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Family adventure tips: Preparing, packing, and safety

by timber press on April 24, 2018

in Natural History

A young adventurer takes on the Soapstone Lake Trail. Photo by the author.

Handcrafted for Northwest parents, educators, and caregivers that want to spark a love of nature, 50 Hikes with Kids highlights the most kid-friendly hikes in Oregon and Washington. Here, author Wendy Gorton offers the best tips and tricks to prepare for a safe and fun hike.

Start your kids on a lifelong habit of packing an adventure bag, whether it’s the smallest satchel or the largest consumer-grade backpack they can actually hold. The art of having everything you need with you without being too burdened is key to having a good time on the trail. All of the adventures are short enough that even if you did pack too much, its weight won’t jeopardize your enjoyment levels too heavily.

Review the trail location, its length, and proximity to town and decide what your team needs to feel comfortable and safe. The Washington Trails Association advocates ten essentials to hiking, which can be a great way of introducing self-sufficiency to your kids. Take this as an opportunity to discuss the essentials needed to survive, and you’ll have your staples as well as refillable items every time you hit the trail. Les Stroud, Canada’s own “Survivorman,” once facilitated a “Survivor Kids” film festival with me, providing faith that kids are more than capable of understanding the essentials of human survival.

  • Navigation: Keep your smartphone charged for access to offline maps and the compass feature. In addition to the maps in this book, consider a compass and full trail map of the area (greentrailsmaps.com).
  • Hydration: Bring plenty of water for everyone.
  • Nutrition: Consider the length of the trail and the amount and type of snacks you’ll need to keep the train on the move.
  • Insulation: Check the weather together and decide the type of protection and warmth you want to bring. A second layer is always a good idea; breezes can chill even the warmest of days.
  • Fire: Pack a lighter or matchbook for emergencies.
  • First aid kit: This can range from a mini first aid kit with essentials such as bandages and aspirin to much heftier options with space blankets. Consider what you want your car stocked with and what you want on the trail with you.
  • Tools: A small knife or multi-tool goes a long way in the woods.
  • Illumination: Did you explore just a wee bit too long and dusk is approaching? A simple headlamp, flashlight, or even your phone’s flashlight can help lead the way.
  • Sun and insect protection: If it’s an exposed trail, consider sunglasses and sunscreen or hats for you and the kids. In the summer, many trails may have mosquitoes, so be prepared with your favorite method of repelling them.
  • Shelter: You may want a space blanket or small tarp in your adventure bag in case of emergency.

Fun items to have on hand might include a nature journal and pen/pencil, hand lens, binoculars, a bug jar for capturing and releasing spiders and insects, a camera, a super-special treat for when you reach the top of something, a container for a special mushroom or pinecone, and even a favorite figurine or toy that your littles are currently enamored with so they interact with that tree stump up ahead. Wet wipes, toilet paper, and Ziploc bags are also recommended.

While it may be handy for you to navigate to each trailhead using your smartphone, remember that many of these wilderness areas have spotty cell service. As a general safety practice for hiking with kids, always tell a third party where you are going and when you expect to be back, and remember to tell anyone who may need to get a hold of you while you’re away that you’re not certain of cell coverage in the area.

On the trail itself, every lead adventurer will have his or her own comfort level with safety, and you’ll determine when your children will need hand-holding or reminders to stay close as you get near tricky terrain, exposed edges, or water. It’s a given in the Pacific Northwest that you can come across adverse weather conditions arriving seemingly out of nowhere. Teaching awareness and common sense and fostering an attitude of “there’s no bad weather, only the wrong clothing” in these situations will go a long way toward creating an adventurous and resilient child. You can model this “love the unlovable” attitude by remaining upbeat and playful as lead adventurer, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly their attention will turn back to the trail and its wonders.


Wendy Gorton holds a master’s degree in learning technologies and is a former classroom teacher. She worked as a National Geographic Fellow in Australia researching Tasmanian devils, a PolarTREC teacher researcher in archaeology in Alaska, an Earthwatch teacher fellow in the Bahamas and New Orleans, and a GoNorth! teacher explorer studying climate change via dogsled in Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Today, she is a global education consultant who has traveled to more than fifty countries to design programs, build communities, and train other educators to do the same.


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