Wilderness Camping With Children
Survival tips for parents taking children into the wilderness; preparing for that first family outdoors adventure.
Too often parents give up the wilderness experience once their children are born, but with proper preparation and a sense of humor, backcountry camping can remain an important activity for the family. Taking children into the wilderness is a great opportunity for parents to teach children to love and protect our natural resources.
The key to any successful camping trip is preparation. Chose a destination you are familiar with. Then plan a hiking distance that is comfortable for your children. My two daughters, at ages 7 and 10, were able to take on a five mile hike. With younger children you may want to scout out a campsite only a mile or two down the trail. Keep in mind you do not want to push your children to the point of exhaustion or the experience may become very unpleasant. As your children grow, so will their endurance.
Packing is a delicate art. Between piling on too much weight and forgetting the key essentials lies the balance that will make camping with your children successful. In addition to a thorough first aid kit, matches, tent, and sleeping bags the following list will ease the packing dilemma:
-Water filter. Do not risk exposing children to Ghiardia. This painful, diarrhea causing organism is quite prevalent in backcountry streams and rivers. According to Lange 1999 Medical Diagnosis and Treatment, 38th ed., young children can experience impaired growth and development from Ghiardia.
-Presweetened drink mix to disguise the filtered water taste. Keep fluids in front of young campers/hikers at all times to avoid dehydration.
-Child friendly gear. For toddlers and preschoolers it is best to invest in a high quality child carrier pack. Look for one with the same durable structure and waist pad as your favorite backpack. Some even allow you to carry gear with the child. Older, larger framed children can be fitted into their own pack. My ten year old was able to carry her own pack while the youngest carried a small daypack with her clothes and snacks. Do not place a large amount of weight on growing bodies. Several companies also make camping quality child sized sleeping bags, outerwear, and boots.
-Easy to use field guides, camera with plenty of film, binoculars. Make the trip to camp more interesting by identifying pretty wildflowers, looking for animal tracks, and taking time out for photo opportunities.
Your hike to camp will be slow, so allow plenty of time. If you encounter potential hazards along the way, keep your children aware without frightening them. In areas where I notice a lot of bear activity I have the kids sing loudly so we will not startle any unsuspecting animals. When obstacles such as large fallen trees or wash out zones are encountered, the kids are assisted across one at a time.
Once you arrive, let your children help with setting up camp and cooking dinner. My girls enjoy getting our camp organized. After dinner, give the kids time to just play around camp. You can kick up your heels and relax. Your advanced planning, great packing skills, and flexible attitude has successfully led your children thus far on your journey. With such a positive experience, your children will be eager to venture into more wilderness journeys with you. Your only worry now is getting back to the car.