Trekking with kids
I CAN ONLY SPEAK from the bloke’s perspective (I’m guessing women have other things on their mind), but when my wife gave birth the first time, there was a fleeting, rather depressing, thought: There goes the trekking life.
I just couldn’t get my head around how you could go bush on foot with nippers in the mix.
They are, after all, the biggest vortexes of time and energy in the known universe. Now with two in our household, it takes an extra hour and a semi-trailer full of gear just to take them to swimming lessons at the local pool.
The thought of packing them up and taking them bush for days exhausts me more than the Western Arthurs Traverse ever could. I am wrong, of course.
How to trek with kids
The key here is your mental approach. First off, think it can be done. Second, get excited about it, rather than sweating over the organisational details.
Kids (the ones old enough to walk and talk, at least) love adventure. The grander the scale, the better.
You’ll be surprised – the younger they are, the more adaptable they are. With a bit of preparation, my bet is that you’ll whinge before they will.
So, as a positive parent, there are a few key things to think of.
How old are they? Old enough to walk or will you be carrying them?
If they can walk, keep in mind that they can’t cover the distances you can and they won’t be able to carry the pound-for-pound weight that you would. So keep distances short, and pack weights minimal.
That means you have to plan your own pack weight carefully, as you’ll be carrying for them and you.
Ease them in with a trip that has a base camp from where you can do numerous day hikes.
Generally, for a 10-year-old and older, you can get them through 8-10 km safely, depending on the terrain difficulty, although this can vary greatly according to the individual child.
The best rule of thumb is a child can generally walk their age and carry half of it. For example, a 10-year-old should comfortably carry 5 kg and walk 10 km.
Kids in the field
In the field, a good indicator is the ‘whine factor’. If your child is complaining a lot and looks distressed, they probably are.
Another good gauge is your own body. If you’re even slightly weathered, your children probably started fading a long time ago.
Increase the distance a child can cover by preparing an interesting route with frequent stops. Stops at formations, waterfalls, rivers, historic sites and caves all break up the trip.
Set up camp early in the afternoon. Don’t drag out the day. Start early, finish early and then let the kids do what they do naturally: play.
Fun. Fun. Fun. Games such as I Spy can keep the child’s mind occupied while walking. Interesting them with bits of bush knowledge, even make believe.
Silent, meditative walking is great as an adult but boring for kids, who need mental stimulation as much as physical.
If your kids are too young to walk, gear logistics become even more pertinent, remembering that if you have a child on your back, you’ll have less room for camping gear.
And other adults on the trek will have to bear more of your load. Safety is always important but even more so when you have children.
First-aid kits are a must, and ensure you bring along extra supplies of any medicines they require – you do not want to get caught out with an asthmatic child sans inhaler.
Keep the food fun. Include treats and remember that energy requirements will be huge for children.
Don’t ‘make do’ in the gear stakes. Outfit kids with the same or better outdoor clothing you wear, and ensure it fits.
Initiate them to the outdoors early through scouts and outdoor camps at school.
Responsibility, believe it or not, is a great motivator for kids, so teach them the skills when you can and work your way to letting them lead sometimes or to making camp decisions, under your final say, of course.
If heading to higher ground, be aware that children don’t acclimatise as quickly as adults, so be aware of them feeling any uncomfortableness above 2000 m.