Helpful Habits for Hiking

Vancouver Island has world-class hiking and outdoor recreation opportunities. For many of us, it’s why we choose to raise our families here. As the mother of a toddler, I am conscious about how my safety habits now will shape my son’s habits in the future. When I plan a hike, I’m thinking about how the whole family can stay safe but also how I can model a safety mindset so that my son can develop the skills he’ll need to make the most of the outdoors later, should he choose to.

Involving our kids in hiking preparation is the best way to keep them safe and help build the confidence and skills needed for bigger adventures. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your next hike:

1. Go to the source

When deciding where to hike, getting information from the park agency or municipality that manages the trail will help you make the best choices. Check their official website for timely alerts or trail closures and to download accurate maps. While social media, crowd-sourced hiking apps and word-of-mouth can be great for inspiration, they can be misleading when it comes to safety. Just because somebody posted a route online doesn’t mean there’s a clearly marked trail or that the area is open to the public. And we don’t want to end up bushwhacking through waist-high shrubs with toddlers in tow! Sticking to designated, sanctioned trails helps ensure you’ll be on trails which are maintained, and avoid any areas closed to the public for safety, conservation or cultural reasons.

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2. Leave a plan

We never expect to need a rescue, but sometimes accidents happen. Leaving a trip plan could make a major difference to the outcome of your outing should you need help. Always tell someone where you’re going and make sure they know to call 911 if you don’t check in when you say you will. AdventureSmart, an organization dedicated to reducing search-and-rescue calls in Canada, has an app that makes it quick and easy to fill out a trip plan and send it to a contact. Consider asking your kids to help complete the prompts in the app before you leave home.

3. Involve kids in navigation

Navigation doesn’t need to be complicated, but it is an important skill to teach if our goal is for our kids to someday be able to embark on their own adventures. Involving children in activities like picking out a trail on a map, stopping at junctions to discuss which way to go and pointing out landmarks can help develop better spatial awareness—foundational for learning more complex navigation later.

4. Discuss what to do if you get separated

“Hug a tree and survive” is the phrase AdventureSmart wants us to remember. The idea is that if a child becomes lost, they should stay in one place and shelter under a tree’s canopy. Other things parents can emphasise is that if they get lost, a child won’t be in trouble, and they should make themselves visible to anyone in the area. In search-and-rescue situations, some kids don’t answer the rescuers’ calls because they don’t know the stranger calling their name or they fear punishment for getting lost in the first place. The last thing we want is for our kids to use their hide-and-seek skills to avoid being found!

5. Everyone carries a pack

If a kid is old enough, it’s a great idea to equip them with the basics they’ll need for a hike and a few extra safety items. Consider throwing in a whistle, light-weight emergency blanket and flashlight. Not only will their essentials be at hand should they need them, carrying their own pack helps foster a sense of self-reliance and encourages them to take responsibility for their safety.

6. Learn together

If you’re unsure what to pack or what to do in a thunderstorm, now is the perfect time to engage your kids and learn together. Keep the learning fun and consider roleplay or storytelling so that the joys of being outside are not overshadowed by fear of the unexpected. Check out and search “being prepared” for a place to start your research.

Preparing for the unexpected can feel like a lot to think about. Starting with small hikes, repeating visits to local trails and gradually building up your skills will hopefully make planning feel less daunting and more like part of your outdoor routine. When you prioritize safety, your efforts will be rewarded with memories that foster an appreciation for adventures in the outdoors—something well worth passing on.

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