A child is never too young to learn good outdoor manners. There is a wealth of information available that describes equipment and practices that have minimum impact on our fragile land and natural resources. Brochures and maps are available from National Park, National Forest, and State Park ranger stations, as well as web sites.
For all activities, remember to"take only pictures, leave only footprints." Always leave your picnic or campsite cleaner than you found it. Allow the next person to enjoy the flowers, wildlife, and scenery as much as you did. Teach your children to be observers, not intruders, since they are only visitors. It's a good lesson for kids respect for the environment carries over to self-respect and respect for others.
Shopping for outdoor gear should be a family event. The kids will help pick out everything from clothes to tents to cook kits. This involvement will make them anxious to go on the real camp-out.
One of the best pieces of gear is a small knapsack or daypack. They come in all sizes, including small ones for children and even special packs the family dog. Fanny packs are comfortable and convenient too. You can take along lunch, water, a small first aid kit, and a guidebook in the pack. Come midday when it's warm, just stuff that extra sweater inside.
When it comes to larger, more expensive pieces of necessary equipment like tents, backpacks, and skis, a good way to find out what you prefer is to rent them for several outings. In the long run, you'll save money by purchasing the equipment that you want and will use. Keep in mind the end of the season is often the best time to buy all kinds of gear at economical prices.
People working in sporting goods stores are a wealth of information. They can tell you how to use and care for the equipment you buy, and probably suggest favorite places to hike, bike, ski, or fish.
Right from the beginning get everyone into the habit of taking care of the equipment both in the field and at home. Read the instructions. Make sure everyone knows how to use and care for things before the trip. When you get back, get the kids involved in clean-up oil, dust, wash, and dry everything before you put it away for the season.
When it's hot, cotton is fine, but when it's cold, dress in layers that you can peel off as you heat up. The first layer next to your skin should provide ventilation, carrying perspiration away from the skin. The last thing you want is to be cold and wet.
New synthetics like polypropylene and Capilene long underwear work well to keep you warm and dry. The second layer wool or synthetic fleece should insulate and give warmth. The third layer should be wind- and waterproof. Be sure to have rain gear along. Thunderstorms should be exciting, not something to dampen spirits.
You can buy your clothes at a retail store, mail order, or make do with army surplus. Just be sure the clothes fit, are comfortable, and don't restrict movement. They should keep the wearer warm and dry in all kinds of weather.
From head to foot, what you wear can make a difference between a pleasant trip and a struggle with the elements. On hot sunny days, a hat with a visor to protect the face and eyes from sunburn are important. When it's cold, a wool or fleece hat will keep you warm, since a large percentage of body heat is lost off the top of your head. Have extra socks too, preferably a synthetic blend such as wool and polypropylene to keep perspiration away from the feet.
A bandanna is a great addition to your outdoor attire. It will keep hair back, can act as a potholder, towel, or short piece of rope in a pinch. In addition, it looks outdoorsy in photos.
In general, you get what you pay for, with equipment and clothing. There's no need to spend a fortune, but then again, when it's blowing or raining, you want a jacket that will keep you dry and a tent that stays up. Brand names aren't as important as knowing what to look for in a product: quality materials, good craftsmanship, and the right piece of gear for the outing planned.
Be sure to take a camera and lots of film on all of your trips. Shoot plenty of photos. Pre-teen children are ready to start experimenting with taking their own pictures. There are several cameras available in the $7 to $50 dollar range from simple Polaroids to waterproof point and shoot camera where you send the entire little camera in for developing. You can even shoot digital pictures, download them to your computer, and e-mail your vacation to grandma across the country.
Some of the best times are spent looking at photos and recalling that sudden thunderstorm where you played "Go Fish" for three hours in a pup tent, or the time you got up at 5 a.m. to see a spectacular sunrise.
In addition to a basic first aid kit, take along extra flashlight batteries, waterproof matches, toilet paper, a space blanket for each person, water purifying tablets, compass (learn how to use it), high energy food, rip-stop tape (for repairing tent, sleeping bag, and jackets), and a garbage bag (for trash and as an emergency rain coat). Moleskin will keep blisters at bay.
For each child, put a whistle around his or her neck and supply an ID bracelet or necklace. Take a basic first aid course; in most towns the local Red Cross offers it.
You can obtain topographic maps from the United States Geological Service (USGS) in most sporting goods stores. Also try National Forest, National Park, Bureau of Land Management , State Parks & Recreation and State Fish & Game Departments for maps of the areas they manage.
You might want to join an established group for an outing. It's usually not necessary to be a member. The Sierra Club, Audubon, Trout Unlimited, and local outdoor groups welcome potential new members, or may charge a small fee for the trip. Scouting is also a great way for children and adults to learn about the outdoors while working and playing together.
Books and magazines are great sources of information, and don't forget the library. Some sporting goods stores and parks and recreation departments offer special classes in outdoors activities.
The best time to start enjoying the outdoors is right now. Try a variety of activities. In addition to the ones mentioned here there are many more, like canoeing and horseback riding. Eventually you'll find one or more that everyone enjoys doing. You can start with a casual walk along the creek in your neighborhood park or woods. Don't worry about not knowing the name of a certain tree or flower, just go out and enjoy. Discover. Nurture the curiosity and enthusiasm that our children already have. Learn with your child. You'll both enjoy the natural world and each other more. The memories of good times spent together in the beauty of the outdoors will be kept and cherished for a lifetime.
Carolyn Z. Shelton is a freelance writer based in Sultan, WA.
All Original Material Copyright © Carolyn Z. Shelton.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication