The Fine Art of Family Dayhiking

You’ve seen them in magazines. The perfect dayhiking family: Woman effortlessly strides up an 89 degree slope in a color coordinated outfit with matching spring-loaded walking stick, gleaming, not sweating; two and a half children, noses clean, hair combed, staying on the trail, gathered around Dad as he points out the intricate petal structure of an endangered microscopic flower. Ever see them on the trail? I thought not.

“Taking the family for a hike” sounds safe enough, perhaps even like one of those “ought to’s” of parenting. The reality is that taking children for a hike resembles letting 2.5 Irish Setters out of their kennel and into an open field after being penned up all week. You can’t possibly foresee all the trouble they’ll get into. You can’t yell “Come back! Watch out! Stay on the trail. Don’t get lost. Wait for meeeeee!” loud enough for the sound waves to override the “let’s have fun” message echoing inside their craniums. When you do find them, they’re passed out under a tree panting, drool running off their chins, burrs everywhere.

So, what’s a parent to do? You want to enjoy the outdoors with those you love. You’d like their love of nature and fitness to develop. You want some “quality time” with the kids. You want to show them where you spotted your first rattlesnake, edible mushroom or the secret trail to your favorite sitting rock. You also want to keep your sanity.

Consider these 6 Commandments of Family Dayhiking, found inscribed on limestone plates near the top of Wellsville Peak in northern Utah:

1. Thou shalt not have a specific distance goal. Few things, except perhaps lightning arcing across the bridge of your sunglasses, make a family dayhike more miserable than some Type-A, left brain mileage goal. Give it up. Go for time.

2. Thou shalt not “go hiking”. What you’re actually trying to do is spend fun, family time outdoors. Be surprised if you make it much past the trailhead sign. Kids can find more pleasure and treasures in 100 yards than you can in 5 miles. Let them.

3. Thou shalt not miss “sharing” opportunities. Kids spend all day in school listening to their teachers. Give them a break! Be on hand to share your knowledge when they ask: “Mom, what’s this gooey thing?” Be patient. They won’t ask all the questions you know the answers to. Some they’ll discover like you did.

4. Thou shalt not carry their gear. Hey, you aren’t a pack mule. Give your children the pleasure of being self-sufficient. Water, food, jacket, and small camera for recording their most important discoveries – all where and when they want them. I would, however, advise carrying some extra food. For some unknown reason, being outdoors stimulates a kid’s appetite.

5. Thou shalt not be “in their face.” Nothing ruins a child’s chances of enjoying something more than an over protective, controlling parent. Agree on a few “rules of the trail” before leaving home, review them before starting out, then gently help the child stick to them.

6. Thou shalt not forget the ice cream. After you’ve all survived the day, had some fun and made some memories, stop for ice cream. Go inside (no, don’t leave the kids in the car!) Take time to sit at a table. Talk and laugh about the day. Make plans for another family adventure.

Recommended Ultimate Products:
Adult day hiking pack: TrailDance or Trekker
Child’s day hiking pack: Explorer or Scrambler

Recommended Ice Cream:
Big Jud’s (Archer, Idaho), “Hungry Heifer” Sundae
10 scoops of ice cream with 5 toppings served in a large dogfood bowl (spoons optional)

Reprinted with permission of Ultimate Direction, Inc. 800-426-7229

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