Friday, December 28, 2012

Avoid a hiking disaster when on the trail with children

Avoid dangers by not allowing children to get into
dangerous situations.
While day hiking is fairly safe, accidents and problems can occur. Knowing how to deal with each one usually can avert larger issues.

The best solution to any of these scenarios is to avoid the problem altogether. Before hitting the trail, this means educating children on being safe. On the trail, it means playing it safe, so no horseplay around rocks, water and campfires, which can lead to injuries. Children also should not push or nudge one another on the trail to get past, and you should never press your children into doing something that is unsafe.

It also means keeping a close eye on children. “If there’s more than one adult in party, have one take point and hike ahead of the rest of the party, watching for obstacles and dangers and ensuring no one gets ahead of the group,” says Roberta S., Santa Cruz, Calif. “The other adult then can take up the rear and ensure no lags behind and gets lost or injured.”

But even the best plans can be laid to waste, so you’ll also need to be aware of how to face down each problem. Begin by taking a first-aid course. Besides learning to treat various injuries, a course can teach you how to deal with the stress of an emergency. The Red Cross and many hospitals and clinics offer them at a low cost. In addition, teach your kids basic first aid, or if they’re old enough have them take the course, too. It’s knowledge that could come in handy far beyond the hiking trail.

Some parent hikers put their small children on a harness or leash when they head into dangerous areas, such as steep cliffs. To me, that feels antithetical to the notion of what hiking in part is all about – the challenge of negotiating the trail, the freedom of the outdoors. If the trail is really so dangerous that a child can’t be trusted to be on it, then he belongs in a baby carrier. If the child is too big for a carrier, then the trail is simply too unsafe for him to be on, and the parent shouldn’t be taking him there. If you’ve done your research when selecting a trail, you’ll know if a trail is too dangerous or not.

Should a parent hike solo with children? Many long-time hikers say never, as the chances of getting lost in-crease dramatically. In addition, getting out of the wilds should one become injured makes a sharp decline if solo. Certainly having two adults is better than one when dealing with a group of kids. Having said that, many hikers including myself always take children by ourselves. If you properly prepare for the hike, given the short lengths of the trails you’ll hit, the chance of anything going wrong is very low, certainly less than the chance of getting into a car accident, and we drive our vehicles by ourselves or with just our children every day. Further, considering I usually hike in populous Southern California, I’m confident another hiker will be along within a day (and some-times even a few hours) to provide any help. I wouldn’t be so certain if in the backcountry of Alaska or northern Idaho, however.

Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.