Even if you have been hiking for years and have acquired considerable gear and trail savvy, hiking with kids is an entirely different ball game. Here to guide you through the process with an endless array of tips, tools and techniques are Jennifer Pharr Davis, the former record holder of the fastest thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail and her husband Brew, her crew and a hiker and ultramarathoner in his own right. Their insights were shaped by their preschooler Charley, photogenically featured throughout, and now their young son Gus.
But this is not just a book for parents of the younger set since, as founder of the Blue Ridge Hiking Company, Jennifer has led many school groups and as a high school teacher, Brew is totally familiar with the teen mindset. Even with such credentials, the couple emphasizes that the mainstay of their game plan is to remain flexible and expect the unexpected, planning your adventure around the youngest hiker. “Hike your own hike,” emphasizes that the “best” hiker is not necessarily the fastest, but the group who gets the most enjoyment out of their foray. It is not imperative to reach the top of the mountain, but it is important to have fun on the way.
To this end, the book is chock full of games to play along the way (remember those car games we played before electronics took over?). Older kids can sketch, collect materials for an art project and help identify birdsongs, cloud formations, tree bark and leaves, etc. To lighten your backpack, the book is repleat with iphone apps that not only help with identification but can pinpoint invasive species sightings.
For older kids, the authors encourage you to give them ownership of the process by helping choose the route, packing their own pack, helping prepare the food and participating in camp chores along the way. As my husband and I discovered after several whiney journeys it helps if each kid can bring a special friend along. I just wish we had this book so it didn’t take us so painfully long to hit upon that solution! And something we didn’t have back in the dark ages—geocaching and letterboxing---can keep a group enthusiastically moving along.
The couple also urges families with special needs children to modify their hikes and equipment to take these requirements into account. Hiking stimulates cognitive function, vocabulary, motor skills and has a calming effect on those with ADHD.