You and your little mates have ticked off a few child-friendly walks and huts and you’re ready to venture further afield. Here’s how to up the ante.
Tramping with older, more experienced children is great fun especially with the right gear, attitude, preparation and teamwork.
Planning the trip is half the fun and ensures everyone is psychologically prepared for the journey ahead. Now you’re past those “can you carry me” days, you’ll be able to pick more challenging tracks and venture further into the backcountry.
Older children will enjoy helping choose the tramp, researching the track and the huts and deciding which food and gear they’ll need.
While you’re still the responsible adult, you’re now a team that works together, giving each other moral support and companionship.
Older children may still enjoy games like ‘I spy’ or knock-knock jokes, so be a good companion and humour them even if it means researching a few jokes beforehand. A long tramp is an opportunity to shoot the breeze about all kinds of stuff: stories of what you got up to when you were their age, what they’re doing at school, maybe something educational about the local plants and wildlife. My daughter loves storytelling and used to beg me to tell her stories. Nowadays, she prefers to do the storytelling. I nod and exclaim in all the right places and she’s happy.
They might be older, but they’re still kids, so make sure there’s downtime for them to clown around, go exploring, make a rock pool in a creek, have a swim or build a shelter from sticks. Better yet, get in there and give them a hand – you might enjoy yourself!
As with any tramp, aim for settled weather because, even the most beautiful views and good jokes won’t make up for hours of damp, wet, miserable slogging through the forest. If you can’t avoid wet weather, ensure you have a good camping spot planned or a hut with a fireplace where you can dry off and warm up with some hearty food.
For the evenings, play a game of cards and let them thrash you a few times then show them who is the ultimate UNO boss. That will probably have them scuttling to bed to read their book. I use the Audible app on my phone and while one pleasure of tramping is to get away from devices, listening to an audiobook is a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon. There are also some good hiking journals for kids where they can draw a picture and record some memories of their tramp.
When it comes to gear, older, stronger and more confident kids will appreciate good kit, so, if you’ve been tramping for a few years, now is the time to invest in a quality backpack that will support their growing body and allow them to carry their own share of the weight. Macpac and Deuter do some good 30l packs with extendable harnesses. Good footwear – the same quality as your own – will help enjoyment of the adventure, as will a good pair of gaiters to keep the mud at bay.
A decent rain jacket is a must. By now your child might fit a small adult size, where there’s much better variety in styles and the cost is more justifiable as you can be convinced ‘they’ll definitely grow into it’.
But while they might be able to walk further and talk faster than you do, you’ll still need to carry the lion’s share of gear. A good rule of thumb is for each person to carry no more than 20 per cent of their body weight.
They may not be as strong as you, but your growing child will no doubt match you at the dinner table. Pack enough delicious and nutritious food to keep everyone happy throughout the tramp, plus extras in case you’re stuck due to bad weather.
As the adult, you’ll need to be on point when assessing risk and making the call when to stop or turn back if conditions become dangerous. The kids might be more gung-ho, or they might need extra encouragement through a tricky section. That’s why it’s important to have a plan A and B, and to make sure this is talked about before the trip so there are no surprises. Teach the kids how to operate your PLB, just in case.
I’ve found my parenting skills are never put to the test more than on a big tramp, where keeping my cool, talking things through, maintaining a sense of humour and showing empathy and encouragement when things get tough, are key to building a deep bond with my daughter.
And when I take a tumble into a creek or stagger, panting, up a particularly challenging section, it melts my heart to hear her say, “you’re doing a great job, mummy!”