Kids and the Outdoors: How to Make it Work

An outdoorsman friend of mine and his wife were recently blessed with a little girl. During the pregnancy, he and I would have some great discussions about children and how they can potentially slow down one’s activities or put them on hold altogether. Needless to say, he was more than a little worried that he wouldn’t be able to enjoy hiking, camping, or biking as much as he wanted, if at all. It’s been roughly four months since he daughter was born and he and I sat down the other day for a sort of “before-and-after” conversation about his outdoor life since becoming a dad. Together, we arrived at several solutions on how to not only continue to enjoy the outdoors as a parent, but make the outdoors a part of kids’ lives, as well.

One of the best ways to make the outdoors a steady presence in your new family’s life is to immerse your children in outdoor activities from an early age. Basically, make the outdoors as normal as going to school or eating breakfast in the morning. Purchase a baby carrying pack and take your child on day hikes or overnight camping trips. Teach them to enjoy, appreciate, and entertain themselves with nature and it will become a natural part of their lives.

At first, however, you’ll need to keep your hikes and camping trips down to a percentage of what you’d normally do. Not only does carrying a baby become cumbersome after a mile or so, but as they get older, children become fascinated with everything and frequent stops for investigation or snacks will hinder your progress. Keep hikes to a few miles at the most for a few years, until they can manage longer without adding too much delay.

Obviously, you’ll need to water down some of your more ambitious activities once children are involved. Instead of white water rafting, mountain biking on treacherous trails, or five-day ultralight trips, you’ll need to instead stick to more kid-friendly ventures such as easy biking with a tow-behind trailer, flat-ground runs with a stroller, or car camping.

Once the kids are a little older and longer trips can be planned, you’ll need to be prepared for travel and the campsite with activities to keep the kids engaged. For the car ride, bring snacks, coloring books, toys, books, or play car games during the trip. At the campsite, bring card games or go on a scavenger hunt with the children to keep them active and wear them out for a peaceful night of sleep.

On the subject of sleeping, if you have a large tent, there are actually portable playpens available for the kids. For infants, I suggest picking up a double wide sleeping bag (around 50 inches), in which three people can sleep comfortably all night.

When it comes to buying gear for the kids, be sure to buy quality gear. Not only does better gear keep your kids safer, but it performs better, which will keep them from becoming frustrated. Lastly, as much fun as it is to get your kids interested in the outdoors, it’s still important to find a little time for yourself now and then, as any parent can attest to. Before he became a parent, my buddy and I went fishing and biking, and now and then we find time to do the same these days. His daughter will join him one day on the bike trail or on the boat, but until then, he’ll keep up with his own endeavors on the trail.

I know some people think that kids are synonymous with the death of their personal lives, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Finding ways to share your love for the outdoors with your children is exciting and it goes a long way towards ensuring that you continue to enjoy them with the family for years.