Babes in the Woods

If you're afraid to take your kids out into the wilderness for a camping or hiking trip because you're worried about outdoor safety, think about this: more kids get lost at the mall than in the woods. Jennifer Aist, author of Babes in the Woods, knows exactly how to help you prepare your children for safe adventures outdoors. Here are some safety tips for hiking or camping with kids:

Practice basic hygiene: Wash little hands, treat drinking water, and stay hydrated. Make sure your kids wear long pants, the right shoes, and sunhats all day on the trail. The little things, like sun and bug protection, good footwear, and clean hands can prevent plenty of injuries or owies while you're enjoying the outdoors. Tip: a first-aid kit with band-aids, hand sanitizer, bug spray, antibiotic ointment for scrapes, and anti-itch gel can be vacuum-sealed in a zip-lock and fit almost anywhere in your pack.

Teach kids to carry their ten essentials: If your kids are older than three, have them carry a backpack while on the trail. Fill it with band-aids, a trash bag, a whistle, a rain shell, a flashlight, a snack, and some water. They'll learn to ration out their snacks and water, and have safety necessities in case of emergency. Tip: Make sure your children, whether toddlers or preschoolers or older, are wearing something bright, like a windbreaker or bandana for easy visibility at all times for added trail safety.

Stay together: Talk to your kids about the importance of staying close on the trail. Let them explore within speaking range (shouting range is too far!) and make sure they know what to do in case they get separated from you. The Hug-A-Tree program teaches kids how to stay safe in the woods if they're lost: stay in one place, make yourself big, have a trash bag and whistle, and know that friendly people will be looking for you! Tip: Go over these guidelines with your kids before and during your camping trip.

But give your kids space: Don't hover or constantly tell your kids to be careful. While you want to make safety an important topic on your trip, Jennifer says that hovering close to your children can be dangerous. Overprotected children don't learn the skills that will help them avoid and judge dangerous situations. This is not to say that you should take a nap in the tent all afternoon, but do let your children make mistakes and learn how to be capable on the trail.


-- Adapted from Babes in the Woods: Hiking, Camping, Boating with Babies & Young Children by Jennifer Aist (The Mountaineers Books, $16.95 paperback)

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