There are many Alaskan families with young children that desire to get into the woods more often than they do, and how successful they are often depends on a herculean effort of logistics and planning. Planning a family hike sounds simple-but in Alaska, even in the summer, parents have to plan for all types of weather.
Our family is no exception to this challenge. Now that both kids are school-aged, however, we have more flexibility to places we can go and length of trips, although the pre-planning efforts remain the same. Everyone has their own system that works for them, but here are some things that have helped us get into the woods more often-I hope they help you too!
The first, most important thing I did was to get rid of any pre-conceived ideas about how the trip would go. With young children (under 10), I’ve learned to pack extra food and water, and act as more of a naturalist guide, following their cues and getting curious with them along the way. I might even meander behind them and let them set the pace. The minute I heard a complaint that sounded like a hungry voice (every parent knows their child’s hungry voice!) we would take a break, have a snack, a drink of water, and they would transform once again into curious, energetic kids. Once I shed my adult way of looking at our hike as a mission to accomplish, but rather a place to investigate, the experience became very peaceful and relaxing. I connected with my kids, with nature, and with myself. As parents we often forget to care for ourselves-slowing down in the woods with your children, who are experts at living in the moment, is the perfect way to re-charge yourself.
This is not to say that you can’t achieve a trip of great length and/or elevation gain with your children…just adjust your expectations of breaks and speed. The big achievement here isn’t how far you’ve gone, but how far your kids will go in the future to make sure they stay connected to nature. Our goal is for the kids to develop a relationship and a love for natural spaces-like a best friend for life.
The next thing we make sure of is to pack plenty of clothes for them. They will get wet, or cold, or both, and in Alaska that is not an ideal situation. Once they get old enough, you can get them a little day pack and they can handle carrying their own clothes, water, and a light snack. An added bonus to their own backpack is that they gain a sense of pride and responsibility, so you get a twofer: 1) You’re not schlepping their gear for them, and 2) your teaching them values. This is called winning.
Has your child ever lost gloves at school, and when you finally break down and buy a second pair, they find them? Keep them in their outdoors backpack along with an extra set of clothes. This way, your kids bag is ready to go at the drop of a hat and you eliminate a huge part of the planning process. Better yet, have them pack it so they buy in to the idea of responsibility and planning ahead. We buy all of our kids outdoor gear at the Hoarding Marmot-we got a North face down jacket for $20, and hiking shoes in great shape for $3. We buy the 32 degree heat long johns from costco. The are $5 for a top and bottom and an excellent base layer. For food, I keep a ziplock of trail mix in the freezer so it stays fresh but is ready to pop in the bag and go. You can also let them choose a healthy snack for themselves.
Here’s what our kids packs look like:
long underwear set
extra wool socks
fleece layers top and bottom
rain jacket (summer)/heavy coat (winter)
hat and gloves
The last thing I do, in winter or cold, windy conditions under 30 degrees, is put vaseline on their faces. They absolutely hate this and it’s like wrestling an alligator, but it protects their skin from permanent damage, so it’s worth them staring daggers at you for a while. It is surprising how easily children get frostbitten cheeks and noses-it doesn’t have to be very cold at all-if there is a wind, after 15 minutes you will likely start to see pink or white (not good!) spots on their cheeks.
Remember-you can do it! Even if it is just a quick drive to Kincaid or the BLM tract, or hillside…you can have at least a short walk in nature almost every day!
We’ll see you in the woods!
Getting into the woods with children-a checklist:
01 : Bring an extra pair of dry clothes
02 : Bring extra food and water
03 : Be prepared to alter your plans if conditions change
04 : Be patient…you are more of a nature guide for your child, leading them at their pace and following their interests….and give yourself credit-you are doing an amazing job of connecting your child with nature, so cherish the moment with them!