Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Safety on the trail: A little planning goes a long way

Hike trails that are within the skill level of your youngest hiker

Research is Key!

It is important to do research on every trail you hike. Look at the ratings, length and time the trail has taken other hikers. Consider if those posting review of trails are considered avid, average or a group of family hikers because descriptions of the trails will vary based on the experience of the hikers who are posting the reviews. 

For a hike that is rated difficult, you should research why it has been rated as difficult.  Sometimes trails are rated as hard because there are difficult sections, dangerous sections or because the trail is just long. 

For more technically challenging hikes, you should consider if your children are ready for that type of trail based on their ages, skill levels and whether they are able to hike long distances (without asking 'are we there yet' every five minutes). 

Some trails have a few different trail heads that can range in difficulty for you to consider (with kids, we always look for trails that are challenging but not dangerous). 

Longer trails can be appealing when hiking with children because they may be more 'kid friendly' even though it will take longer to complete.  Depending on the options, taking the less technical trail may be your best option for safety reasons when hiking with children. 

Sign in/out or register at the trail head

Many hikes have a sign in or registration book at the start of the trail. It is important to sign in and out of the trail and put the correct number of hikers in your party. There are a few reasons for doing this:
  • Rangers/staff need to know how many people are on the trail and how many have exited the trail and whether there are any hikers who remain on the trail after dark.  Many trails have a curfew so important to check if there is a time that you are expected to be off the trail. 
  • When registering, you can also check to see how many other groups of hikers are ahead of you on the trail. This is another important factor to know before starting the hike. If you are the first on the trail, you will have a better chance of seeing wildlife (or you may want to consider making more noise to alert animals so they keep their distance). 
Always register at the sign post before starting a hike

Know your limits

Never take on a trail that you have not researched.  Make sure you check the weather and the range of time that you may be on the trail.  Peak seeking is a passion not to be taken lightly. If the rating of a trail does not suit all hikers in your group, find a trail that does. If a hiker in your group does not feel safe, it isn’t safe. 

Safety on the trail includes children feeling confident to tackle the challenges they may face

Be prepared for anything

A clear sunny day can quickly turn into a thunder storm especially when peak seeking. Always expect rain/snow when hiking on mountains. Have rain/winter clothing with you for each family member. Rain coat/pants, winter coat, warm layers, toques and gloves are all important gear to protect from the elements and these should be easily accessible if the weather changes suddenly. Remember that hypothermia is a serious threat for hikers and one of the leading causes of problems on the trails when hiking mountains. 

Always carry enough water for the hike and plan your potential water sources before you start your hike by looking at the map for potential sources (rivers, streams, etc).  Hydration is another key to a successful and safe hike with children. 

Camel backs are a great option for children as they can drink water as needed on the trail (but you must monitor their water intake throughout the trip to make sure they are actually drinking the water in their camel backs).  Once children say they are thirsty, they have already started to get dehydrated. 

When hiking with children, it is always better to have too much water.  Although this will make the packs heavier to carry, it only takes a simple turn to get lost or misdirected which can increase the time on the trail. 

We also always bring a water pump and life straws so we can refill water as needed and available.  Knowing the route and potential water sources can help to plan when you need to pump water to make sure you have enough before moving on to places that may not have water supplies. 

Bringing food for snacks is always a good idea, no matter how short the hike.  Children burn a lot of calories on the trail and tend to get hungry a lot quicker than adults.  Having enough snacks to offer a hungry hikers is something we recommend.

Carry a compass and map that is water proof and learn how to use them before going out on the trail.  Many trails are clearly marked, but it is easy to miss a marker if you are not careful and end up off the trail and needing to find your way back.  At this point, it is too late to learn how to use the compass to find your way back and you probably will not be able to use your cell phones given that most parks do not have great cell phone coverage.  

If you do get lost and it is starting to get dark, it is best to stay put and start a fire if needed. Day light will help give you a better sense of direction by the way the sun comes up.  The sun rises in the east so it will give you a direction point.  Day light also helps to read the map easier.

Headlamps are a must for trips with children because you may find that it takes longer than expected to hike a trail with children, especially if they get tired and need more breaks.  Be prepared to walk out of the trail in the dark on at least one occasion!  

Although cell phone coverage may be intermittent at best, it is still a good idea to carry a full charged cell phone, as you may be able to find a 'hot spot' where there will be enough bars on your phone to make an emergency phone call. With your phone, they should also be able to track your location and send the proper coordinates for emergency help. 

Making sure you have all of your supplies before you head out on the trail

Be prepared to postpone a hike

There are several reasons in which you may consider postponing a hike. 
  • Technically challenging: Trails can be dangerous if your children are not ready for the challenge. If they are not ready (too tired, not feeling well, etc), consider postponing in for another time when they are better prepared. 
  • Weather permitting: Check the forecast frequently before you start. Weather can play a huge factor towards a successful hike. If it is raining for large periods of time, the trail may be slippery and create unnecessary danger.  As well, rain may make it cold and unpleasant, which will hinder the experience and contribute to time delays. 
  • A late start: When planning a hike, especially a longer one, you need to consider the start time. If you get a late start, you may be hiking out in the dark. Is your crew ready for a night hike? Do you have headlamps with fresh batteries? If not, be flexible and do a shorter hike that day and reschedule the longer hike for a day you can get an earlier start. 
  • You don’t have the proper gear: If you have being doing only small hikes, you may not have the proper gear to complete a longer hike (e.g. filtration system, proper fitting packs, headlamps, etc.). Heading out on longer trails without the proper gear can be unsafe so better to postpone these hikes until you are more prepared. 


Hiking is a great way to spend quality and quantity time in the outdoors. Doing your research before heading out, preparing the packs with all necessary equipment, choosing trials that are suitable for your family, are all key ingredients for creating positive memories while on the trails.  

Even with all of the planning, situations can arise and so it is important to keep calm and problem solve the situation, knowing that you have planned for these events prior to embarking on the trail.  

These tips are based on researching, reading, talking with others about hiking and our own experiences.  This is not an exhaustive list, but rather some of the key considerations for making sure your time on the trail with the children is both rewarding and safe. 

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