Safety Tips for Hiking With Kids
When you take your family out for a fun-filled day of hiking, making a few simple preparations before you set out can help ensure the safety of everyone on the hike. Below are some safety tips for hiking with kids.
Wear Bright Colors
Some people make the mistake of wearing camouflage clothing on hikes. If a family member gets separated from your group during the hike, this clothing will make it much more difficult to locate them visually.
Instead, allow your children to choose brightly colored outfits to wear on hikes…neon colors like yellow, pink, orange, or green, or light and bright colors like pale blue or mint green. If someone gets lost, they’ll be much easier to locate through dense undergrowth if their clothing presents a distinct visual contrast to the greens and browns of nature.
Adults should wear neon hunters’ vests so family members can see them easily at all times.
Buddy System And Keeping Everyone In Sight At All Times
Before leaving home, sit down with your family to discuss the upcoming hike and lay down some basic safety principles. The idea is not to scare your children but educate them so that make smart choices when out on the trail.
First, tell them that they must never wander off by themselves while on the hike. Use the buddy system so that at least two family members are always together. Once you go off-trail, it’s far too easy to become disoriented in a wilderness environment and suddenly realize you are lost. So encourage your kids to stay together with your family unit while you hike.
If one of them has an urgent need during the hike, such as a bathroom break, an adult should accompany them a short way off the trail and keep watch nearby while they do their business. Then go back to the family group together. Using the buddy system reduces the chance of anyone getting lost during the outing.
In addition, a responsible adult should make sure to keep everyone in their group in sight during the hike. If anyone goes out of sight, immediately go after them and bring them back to the group, emphasizing the importance of the group staying together as you hike.
Provide Each Family Member With Emergency Survival And First Aid Kits
If one of your children does get separated from you during a hike, they can feel more comfortable and be safer if they have a simple survival kit with them. Pack your child’s favorite snacks, a bottle of water, a Mylar blanket for warmth and rain protection, and perhaps even their favorite book to keep them distracted while waiting to be found. Also include a few Band-Aids for scrapes and scratches and an Ace bandage for sprains. Put everything in an appropriately-sized backpack that is easy for the child to carry.
Safety tips for hiking with kids are extremely important and should start at the home before even setting foot on the trail. Prior to the hike, teach all your family members to stop immediately once they realize they are lost. If they continue to wander, they can become further separated from their family and more difficult to locate in a timely way. Tell them to look for a nice open place to sit, tell them not to sit in bushes or under evergreen trees where branches may obstruct clear visibility, and most important of all, teach them not to be scared. Assure them that you will find them as quickly as possible.
Of course, the idea still remains to do everything possible to make sure none of your children gets separated from you during your hike.
Provide Everyone With Loud Personal Whistles
Despite your best personal efforts, children can sometimes become separated from their families while hiking. The average human voice is only 60 decibels, perhaps going up to 65 to 70 decibels when yelling. But even that is not loud enough to easily hear through the dense undergrowth of a typical woodlands area. Give each family member a loud personal whistle instead. Typical decibel ratings are 120, or about as loud as thunder or a chain saw.
Personal whistles come either on a keychain or a lanyard. Adults and older children can safely use the lanyards but for younger children, lanyards can present a strangulation hazard. Instead, attach the personal whistle to a Velcro wrist strap around their wrists so that they can easily lift it to their mouths and whistle if they happen to get separated from you.
It’s smart to have everyone practice blowing their whistles several times at home so that if the need does arise to use the whistle, the separated child will know to immediately blow the whistle to call for help without having to waste precious seconds fumbling around.
To Leash Or Not To Leash Your Kid While Hiking?
The surest way to make sure younger members of the family do not get lost on a hike is to equip them with a child leash. There are two types of child leash… harness or wrist.
The harness leash is a comfortable adjustable harness that fits over a child’s chest attached to a springy coil that connects on the other end to an adjustable Velcro cuff that an adult or older child can wear around their wrists. These harnesses provide kids plenty of freedom to explore and roam around while giving parents peace of mind in knowing their child cannot become separated from them on the trail.
A wrist leash has two adjustable Velcro cuffs connected by a springy coil…a larger one for the adult and a smaller one for the child.
Some people argue vociferously against the use of leashes on children, but the use of leashes guarantees your younger children will not get lost during a hike.
Insect Repellant and Sunscreen
Apply appropriate sunscreen to each child wherever their skin is exposed. Even if outside for any length of time on an overcast day, sunburns can happen.
In addition, spray their clothing, particularly their hiking shoes and pants legs, with a powerful insect repellant designed especially to repel ticks, which can spread dangerous illnesses like Lyme Disease.
Check For Ticks After Hiking
Once you return home, check everyone thoroughly for ticks and follow recommended tick removal procedures if you do find one. If a tick has penetrated the skin of any family member, look for a circular rash to appear around the area of the bite. This can take from 3 to 30 days to appear, but 20 to 30 percent of Lyme Disease patients don’t ever get this typical rash. If anyone develops an unexplained fever, fatigue, and headache, take them to a doctor as soon as possible to be tested for the presence of Lyme Disease antibodies in the blood. With Lyme Disease, quick treatment produces far better outcomes.
Avoid Dangerous Places
Children love to play around water, but while hiking, you need to be extra careful to keep them away from water hazards. Waterfalls present extra dangers and are best viewed from a distance or an overlook.
But even a creek can present hidden dangers. Rocks that appear flat and friendly for wading can be slippery, especially if they have an algae film on them. It’s all too easy for a child to slip and suffer a bad fall when playing in or near a creek, so keep water play to a minimum when you’re hiking.
Cliffs also present special dangers. Their edges may be unstable yet children are always curious to walk to the edge and look over. It’s best to keep cliffs off your hiking menu until you’re children are much older.
Was That A Bear?
Bear no matter which species are extremely unpredictable. If there are bears in the general area where you plan to hike, be sure to take a can (or two) of bear repellant spray.
Stay On The Trail
Our last piece of advice is perhaps the most important. Teach your children to stay on the marked trail and not go wandering off. If there is something they particularly want to investigate from a closer perspective, go with them to explore and then get right back on the trail. If what they want to see is too far off the trail, take a photo for a memory book but don’t allow yourself to be drawn too far off your planned route.
Disclaimer: Please note these safety tips for hiking with kids are just suggestions to enhance your children’s safety while hiking. If you are truly concerned about a particular aspect of your planned hike, consult a local hiking pro before setting out.
Also, be sure to check out Hiking With Children Ways To Be Prepared.