One big part of a successful backcountry trip is keeping your kids happy. Part of that comes down to having games to play (which we’ll write about) but part of that is also making sure that they take care of themselves. Where experienced adults make recognize that they’re getting hot spots on their feet and they need to take care of them before they turn in to something worse, kids don’t notice it at all. A kid with blistered feet on a big hike is not fun, and a huge extra burden since you may just have to carry them.
Here are some of our tricks to keep kids running at full steam on trips.
When we’re out on a hike we stop every hour or two and everyone takes off their boots and checks feet. It’s important for parents to demonstrate this as a regular practice so that the kids just do it as a matter of course. Fighting with a child to check their feet sucks, having them sit down and do it because that’s what we do is easy.
As you point out what hot spots look like kids start to figure out what they feel like and you can cut back on the trips. With our oldest we do a single check on big hikes and ask regularly how her feet feel. She’s been able to point out when she has hot spots and we treat them.
When we were training as guides in our early 20’s we were told that if you’re tired, hungry, thirsty…then expect your clients to be feeling the same thing for a while. You’re likely in better shape and can go harder for longer than those little ones with you. Sure they seem to have boundless energy on Saturday at 5am when you’re trying to sleep, but they don’t really.
On hikes one of the adults will set their watch for 30 minute alarms and when it beeps we get everyone to take a small drink. On really hot days the alarm may be set for 15 minutes. Our kids may have a hydration bladder on them, but that doesn’t mean they actually take a drink and for at least on of our kids it means they chew on the soft end the whole time ruining yet another valve.
Now the adults carry the hydration bladders and let the kids have some when alarms go off. The kids also carry their own water bottles and we encourage them to finish those first so they don’t have to keep carrying the water weight, but drinking from the hydration bladder is often just too much fun.
Keeping anyone energized in the backcountry means you need a constant flow of food. For us it’s usually sandwiches, fruits, fish crackers, craisins and some chocolate chips or Smarties thrown in with some trail mix. Many people add nuts to their trail mix but with Cynthia having a severe nut allergy that’s not an option for us. To get some protein in we’ll take beef jerky to snack on as we walk.
One ‘trick’ we use to keep kids moving later in the day as motivation wane’s is to take along some fuzzy peaches, or other snack loaded with sweetness. We’ll dole these out every 20 minutes or so as we finish off a hike to help keep motivation up.
While your kid may love their purple fuzzy socks in the winter, they may not be the best choice for summer trips. It’s worth the relatively small fight up front to make sure they don’t take inappropriate clothing instead of dealing with blisters or heat/cold issues on the trip.
We also all wear hats of some fashion on most summer trips. A few local hikes are 90% in the trees/shade so we don’t bother there, but any alpine hike with little/no shade means we all get a hat on to keep the sun off. That’s in addition to sunscreen which is liberally applied at least twice a day. So far we’ve been lucky and our children have never had sunburns at all. We’d like to keep it that way.
We also always carry a light wind layer even on hot summer days. It’s amazing how many times we get to the top of a mountain to find that it’s 10 degrees cooler and a light breeze is blowing. Having your light rain jacket or an extra long sleeve shirt can make the difference between a fun time snacking at the top and a bunch of whining from a cold child. Remember if you’re making your kid bring that extra layer, you better bring it as well. If they’re fighting wearing it, lead by example. It’s amazing how many things are easy because they are the thing that you do (like putting on a warmer layer when you stop on cooler hikes).
Do you have any tips to help keep your kids moving and healthy on a trip?