A few weeks ago, I read a blog about outdoors childrens gear and what we, as parents, can do to help keep our kids warm, dry and safe in the outdoors. The response to it was a fantastic collection of parents first hand experience of what they do, and what gear they fully recommend. Then someone posted a link to an article which I’ve been thinking a lot about since. It was about a young family who set out on a walk in the Cairngorms on a sunny summers day sometime in the 80’s, only for the weather to turn bad. They subsequently got lost, and the father left his two children at the top of a munro as he raced to get help. Only one of his children survived the night.
This is an achingly sad story and every parents nightmare. No one will ever know the full details of that day and what happened, nor will anyone know what they were packing in their bags that day. We’re not judging anything about that day, but it got me thinking; do we do enough to keep our son safe when we’re out on our longer day walks? Is there more we could be doing? While the right clothes would have provided some protection from the weather, having the right gear in your bag to help when lost and benighted would also have undoubtedly helped. On the other hand, having the gear is no substitute for experience. When you’re out in the mountains, you need to be extra careful as the weather can turn and accidents can happen. It isn’t a definitive list, but here is what we’ve found useful when we’ve been out in the mountains as a family:
First aid kit: We have two first aid kits; one is a meatier version that has everything you’d need for most emergencies. We’ve duplicated bits of the equipment out of this and put it in a small dry bag, added a few pain relief medication, plasters etc and this is the one we use for our days on the mountains. It would cover most accidents until we’d made it back to the car, where the chunkier one is left.
Fully charged phone: While there’s no guarantee you’ll have reception, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared just in case you need it, and just in case you have reception. We put our phones on to plane mode too, as it means we can use the camera without using much of the battery life. You can also register your phone to send 999 SMS text messages. There is supposedly more chance of getting a text through in weak signal areas.
Map, compass and GPS: We’re a family split in two with this. Both Keith and myself use a map and compass and I especially like checking on the map as we go. Keith likes the GPS for whatever reason. Something to do with a shiny gadget on the trail, who knows but he’ll say it flaps less than a map and is quick for seeing how we’re doing. Bit like a folded map…..
Plan B, C and so on: Plans change. There is no shame in changing plans, turning back, shortening walks. We’ve been on plenty of walks where we’ve had to move on to plan C, just because of moods, weather, etc. And you know what? It’s ok when that happens. It’s better to be safe than sorry and we’re never out to prove anything. Also know your own limitations, be aware of your own abilities and keep check on your own energy reserves.
A back carrier: Kids can walk and walk but when the going gets tough or they’ve had enough for the day, when they stop they can be stubborn about moving any further along the trail, regardless of the types of bribery you might chose. When we know we’re going on a longer day walk, we take the back carrier but start out with our son walking and getting in to the swing of things, exploring and running ahead. That way he’s more likely to feel fully immersed in the adventure and have his own bits of fun.
Tell someone your plans and when they can expect you back: If there’s someone at home waiting for you, let them know when to expect you back; roughly how long it will take and when they can expect a call from you. If you’re late, then someone will know where you were and be able to help emergency services if needed.
Waterproofs, including hats & gloves: Stay warm, dry and safe. The weather can change in an instant and I don’t know about you, I’ve never minded carrying waterproofs in my bag and not needing them. It’s a rare occurrence when that happens here in the UK. Being wet and cold can lead to complications such as hypothermia. I remember in Patagonia, we were walking on a multiday trek and it started to snow. We were nearly at the end point for the day and thought we could make it there sooner than we anticipated. Turned out we couldn’t so we stopped and put on our waterproofs but by then it was too late. We got to the campsite and we quickly set the tent up. I remember Keith then jumping inside and throwing me dry clothes to go and get changed. Except I just stood there, teeth chattering and wondering what he was up to in the tent. A few minutes later he asked me what I was doing and, well let’s say rather forcefully told me to shift it to the toilet block and get in to dry clothes. While it was only a mild case of hypothermia, I remember being in that sleeping bag, shivering like mad and Keith making me food and drink and not letting me sleep. I wouldn’t want that for my son, or anyone else I know.
Sun protection, including sunglasses: When it comes out, the sun can be great and lovely and oh so not typical of the UK, so we want to make the most of it, naturally. But heat stroke can be serious, as can sunburn. Take sun protection, including sunhats or sunshades for the carriers to keep the glare out of your eyes and stop those pesky headaches forming. Also remember sun lotion and sunglasses.
Spare clothes including nappies etc: You know, for when accidents happen or one too many puddles have been jumped in. Nothing is worse than being cold and wet (see above).
Extra layers: These are most important for if something goes wrong. Keeping warm whilst you sort it out stops a problem escalating in to an emergency.
Emergency shelter: On longer day walks, we take an emergency shelter which allows you to get out of the wind and rain and is highly visible. They are useful even if it’s not an emergency, but the weather is not good during a break. They pack down small, so don’t take up much room in your bag. They’re also pretty cheap.
A head torch (or two): If it’s dark earlier, we’ll carry a lightweight head torch each, just in case.
Their own bag: This is one we’ve just recently started doing. We’ve found a bag that our son can carry a small bottle of water, some snacks and a small toy if he wants it. The bag has a whistle attached to it which he knows to only use in emergencies. It also has a chest strap that clips on to elastic (rather than a buckle) so it’s a lot easier for smaller kids. The reason behind this is for just in case anything happens, he’ll have a bit of snack and a way to make a decent amount of noise. Be aware that you may just end up carrying this little bag as well at some point.
Food and drink: You can’t have fun if you’re hungry and thirsty. You’ll not want to go far because you just won’t have the energy, and it’s no different for little kids. They’ll tell you when they’ve had enough. Our son usually just stops and collapses to his knees with a dramatic flourish. Sound familiar? High energy food is fantastic like flapjacks, and we take bag of trail mix (M&M’s and cashews).
Keep it fun: It’s meant to be a fun day out right, so keep talking and keep it lighthearted, we want our kids to love the outdoors not start hating every step. Also start small, don’t feel adventures won’t happen unless you’ve climbed to the tops with a bit of scrambling thrown in. Adventures are great and can happen in the unlikeliest of places.
While this sounds like a lot of stuff it all easily fits in to small daybags. Just remember to use your own judgement and stay safe.
What do you do to keep your family safe in the outdoors? What would you recommend other families to take?
©An Outdoors Family 2016
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