By Michael Lanza
Some people might say my wife and I are bad parents. We’ve repeatedly and deliberately placed our kids—at young ages—in risky situations. And I’m not talking about letting them ride their bikes without wearing helmets or frequently taking them to McDonald’s.
I’m talking about setting out with seven- and four-year-old kids to cross-country ski through a snowstorm for hours to a backcountry yurt. Tying a six-year-old into a rope and letting him or her rock climb a cliff. Rappelling into slot canyons. Backpacking into the remotest and most rugged wildernesses in the contiguous United States, from the Grand Canyon to the Tetons to Glacier National Park.
A young boy getting lowered on a rope in a slot canyon in Capitol Reef National Park.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Cap4-41-Nate-in-Stegasaur-Canyon-Capitol-Reef-NP-UT.jpg?fit=200%2C300&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Cap4-41-Nate-in-Stegasaur-Canyon-Capitol-Reef-NP-UT.jpg?fit=532%2C800&ssl=1″ width=”532″ height=”800″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Cap4-41-Nate-in-Stegasaur-Canyon-Capitol-Reef-NP-UT.jpg?resize=532%2C800&ssl=1″ alt=”A young boy getting lowered on a rope in a slot canyon in Capitol Reef National Park.” class=”wp-image-7414″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Cap4-41-Nate-in-Stegasaur-Canyon-Capitol-Reef-NP-UT.jpg?w=532&ssl=1 532w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Cap4-41-Nate-in-Stegasaur-Canyon-Capitol-Reef-NP-UT.jpg?resize=200%2C300&ssl=1 200w” sizes=”(max-width: 532px) 100vw, 532px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />My son, Nate, getting lowered on a rope in a slot canyon in Capitol Reef National Park.
Rafting and kayaking a whitewater river deep in one of the Lower 48’s biggest wilderness areas. Paddling down a river teeming with alligators, or in frigid Alaskan waters plied by killer whales, while camping on wilderness beaches where brown bears would view those kids as the perfect hors d’oeuvres before a satisfying meal of adult humans. Trekking for a week through the snow-covered, highest peaks in northern Europe.
And yet, beyond occasional whining and tears (which I do less of these days than I did as a new parent), we have suffered no disasters. Maybe we’ve just been lucky.
But I don’t think so.
It’s tempting to believe that you only have to take kids outdoors and nature will do the rest—because spontaneity is inherently better than micro-managing, right? But experience has taught me that how diligently the adults in charge control the situation will dictate how well the outing goes and how positive an experience everyone has, adults and children.
Through a lot of trial and a fair bit of error, I’ve learned a few things over the years about keeping kids, at all ages, both safe and happy outdoors—and when it comes down to it, safe and happy are always our ultimate objectives out there.
The good news is that whether you’re paddling among alligators or just out for a short hike in a state or national park with little kids, the strategies for success boil down to some simple rules that are as easy to follow as they are to overlook.
This article shares lessons I’ve learned while taking our kids—who today are fine young adults who make us proud and still love getting outdoors on trips with us—on numerous family adventures dayhiking, backpacking, climbing, skiing, and paddling since they were quite little, a period of time that included the 10 years I spent as Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine and my many years running this blog.
Keep these 10 rules in mind and I think you will find that, as with my family and others that join us, everyone will be happy—most of the time, anyway. And safe.
Click on any photo to read about that trip. Please share your thoughts on my advice or your own tips in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I try to respond to all comments.