Advice for Outdoor Families
Erin Kirkland, outdoor parent and editor of the new Outdoor Families Magazine, shares tips keeping kids warm and happy on trail.
WTA recently reconnected with Erin Kirkland, outdoor parent and editor of the new Outdoor Families Magazine, an online publication dedicated to bringing families and nature together. We asked Kirkland to share her tips and experience about keeping kids warm and happy on trail.
How do you keep your kids warm in the snowy/cold season?
Kirkland: Getting outdoors is a must, and part of our daily routine. We have learned the value of purchasing high-quality gear that will allow for freedom of movement, shed moisture, and last longer than one or two outings. Layering is key; base layers of synthetic or wool, fleece over that, and a weather/waterproof top layer. In cases of below-zero activities, down is the extra layer between fleece and shell. Mittens are a must for children, as are balaclavas or scarves, and hats that cover ears.
Additionally, we remind kids to stay hydrated, eat snacks along the way, and keep moving. Our winter activities are planned to incorporate breaks to check on everyone's fingers and toes, and flexibility is key should someone show the slightest sign of becoming too cold.
What's in your pack when you hike with kids? What's in your kids' pack on a hike?
Kirkland: The adults' packs always contain extra food, water, clothing, fire starters, and candy for bribery. Cell service can be/is spotty in many areas, but we always take a phone, and leave a trip plan with someone at home.
Kids always carry their own snacks, water, and extra mittens/gloves.
We also try to carry trash bags to pick up anything that doesn't belong on the trail. When they were younger, the boys would bring a bag for rocks, sticks, and cones to display at home.
How do you keep kids motivated to keep going on a hike?
Kirkland: My dad was a proponent of the "just around the next corner" hiking philosophy, which didn't always work too well.
With toddlers and preschoolers, we'd bribe with fruit snacks and such, take a lot of breaks, and concern ourselves with just the journey, not necessarily the destination.
With school-agers, we'd bring friends or hike with other families, giving the kids a 'scavenger hunt' of sorts to stay motivated (who can find the Douglas Fir tree, a raven, a heart-shaped rock, etc.). Older kids also like to be involved with planning trips; with various apps and maps available, there's no reason why a kid age 10 or older can't plot the route of a well-traveled trail.
Parents should always remember that their hiking party will only be as successful as the youngest member; and be okay with that. If we want kids to enjoy hiking as an activity later, we must nurture them as kids, now.
Do you have a story about a formative experience that happened on trail to you or one of your children?
Kirkland: When my oldest was about eight, we took him on a multi-day hike along the beaches of Olympic National Park. We had great weather for most of the trip, and fully enjoyed ourselves along the way.
The trip out, however, was a rainy, windy, sodden-sort of day, and thoroughly exhausted, my son simply threw his pack down in a puddle on the trail about a mile from the parking lot and refused to go any further. We were as miserable as he, and it took every ounce of parenting will not to lose our cool and drag him and his gear the remaining distance.
We took a breather under a tree, switched out to dry clothes (even though everything was pretty wet by then), and had some chocolate. We made it back, packed up the car, and the kid was asleep, hanging by his seat belt straps, by the time the car left the lot. Our decision to stay calm kept this as a good memory, but it could have easily been the opposite.
Erin Kirkland was one of the original crew leaders and trail maintenance committee members for WTA in the 1990’s. Now a mother of two, ages 21 and 10, she lives in Anchorage, AK and is the editor of Outdoor Families Magazine. It is an online community that tells the story of how other families have accomplished the outdoor lifestyle, while supporting those who may be just beginning this journey. Contact for more information about this new resource where families and nature unite. .com