New Zealanders are blessed with one of the most exciting ‘backyards’ on the planet, perfect for family adventures.
This week it is being celebrated by NZ’s outdoor recreation, outdoor safety, and tourism community. GO (Get Outdoors) week is an initiative aimed at getting more people into nature, discovering and experiencing the simple joy of going outside to play – safely.
Taking little ones out into the wild can be an intimidating prospect for parents – but it doesn’t need to be! I chatted with Nick Kingstone from NZ’s Mountain Safety Council about some common concerns for outdoorsy families, and ways to tackle them with confidence.
Outdoorsy NZ: Hi Nick! Firstly could you tell me a little about yourself, the MSC and the GO week initiative? I’m the Communications Manager at MSC and have a lifelong passion for the transformative benefits of getting outdoors. I’ve worked in a range of outdoors organisations over the years, including over five years as an instructor and trainer with Outward Bound Australia. At MSC I’m able to channel my passion for the outdoors into safety messaging and campaigns like GO Week that enable safe and enjoyable participation in New Zealand’s abundant outdoor recreation opportunities.
Outdoorsy NZ: A lot of families struggle with knowing what to take – what’s your advice on planning this? Taking the right stuff can sometimes be the make or break of a safe and enjoyable trip. If you’re new to the outdoors you’d be forgiven for being overwhelmed by all the ‘stuff’ you seem to need! To help with this we’ve created a range of tools and resources that step you through what to take. Have a try of PLAN MY TRIP our journey planner that creates a trip plan for you after you enter in a few easy details. You’ll get a packing list that’s activity, location and seasonally specific as well as DOC and MetService warnings and alerts you may not have known you needed! You can share your trip on Facebook or via email, and you can download the PDF for reference later. We’ve also built strong partnerships with leading gear retailers which we call the Outdoor Safety Retail Partnership (OSRP). We know people head into stores to get advice on what to take so it’s important that the staff are aware of the right safety messages they need to tell people. Top tip: Regardless of the length or style of the trip always take a rain jacket, head torch and some spare food. If the worst happens you’ll be able to find shelter and huddle together until first light. If you’re taking kids you should add an emergency shelter (lightweight versions are available or can be made from our ‘pack liners’ if necessary) along with insulation layers to keep the kids warm. It doesn’t take much – lost track, took longer than expected – someone got injured – to be in an ‘unexpected night out’ situation. These kinds of incidents happen every year and are much easier to deal with if you’ve got the basics.
Outdoorsy NZ: Often, there’s only one parent heading out with the kids. This is when safety can become a bigger concern. Any tips? Safety is the outcome of thorough trip planning (route, gear, time, etc) and good decision making. If you’ve done some research on the place you’re going then you’ll have an idea of the time required, and the intensity of the trip you intend on going on. If you’ve got the basics (see the question above) and are making sensible common sense decisions – don’t leave the track, stay together, stay hydrated, don’t cross rivers if you don’t have too or don’t know how to do safely – then you should be okay. Consider trying one of our free online e-learning interactive courses on Day Walking and Multi-Day Tramping. There’s also a range of activity guides that are built with those new to the outdoors in mind. Final point is that it’s better to turn around early and attempt the track/peak/trip another day if you’re concerned.
Outdoorsy NZ: Another topic that often comes up in The Outdoorsy Mama Facebook group is getting kids to walk by themselves! It can be a challenge… As a father of a three-year-old, I relate to this one! The first step is around seven and above, then consider giving them ‘ownership’ of a section of the trip. Not only can they legitimately boss their siblings around in a sanctioned way, but they are also then personally connected to the outcome – this can be something like being ‘lunch spot finder’ or ‘food manager’ all the way to ‘navigator’. One of the big lessons I took away from my days instructing for OBA was to never underestimate a kids capability just because they are quiet or loud, shy or outgoing, young or old – give them lots of opportunities in a safe way and they will often surprise you! If you’re there to create a supportive learning place for them more often than not they will take you up on the challenge. However, you’ll need to ease them into it piece by piece. Don’t just drop them in it, which risks putting them off for good.
Outdoorsy NZ: How do you deal with organising and transporting the gear? This one never gets any easier, regardless of how experienced you are! My advice is to delegate sections of the equipment requirements to different people. I’m a huge fan of having ‘departments’ which are then responsible for components of the trip. Kids can get involved in this too, and if there are parts missing it’s a good learning experience of the value of lists and getting someone to double check with you. If you’re going with a big group then you may be able to share the load somewhat. A first aid kit should be carried by the group, not each person. Simply have people look after their own/families particular needs – asthma, bee-stings etc. Transportation is best in a big pack. As the trip leader, I will almost always have a 65L+ tramping pack with me while everyone else carries day packs. My ‘minimum kit’ has all sorts of stuff that’s there for safety and also for fun. I’ll have a sleeping bag, lightweight bivvy, a foam ground sheet (good insulation from the cold ground and makes a great splint wrapped and tied around a leg/arm if necessary) a full med kit, extra water, extra food, towel, sports toys – balls, frisbees, hackysacks – sharp knife, cooking stove, waterproofed fire lighting kit, and couple of cheap head torches. I also add a few cheap polypropylene thermals, a beanie and a woolly jumper to give away to those who aren’t prepared. Every second or third trip I end up giving some of these clothes away to someone we run into on the track who’s shivering and in danger of making bad choices because they are getting cold and scared (I get them from charity shops). There are things you can improvise, and some stuff you can’t. I’m lucky to have a few packs lying around at any time so I tend to leave my ‘min-kit’ ready to go in the shed.
Outdoorsy NZ: How do parents work up to feeling confident taking the kids on outdoors adventures? Confidence comes from experience, so start easy and work up to the bigger trips. We ALL started where you are right now. There are always a few easy ‘lessons’, some ‘near-misses’ and ideally only one or two ‘misadventures’. Lessons can be simple things like wearing socks on a long day walk to avoid blisters. Near misses are things like forgetting someone’s medication but not needing it on the day, thankfully. Misadventures shouldn’t happen and are often about a series of poor decisions and/or being naive of the consequences of the environment, the weather or lack of equipment. Walking the Tongaririo Alpine Crossing in October in a tee shirt and jeans and running shoe is technically possible on a still warm day, but it’s NOT recommended. If the weather turns you can get caught out in snow you will have a genuinely scary experience that has the potential to kill. Similarly, don’t cross rivers above knee height if you don’t know how to do it safely. Set your goals and work up to them. There’s so much information about ‘how’ to do these activities, you just need to seek it out. The one thing you’ll find with the outdoors communities around the world is their willingness to help out. Don’t be scared to ask for help, because it’ll be really obvious to those of us with experience that you’re struggling a little.
Outdoorsy NZ: Managing the different needs and abilities of children can be an issue for parents. How would you tackle this? This is a tricky one. Ideally, there’s a similar level amongst the kids but that’s not always possible. If you think this will be an issue then you might consider it enough to dial back the kind of trip you intend on going on or splitting up into two different groups. If there are several adults, you can take the older kids with one parent, and the younger kids with another parent. If you’ve got a solid trip plan you’ll have check-in times with each other (if there’s cell signal) and a firm meet up time at a set destination. You should have emergency bailout plans as well. i.e: “If it all goes crazy and someone’s in danger bail out to THIS location and call for help.” If you don’t show up at the lunch/afternoon spot by (set time) then we’ll rally back to the emergency spot (often the start of the track where the car is). If you’re still delayed by (set time) we’ll call for help on your behalf. As you can see, knowing how many people and what they are carrying in the other group is crucial if you’re to call for help.
Outdoorsy NZ: One of the biggest challenges we can face is bad weather. What are your recommendations for being prepared? NZ is a very changeable country when it comes to weather. As I mentioned earlier, it’s vital you always have a rain jacket in your bag, regardless of the forecast. If you’ve got plans to deal with the weather then you should be okay. Have a watch of our 29 part ‘Get Outdoors’ series aimed at showing you a range of skills, including the weather. There’s also a BIG difference between an urban vs rural vs mountain forecast. Head to MetService and check the warnings and watches as well. Old saying: ‘Plan for the worst, hope for the best’.
Calling all outdoorsy mamas!
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