your children first about safety in the outdoors. Simple rules are good. For example, “no running and always keep in sight of me” might be a good place to start. Give them their own safety whistle and some essentials in their backpack: A snack, some water and a spare layer of clothing.
Teach your children what to do if they get lost. Most importantly, always keep warm and dry. Give each child a plastic garbage bag to carry in the backpack. Make a hole in the side of the bag (always teach children to make a hole to avoid danger of suffocation), so they can put the bag over their heads with only their faces showing. It will protect them against the elements and help prevent hypothermia.
Whistle to help alert rescuers: Teach your children how to help search and rescue agents by answering their calls with the help of a whistle.
Protect against health hazards: Altitude sickness, sunburns, knee scrapes and bee stings can all easily occur during hiking. Be aware of these eventualities and prepare accordingly.
Make a list of must-have items and don’t leave for the trail without these items: Food, water, daypack, raingear, warm clothing, hiking shoes or boots, first aid kit, cell phone (it may or may not work everywhere, but it’s nice to have it anyway), maps, compass, whistle.
Prepare for wildlife encounters: Always keep an eye on your children and stay closely together. Don’t let your kids play unattended on the trail. Make lots of noise. Potentially dangerous animals, like bears and cougars, will often retreat if given the opportunity. Walking in groups and making noise will give wildlife a chance to escape and reduces the likelihood of surprise encounters. Be extra cautious at dusk and dawn when most predators are active.
Keep your pets at home. Bears and cougars can easily kill even large dogs, and hiking with your pet may prompt an attack. If you do take your dog out with you, be sure to keep it on a leash. Pets running free may provoke an attack, which then leads to you.
If you see a cougar, remember they are very different from bears. Cougars do not bluff or fake a charge. Playing dead is never recommended in a cougar attack. Don’t run. Running may trigger an attack. Face the cougar and retreat slowly. Keep direct eye contact while you slowly move to safety. Try to look larger than you are. Raise your arms above your head to make yourself look taller. This may help to intimidate the cougar. You may also want to throw rocks and yell. Showing aggression will often scare animals off. Pick up your smaller children. Cougars will often select smaller prey, such as children or pets.
Important notes: Consult a guidebook and a detailed map before going on a hike. A parking permit may be required for vehicles parked at the trailhead. Keep your dog(s) always on a leash. Don’t leave valuables in your car. Always leave your itinerary with family members or friends. Avoid hiking alone. Hiking with others increases security.
“Hug a Tree” is an excellent program with lots of good ideas on how to “woods-proof” young children and what to do if they get lost and so on.
Maria Faires, RD is a Registered Dietitian and a health- and fitness specialist. As a certified trainer and owner of a fitness- and nutrition consulting practice, she provides highly personalized health services, fitness training and rehabilitation programs for her clients. Her articles have been featured in numerous Internet- and print publications. For more information, visit her website at www.myactivenutrition.com
The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.