Tag Archives: hiking with kids

Wilderness ‘survival’ skills for young children

For families who spend a lot of time in the outdoors, having a child wander off and get lost is pretty unlikely. At the same time, it’s also a very real possibility. I often wonder if/how my child would survive a night in the wilderness. Or 2 nights, or even a few hours. So I’ve been thinking about what skills would be appropriate to start learning for the average 6-11 year old, before they are of age for hardcore Boy Scout techniques.

Every outdoor child should be equipped with a few basic outdoor skills, (mostly to combat an inevitable freak out) along with a little ‘survival kit’ to keep in their backpack.

If your kids are older you can make them this more extensive survival kit. But for young kids you really can only pack what they know how and are developmentally able to use. A survival kit is something that can be built upon over time. As they get older you can add more and more items (like fire starting supplies) and teach them how to use them.

My oldest is 6, so we’re starting out with the following as a bare minimum:

Extra food
Flashlight and batteries
Water purification tablets
Small signaling mirror
Toilet Paper

Assuming they have these few basic tools, below are some good beginner skills to go over. The S.T.O.P. acronym (Stop. Think. Observe. Plan.) is a great place to start, and is a helpful tool for kids when it comes time to remembering what they should do.

STOP (Stay where you are)

The second your child realizes he/she is lost they should stop immediately and wait. Attach a whistle to your kids backpack, as soon as they realize they have become separated from the group tell them to start blowing that whistle like crazy.

THINK (Don’t freak out)

This is perhaps the hardest and most important wilderness survival skill to develop, especially if you’re a kid. A child however will be less likely to freak out if he/she knows what to do.

Talk to your child about how easy it will be to have a meltdown when they realize they’re lost. Then make sure they understand how important it is to stay calm, or become calm. It’s hard to think and plan unless you’re able to be rational. Try to recall everything your parents have taught you and go from there.


Look through your backpack. What do you have with you that can be of use. Whistle? Use it often. Food? Save it until you’re really hungry. Water? Save it until you’re really thirsty. Rope? That could be used for making a shelter. Knife? That might come in handy.

Also observe your surroundings. Does the place look at all familiar? Is there a good place for a shelter? Water nearby? A place where you can safely get up for a better view?


Now what? Take time to think about what you need to do first. Ok, You’ve blown your whistle for the last 20 minutes. Now what. It’s getting late, maybe you should think about a shelter…


Water is the most important survival item you can have, it’s also a hard one for little kids, which is why I always stock my kid’s packs with plenty of water and tell them to ration it if they become lost. Your body can still function with little or no food for weeks, but it can only last a few days without water.

The problem is, unless you find yourself lost next to a water source you shouldn’t exactly wander off looking for water and get even more lost. However, if it has been a day or two and you’re still lost and out of water, it’s going to be worth it to wander off and try to find some.

The easiest thing for little kids to use and carry is water purification tablets. Make sure they have some in their pack and know how to use them. Also make sure the know when to start venturing out to find water.


Next to having enough water, finding a shelter to protect you from the elements (either cold or hot weather) should be top priority. Take advantage of your surroundings. Rock overhangs would be ideal, but if you don’t have that, find some limbs, leaves and/or pine boughs to make a shelter. A lean-to is probably the easiest for kids. If your child is old enough to make one, it might be fun to practice out on the trail, or in your backyard. If they are still young encourage them to find a rock or a tree that they can sit next too to keep them out out of the sun/rain.


If you’re lost in the wild surviving is, of course, your first priority. Your second should be getting yourself out of there! There are several safe and easy ways your child can make a signal.

  1. Use a mirror (If you have one) or some other shiny or metallic object.
  2. Create a signal with rocks (that contrast with the ground color). Spell out “HELP” or “SOS”, or even a big smiley face our of rocks will get noticed!  Make sure your child knows to make the letters big.
  3. If you hear a plane or helicopter get into an opening and run around and yell like a crazy person.


I would image that the #1 concern for a lost child is the prospect of being eaten by a wild animal. Or maybe that’s just my kids. While unlikely, I think your child would be a little more at ease if they knew what to do when they encountered a wild animal.

I wrote a post a while back called what to know when encountering wild animals. Take a look, pick out the animals that live in your area and go over basic information with your kids. The point is not to make them even more freaked out, just to give them some confidence in their skills should they spend a night in the woods alone. Also good skills to have even if you’re not lost.

Going solo in the great outdoors… with kids

A reader recently submitted this question:

My hubby has poor health, but I *need* more outdoor time! Any tips for a mom and kids outdoors on their own? Mine are 7, 5, 3, and 2 mos. We live in beautiful western Oregon, but I have a thing for the SW.


Meaghan, thanks for this excellent question.  It’s something I deal with all the time as a stay-at-home-mom who is also an outside junkie.  I actually really like getting the kids out on my own.   I’m not much of a home body and getting the kids out for a hike or a trip to the lake always seems like a far better alternative than futzing around the house.  Our situations aren’t that different–I’ve got a 5-, 3-, and five-month-old.  Granted you’ve got an extra child, but let’s just call your oldest an extra ‘helper’.

Your style for getting outside with just you and them will be all your own, unique to your personalities and situation, but here are some random suggestions that might make getting out on your own easier.

PS rare photo of me (above) taken by my good friend and awesome photographer Rebekah.

1. Don’t psych yourself out.
It’s not as daunting as it sounds. One less adult can usually be mitigated with better pre-planning.  Remember always what your objective is.  To be outside?  See something new?  Have a wee adventure?

Figure out what you’re going for and ‘settle’ for doing only that thing.  When the kids cry or complain, when something goes awry, when you call it quits early, just remember your objective… “well, my goal was to get outside for awhile today, and we did it!”  Have that attitude in mind before you even leave the house and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to feel good about your solo trip from the moment you’ve locked the front door.

2.  Pre-Plan. (more…)

What to know when encountering wild animals

To help ease some of your outdoor paranoia’s, here are a few simple guidelines for the most common ‘dangerous’ wild animals.  Maybe knowing more about the ones in your area will make it easier to get past any latent fears and take advantage of the outdoor areas near you.


Range: Coyotes are found throughout North America, even in downtown Los Angeles!  Wolves (the Grey Wolf) is found throughout Canada and in the northernmost states of the U.S.

Coyote attacks are extremely rare. I’ve had several strange encounters with coyotes lately; thankfully they have not seemed intent on hurting me.  Wolf attacks are also extremely rare.  I only found four cases where a wolf/wolves had killed a person in the last twenty years in the U.S., and two of them were from ‘pet’ wolves on chains (one was a runner in Alaska).  There are a few more cases of attacks where everyone survived, including this story from Canada.  Interestingly (and sadly) wolf kills are not uncommon in Russia.

  • If a coyote approaches you, try to look big, make loud and sudden movements, and throw rocks.
  • Don’t run. Like most canids they may chase a moving object.
  • Make sure you stay between the coyote and your children.
  • If a coyote is barking at you, back off slowly. If it’s spring she probably has pups and just wants to make sure you stay away.
  • Wolves in the lower 48 are still rather uncommon, but should you and your kids run into a pack in Alaska, don’t run and don’t turn away.  Make noise, make yourself large, but don’t be overly aggressive.  Find a stick and some rocks to use against the animal–aim for the nose.  Wolves don’t climb trees well, so get yourself up in one quickly if you can.


Range: Species of rattlesnakes and rattling relatives are found throughout North America.  In addition, there are a few species of Coral Snakescattered throughout eastern and southern U.S.,the cottonmouth/water moccasin, which occur in the southeastern states of the U.S. up into the lower half of the Great Plains, and the copperhead, which occurs along the east coast, and throughout the southeast.

What to do before you see a snake:

  • Hike in shoes, the higher the tops the better.
  • If your worried you also might want to consider wearing pants.
  • Avoid hiking in tall grass, swimming in swampy water, and putting your hands and feet onto cliff ledges you can’t see.
  • Schedule hikes early in the day, before it gets hot.  Many snakes like to come out in the heat of the day, and lay in the sun where you may walk.
  • Learn how to identify poisonous snakes.
  • Be aware of the sounds and movements around you.  Rattlers will try to warn you if you are disturbing them too much, but if you don’t hear the sound, it does no good! (more…)

Are you hindered by ‘outdoor paranoia’?

Remember back when we asked you (our readers) to fill out a survey? At the end of the survey we asked: What topics would you like to see on the blog in the future?  We particularly enjoyed this one:

How to fight off a mountain lion. Seriously, every time I think about going on a hike I think about mountain lions attacking me and my children. And then I don’t go on a hike. I think I have problems, how about addressing outdoor paranoia? :)

Encountering wild animals when you and your kids are out is a valid concern for any caring parent. But don’t let concern prevent you from enjoying all the outdoor world has to offer.

Think of wild animals in the same way you think of bodies of water — a fear of drowning shouldn’t keep you from camping near a river.  It should instead motivate you to buy life jackets for your children and come up with a plan for being attentive when you are near them.  Similarly, unfriendly dogs in your neighborhood are no reason not to go walking, they are simply a reason to carry a big stick.

Encounters with dangerous animals are rarer than you’d think. Of all the times that people go hiking every day, all over the country, an attack happens very seldom (20 people in the U.S. have been killed by mountain lions in the last 100 years, for example).  Most animals are as uninterested in getting close to you as you are to them.

I’m wondering if ‘outdoor paranoia’ has something to do with how a person is raised?  For example, growing up in rattlesnake country has made me rather blasé about their presence, but  I can’t tell you how many random hikers have scolded me for taking my kids hiking in ‘rattlesnake country’. (more…)

Use #4 for a stick: Getting down (or up) the trail

Does this sound familiar?  You’ve….

  • loaded your pack with snacks, bandaids, baby wipes, extra clothes, spare kleenex, candy, and a bazillion other things
  • cleaned off the carseat(s),
  • strapped the kiddo(s) into the car,
  • driven 25 minutes to an exciting looking trail head
  • sung row your boat and the song that never ends over 346 times on the drive
  • extracted the kiddos from the car
  • and set them off down the trail….

only to find that they are tired and ready to go home five minutes into the hike.  You try candy, coaxing, singing, follow the leader, knock knock jokes and as many other tricks as you can think of, but have only made it another 50 feet down the trail… and two hours have passed.  Let me recommend one more trick for getting little ones moving down the trail (and, truth be told, this still works on me today): the Hiking Stick.

Tell them they need to find a hiking stick because it will give them the energy to go further.  They’ll try 30 different sticks, cruising down the trail in search of new and improved ones, and totally forget that the point was to go for a ‘walk’.  They’ll try them forwards and backwards.  Between their legs like a horse.  Over their shoulder.  It might turn into a gun. They’ll balance it on the palm of their hand.  And who knows what else they’ll think of.

Point is, they won’t think about the hike.  Tell them to find you one too–it has to weigh a certain amount, be a certain length, be the right height, have a curve for your grip, etc.  The hiking stick is the ticket to at least 100 extra feet.  And if you’re in the Mojave and there are no ‘sticks’ to be had?  Substitute something else:  find me a white rock, a tortoise shell, a flower, etc.  Scavenger hunts are wondrous motivators.

Pack Full of Dinosaurs Bones

There’s a natural area near our house known to the layperson as Hidden Valley, we call it Bone Canyon. Each time we visit Bone Canyon (which was 3 times this past week) Ari collects ‘dinosaurs bones’ out of the wash; I secure them in his pack and we take them home for ‘identification.’ We passed a fellow hiker on the trail yesterday and the man said “What are you going to do with all those sticks?” Ari just stared at him with this half puzzled half disgusted look on his face. I came to his rescue, “Those are actually dinosaur bones,” I corrected him…

What’s In Your Daypack?

That’s me and my daypack above, and my dog, which I don’t typically add to my daypack; unless of course your passing an owl in a slot canyon or walking through a grove of Cholla. I guess technically I shouldn’t say it’s MY pack, I married into it. I’m not sure why it’s been my favorite over the past 10 years. It’s a camelback but I never put the bladder in it, I’m not a fan of the outer strapping system and it’s not like it’s THAT comfortable…guess I’ve never really thought about getting a new one. I guess there’s just something to be said for well-worn gear?

But that’s not really the point of the post, the point is what’s IN the daypack. I take this pack with me every time I embark on a day hike with the kids, and when I say day hike I’m talking 3 miles max.

For the sake of ease there are several items that stay in the pack. At first glance it looks like a lot, but most of it you can fit in a small Pack-It Sac.

  1. Toilet paper – Snotty noses and bathroom breaks.
  2. Dog poop bags – For dog poop as well as bathroom break TP or used diapers.
  3. Diapers
  4. Bum wipes – Obviously for bums, also for hand wiping after holding a grasshopper and it spits up on you, etc…
  5. Knife – Because every pack needs a knife.
  6. Suckers – ‘Incentives’ for when your child is toooo tiiiiirrrreeed to go on.
  7. Small first aid kit10 Bandages, 2 Gauze Pads, 4 Alcohol Wipes, 2 Triple Antibiotic Ointments, 2 Sting Relief Towelletes, 2 Antimicrobial Towelettes, 1 small roll athletic tape.
  8. Bandana – Forgot a hair thing, forgot TP, need a tourniquet, babies bald head getting sunburned… always handy! (more…)

Hike with Kids in Winter – Get a Sled

Hiking and snowshoeing in winter when you have young kids is tough; or at least I use to think it was, before we were introduced to sled hiking, or extreme sledding, or whatever you want to call it. After our first run we were hooked, and it’s not too gear intensive. All you need is:

  • Winter clothing for all
  • A sled build for 2 (or 4)
  • A trail with a little steepness (preferably not one that’s too popular or too steep)
  • Some upper leg (thigh and butt) muscles. (Don’t worry, if you don’t have those now, you will.)

You drag your kids up the trail as far as you can, or until those leg muscles are about to give out, or until your 1 year old starts to hurl himself out of the sled. Stop for awhile, play in the snow, eat snacks, hang out, etc. Then you turn around, secure everyones winter gear and enjoy the ride down. Sometimes we barley make it a half mile up the trail (especially if it’s just me and the kids), other times we make it several miles.

If you want to get fancy there are a coupe other items of gear you might want to consider. (more…)


    I'm Lindsey. I'm an environmental educator, my husband's a biologist. The outdoors is infused into everything we do; which explains why I'm better at mud pies than home decorating. More About Me

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