The Hysterical Parent

Family Vacations, Summer 1996

The Hysterical Parent

How far can I reasonably expect my child to hike?
By Barbara Kennedy

Before embarking on a multiday hiking trip, first try a few easy day hikes, gradually increasing the distance. And before you attempt wilderness camping, do a night or two of car-camping. The following graph outlines the different capabilities of each age group, with some tips on safety and pack selection.

AGE: 0-2 years. DISTANCE: Depends entirely on how far a parent can haul the child in a baby pack. SAFETY STRATEGIES: Provide a safe play area at the campsite; tie bells to the baby's shoe so the child can't crawl off without being missed. THE PACK: Tough Traveler's Stallion for larger adults and Filly for smaller adults are child-carriers with a seat pouch for accessories ($164 and $158; 800-468-6844).

AGE: 2-4 years. DISTANCE: One-half to two miles, stopping every ten to 15 minutes. Too heavy to carry far, so patience is needed. SAFETY STRATEGIES: Dress in bright colors (easy to spot if they get lost) and pin a whistle to clothes. Three blows means "I'm lost." PACK: Jansport's Action Pack is a fanny pack with a water bottle, though kids this age can't be expected to carry much, if anything ($22; 800-558-3600).

AGE: 5-7 years. DISTANCE: Three to four miles over easy and rolling terrain; rest stops every 30-40 minutes. SAFETY STRATEGIES: Carry a daypack with water, whistle, plastic bag, snacks, and jacket so your child can stay safe if lost on the trail and alone overnight. PACK: Eastpak's Adventure Pack has padded shoulder straps and is specifically designed for young hikers ($25; 800-222-5725).

AGE: 8-9 years. DISTANCE: Six to seven miles over variable terrain, a full day at an easy pace. Can carry a framed pack if taller than four feet. SAFETY STRATEGIES: Begin teaching map use. PACK: Keep pack weight less than or equal to 20 percent of body weight. Osprey's Pika lets you take the load off your kid's back when he or she starts to drag by strapping the pack onto your own ($95; 970-882-2221).

AGE: 10-12 years. DISTANCE: Full day, eight to ten miles over variable terrain. You should start to be concerned about your ability to keep up. SAFETY STRATEGIES: Entering the know-it-all years, they find it hard to imagine getting into trouble. PACK: Lowe Alpine's Australis has an internal frame that can be adjusted to accommodate your child's growth ($135-$149; 303-465-0522).

AGE: Teens. DISTANCE: Eight to 12 miles; look for decreased mileage during growth spurts. SAFETY STRATEGIES: Same as above, with added challenge of convincing teens that they aren't invincible. PACK: Mountain Tools's Poquito Burrito has an adjustable frame and straps plus a flex frame that bends and twists with the packer's spine ($295; 800-510-2514).

-- Barbara Kennedy, M.D., is a pediatrician, an avid hiker, and the mother of four.

Copyright 1996, Outside Magazine

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