Preparing kids for backpacking

Summer is the perfect time for introducing your child to the beauty of nature and the enjoyment of the outdoors.   A lifelong love of exploration and adventure can be fostered at an early age, if one just takes the time to remember a few important points.  Safety, responsibility, and an awareness of what is around at all times could not only save a life, but bring about greater fun.

Before venturing out on that first backpacking trip, the physical abilities of the youngest and the weakest are the first to be considered.  Plan the trip with several stops in mind, as little legs need to rest.  Allow plenty of time to reach the destination point, and return.  Rushing is no fun, neither for adult or child.  Plan accordingly.  Your hike should be a pleasant occasion to learn about the environment and its’ inhabitants.

The planning process is an opportunity to explain the setting to the child and calm whatever fears he or she may have about wild animals and the noises of nature.  Although rare, wild animal attacks do occur.  Tell the child not to run, but rather to grab a stick and hit the animal across the snout.  This causes tremendous pain to the animal and will give the child an opportunity to get away.

Explain dangers foreseen and unforeseen and how critical it is for them not to venture away.  Prepare a list of games to play, and make sure to have some extra healthy snacks on hand for that little boost of energy needed to go another 500 feet.

Rehearsing responses for emergency situations is not a bad idea.  This is when an alternative plan might come into effect.  It is always recommended that an itinerary of the trip be left with a friend or relative at home, and that periodic contact be made with the person.  Assure the child that someone at home will always know the family’s whereabouts.

A backpack that is 15% to 20% of the child’s weight is ideal.  Make sure that it fits well and involve the child in selecting the contents, explaining the reasons behind each selection.  For the most part, a child’s backpack should contain a flashlight in case it gets dark, a whistle for emergency use, a portable two-way radio, insect repellent, a small first aid kit, an extra pair of socks, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, a compass, sun block, a cap, and a map which highlights the trail and the destination.  Mark certain points of reference and upon reaching them, ascertain that the child sees them in the eventuality that he or she gets lost.  Don’t forget to include water and snacks that are only to be used in the event of an emergency.   A check list of the essential items is mandatory, so as not to forget.

Healthy snacks that pack protein and carbohydrates needed to sustain energy are found in every grocery store.  As these can be costly, remember that raisins, nuts, seeds, and chocolate go a long way.  Buy them separately and combine them in Ziploc bags.