Taking your kids on outdoor adventures sounds like a really great idea until, well … until you do it. And then it sounds like whining, because that’s what your kids are doing as they perish from starvation and sadness as you try to force them to do something you know is fun, but they think is torture.
That’s parenthood, folks.
But it doesn’t always have to be that way. There are solutions.
We’re not saying good gear is a cure-all, and there’s no way we’re guaranteeing complaining-free outdoor fun with your kids if you just score this stuff. That would be a really dumb thing for us to say.
But we are saying that based on our experience and the experience of many outdoor-minded parents we know, these things — or categories of things — can be the difference between total meltdown and an actually fun day (or possibly a half-meltdown … kids are unpredictable, what can we say?).
Some of these suggestions may seem obvious. But we’re saying them anyway because, frankly, if they were that obvious we wouldn’t have had to learn the hard way to remember them (… we hope).
1. Food, Snacks and Food Bribes
You’re thinking “I’m not an idiot. Why are you telling me to bring snacks?”
We know you’re not an idiot. But we’re telling you right now that learning how to bribe your kids with snacks and good food is the single most important outdoor parenting skill you will ever gain.
We keep a giant tote bag full of cracker packs, granola bars, fruit snacks, coveted candy, juice boxes and even Pop Tarts in the back of the car to hand out as needed. We also keep a jug of water. We never, ever head out on an adventure without more snacks than we think we need stashed into our daypack. When someone (kid or adult, frankly) starts to have a bad attitude, a snack is the first line of defense.
Repeat after me: snacks (and water) conquer all.
The next way to use the snacks is: bribery. One more mile? M&Ms. Get to the top of this hill? Snickers. Because of this excellent bribery my kids are actually begging to go backpacking this summer.
Who are these people? I’ll tell you: they are people who really love backpacking-related candy.
Related: Adventure mom and ultra runner Lisa Hallett swears by snacks. Hear her do so at 34:20 in Episode 20 of the Humans Outside podcast.
2. Comfortable Clothes and Shoes
You know that line they tell you as a new parent: “if you’re cold your baby is cold?” Your kids may not still be babies, but that guidance is still true. If you’re uncomfortable, so are they. If you are happier in fancy outdoor gear that keeps you dry and comfortable, so are they.
Yes, it can be hard to shell out that kind of cash on people who are just going to grow out of it tomorrow. That’s what outdoor consignment shops are for.
Trust me on this: everyone is happier when they are warm, dry and comfortable. That includes you, and that includes your kids.
If you have two kids, the financial pain of buying comfortable stuff may be greater, but it also brings an added benefit if you decide to spring for the brandnames. Most of these companies guarantee their stuff. That means if your kid is super destructive, you can get whatever it is he trashed replaced. That’s going to make it easier to resell it later, or pass it down to Kid Two.
So where’s our favorite place to get this stuff? If we’re not hitting local consignment stores or even thrift shops, we’re over at REI. Their REI brand clothing is top notch and cheaper than the name brands. We especially love their rain jackets and rain pants. They make us feel invincible.
3. Secret Weapon: The Adventure Hat
Our adventure hats were on $3 clearance at Target. Wide-brimmed, floppy hats with a chin strap, they looked goofy but were the perfect thing for what I wanted: a piece of gear that we only use on big-deal adventures.
My kids knew that when the hats came out, it was time for something exciting and new. When we got out the hats, it was time to get pumped.
Of course, the hats weren’t anything special. It was what they symbolized. “Get ready to go,” they seem to say. “This is going to be the best day ever.”
Any item of clothing or piece of gear can be your secret adventure weapon. Maybe it’s a special adventure-only water bottle or day pack for each member of the family. Maybe everyone has a pair of adventure socks. Make it practical, or make it fun — just make sure you designate it for awesome adventures-only.
Happy (and hopefully whining-free) adventures!