Advice for clubs on family-friendly trips

How can clubs encourage families to join them on trips? How do leaders make the trips fun and safe for all?

We acknowledge there are many family situations, but for simplicity, we will use the term ‘parent’ for the person(s) who will be directly in charge of the young person when out on the tracks throughout this article. 

Thank you to these people who contributed toward this resource:

  • Dan Clearwater, FMC Development Officer and father of a toddler tramper
  • Rebecca Gray, FMC Administration Officer and mother of three young trampers , 
  • Anne Dowden, Tararua TC family tramp coordinator, and mother of three teenage trampers.

This resource was created during FMC’s Outdoor Community campaign, celebrating and encouraging Family Tramping. Check out the other blog articles on Family Tramping here on Wilderlife. As always, if you’ve got wisdom to share on this topic, then please get in touch

Carric Water Race Upper Clutha TC Family Friendly Trip – Photo/ Dan Clearwater

Why bother inviting families?

Generally, having children on an activity requires a different approach than for a trip that only has adults.  Mis-matched expectations are the quickest way to detract from the enjoyment of a group activity, so if you’re going to consider inviting families, you need to adjust your expectations to suit.

If you are still reading this, no doubt you’ll already know the joys (and challenges) of children, and understand why it could be really rewarding to have them along on your trips. Reaching out to families engages your club with a wider slice of society, with fresh perspectives along with the prospect of new memberships. 

And finally, someone, somewhere planted a seed of outdoor adventure in you; which we think gives you an obligation to assist passing on that outdoor spark to the next generation. 

Figure out what family-friendly means

There are two main options for providing family-friendly trips in your club: adapting club trips so they are suitable for families to join in, or providing specific trips aimed just for families. 

Adapting club trips for families to join in

This approach can work for leaders who are sympathetic to family needs, and like the idea of inspiring and motivating the next generation of trampers. They needn’t be parents themselves, but some experience with kids certainly helps!  It’s the way to go when first introducing family-friendly activities into your club. 

Adjust your mind-set

In order for families to be willing to join your club trips, you have to ensure they are going to have a positive experience! We all know that suffering a little is a part of the backcountry experience; but the first interactions with a club really ought to be as positive as possible. Just as with any new/prospective member; the club, the trip leaders and the trip members need to make a point of ensuring the experience is welcoming, supportive and enjoyable. 

It’s important not to think of family-friendly as simply accommodating, catering for (or tolerating) little ones and parents on a normal trip. Instead, the mind-set should be for the participants (parents, kids and members) to have a more enjoyable time doing the trip together, than separately.

Set clear expectations

Ensure you clearly outline the trip, and set expectations for how you will run it. Normal things  such as the length of the walk and planned breaks, but also which age group/s its suitable for, whether is suitable for a buggy if you are inviting the youngest ones, plus a little more detail about the terrain (likely wet feet, wind exposure, and how long the uphill section will take etc). This allows families to judge if a trip will suit them.

Bring a friend!

Really encourage families to invite another family along; kids of similar ages entertain one another far better than adults can! 

Make it affordable

Families can be expensive for parents; so make sure to remove financial barriers where possible; Kids should come on trips for free, or at a very nominal rate.  

Not all club members will like the idea of families joining in; but for those who are inclined towards enjoying the company of little people, it can be a really positive experience for all involved if done well. 

Trips just for Families?

Although there’s lots of wonderful benefits of interactions and trips shared between young families and members without young ones, sometimes it makes more sense to put on specific trips just for families; the trip is arranged family-friendly first, rather than adapting an existing club trip. 

These trips usually require the leaders to be motivated and competent parents, and enough interest from families to justify the organisation of a specific trip.

Where will the families come from?

Depending on your club’s particular situation (demographic, geographical location, inclination etc) you might find your families in different ways;

  • Inviting the children and grandchildren of club members.
  • Attracting motivated parents who already go family tramping.
  • Inspiring less-motivated parents to try, or get back into, tramping.

Inviting the children and grandchildren of club members.

What better than having 3 generations all out on the same trip?  Clearly there’s the strongest motivation for club members to make the trips suitable, when it is their own families being invited. 

Kids (and their parents!) have more fun, and are easier to manage when there are other kids of similiar age about. Find out how many club members have grand-kids that might be interested in joining in, and if there’s a few, have a crack at scheduling a ‘bring your grandkids’ club trip once a year. Give members and families plenty of notice, and hopefully that might inspire visits from out of town and a specific event to look forward to. 

Attracting motivated parents who already go family tramping.

Your club might find some great new members in motivated parents. Often, these parents will have been very active in the outdoors before children, but once the kids arrive, they have had to adapt to different styles of trips.  Sometimes the trips that clubs offer which may not have appealed before, could well appeal now, and the parents more inclined to be relaxed about taking things a little slower, or having less ambitious trip goals. 

Motivated parents still need a bit of a nudge to think of your club, so if you are wanting to do a few family-friendly trips, you’ll need to do some advertising; talk to local day-care facilities, kindies, schools, youth-groups and ask them to help get the word out. 

Inspiring less-motivated parents to try, or get back into, tramping.

This requires considerable will from the club to embark on. Not only do you have to find, attract and inspire these parents, but you will need to provide them with even more support than a newbie adult member. 

But if your club is looking for a project, this could be a fantastic way to engage the local community, and bring a few more folks along to club activities. 

What age children will you cater for?

Many clubs will have an established style of trips that are offered, and some destination which feature regularly. 

The trick is to identify which of those trip styles and/or destinations are most compatible with being adapted to become family-friendly trips.

Mid-week trips

Many clubs have ‘wednesday walkers’ or similar.  When the children are very young, the main care-giver will often be on parental leave, or be slowly transitioning back to part time work. This gives them flexibility to join in on the mid-week trips that many clubs have.  These parents often appreciate joining activities which get them motivated to get out of the house when the other parent might be at work. On the flip side, traditional weekend trips mean that the whole family has the option to join in. 

  • Babes in Backpacks (0-1.5 years)
  • Toddlers (1.5-2.5 years)

As the children get older, parents generally work more and children spend more time in day-care type arrangements. 

“Cruiser” or “relaxed” pace trips

Some clubs have trips which are specifically led at a much slower pace than other club trips. Even though the distances and walk times might still fill a day, the pace is generally much slower. These trips can be compatible with; 

  • Babes in Backpacks (0-1.5 years)
  • Toddlers (1.5-2.5 years)
  • Pre-schoolers (3-5 years)

Depending on the child, once they are much older than 5, they can start to move quite quickly and become impatient at a slow pace!

Easy graded trips

Standard “Easy” trips at a normal pace are better for older children who can match the pace and length of the trip; 

  • Independant walking kids (5-8 years)

These trips are likely to be less compatible for younger kids who can’t keep up, or manage the distance or older kids who might be frustrated by a short or less rapid pace. 

Medium/Hard graded trips

Depending entirely on the kid, from 8 upwards, they can be pretty impressive with the pace and endurance they possess; sometimes surpassing that of the adults!

  • Independant walking kids (5-8 years)
  • Big kids and young adults (8-17 years, but beyond the scope of this article)

Base-camp (or lodge) based trips

Many clubs have social trips, ski-weekends or events where there is a vehicle accessible base. Camping or lodging in a communual environment can be stressful for parents of the very young, but slightly older kids will love the outing without necessarily needing to walk far or carry much. Some clubs with lodges pick out a weekend a month as the ‘family weekend’ encouraging members with families to aim for those weekends (and allowing those who aren’t keen on kids to be fore-warned). Teens are perhaps less likely to be wanting to be stuck with adults for a weekend, but again it depends on the individual;

  • Toddlers (1.5-2.5 years)
  • Pre-schoolers (3-5 years)
  • Independant walking kids (5-8 years)

Once you’ve identified which age groups are most likely to be compatible with the style of trips your club already runs, you can set about adapting those trips to suit those age-groups. 

Leadership common to all family-friendly tramps

Check in with parents

As mentioned before, some might be experienced outdoors people, and others brand new to tramping. Especially if they are new to taking their children along, have a chat prior to the trip and discuss the basic gear needed, perhaps even provide a gear list.  You don’t need to tell them specifics; but more like a reminder that the kids need “something to keep them dry, warm clothes, water, decent shoes” which will be enough to make sure they think enough about equipping the little ones for success. 

Risk management with kids

Consider the appropriateness of the trip with little people in mind. For example, tracks with steep drop-offs aren’t a big problem for very young kids being carried, or teenagers. However the in-between ages have legs that move faster than their thoughts, so it might not be wise to pick a trip which requires constant ‘helicopter parenting’ to keep the little ones safe. 

Make a point of discussing any known hazards with parents before setting out, and again immediately before encountering the hazard. “The next half hour is right beside the stream, so keep a close eye on the kids”

Stick together

Beyond keeping themeslves safe, parents have the extra responsibility to mange the safety and enjoyment of little people, who are usually less able to cope with the physical, emotional and environmental challenges the outdoors provides.

A quick way to ruin the enjoyment for a family or even compromise their safety is to leave them struggling at the end, separated from the rest of the group.

If it is obvious there will be clear differences of pace within the group, it’s a reasonable tactic to split the trip into groups of similar speed, each with a competent adult, and agree on stopping points and/or plans for re-grouping. 

Temperature management

Kids have less ability to regulate heat than adults do, so will be more susceptible to hypo/hyperthermia. Factor that into your planning and leadership during the trip. 

Although there are some pretty good kid sized outdoor clothing these days, it’s unlikely that junior’s jacket is going to be as waterproof as your expensive Gore-Tex. Be prepared to turn back early, or do a shorter option if the weather is likely to be poor for more than an hour or so for under 10’s. 

Consider the forecast and the track even more than for adults: a shelterless track in mid-summer might ruin a families day, but a splash up a cool stream bed could be the favourite trip of the year!

 

Age specific tips for trip leaders 

Babes in Backpacks: 0-1.5 years

The speed of the family is massively dependent on the parent/caregiver who is carrying them, and how used the child is to tramping. The can be quite fast for fit and motivated parents, with experienced kids. (On a trip with one club, the members remarked that they could barely keep up with the parents, even with nappy-changes and feeding stops!). 

The pace can also be quite slow for those parents who are getting back into tramping whilst carrying the extra weight of a bub and associated paraphernalia. Also if parents haven’t carried the kids lots since they arrived, the child might have less tolerance of being in a pack, or in the outdoors. 

Trips ought to be pretty close to home; if the drive is much more than an hour, some parents might decide that it is not worth the energy to cope with that travel for a day trip. 

Tracks/routes should generally be less-rough; with the added weight and change in balance (kids wriggle!) parents will be less agile. Parents also might be a little more tentative when carrying precious cargo. Also having a decent place to stop for the needs of baby is important. 

Matt and Huxley Evans in the Huxley Valley. Photo by Maggie Evans

These stops for (food, nappy-change, out of pack times) will be at random times and places, as decided by the bub’s schedule. Sometimes not stopping is what parents want. This is usually so baby can sleep. The parents will be getting pretty good at understanding baby’s timing, so chat to them about it before beginning, so you can adapt the trip to suit.  The leader and the group need to be accomodating: it might not be morning tea time, or a spot with the best view, but should be able and willing to embrace a brew stop wherever it may be. 

Trip participants also need to make an effort to be supportive of the parents: smiles and offers of assistance, rather than grumbles or leaving them to it.  Without being asked, make a cup of tea for them or offer to hold/watch the baby whilst the parent goes for a pee, eats something or re-arranges their pack. Whatever you do, don’t leave a parent with a screaming baby get left behind (even if you might want to…), or go so quickly that the parent gets stressed trying to keep up and forgoes or delays the care that the baby needs. Parents can often be a little anxious about their kids impacting on the needs of adults! An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: stopping now, or going slower will make everyone happier in the long run. 

Do your best to plan trips which get back to the cars by 4pm at the latest, to get the kids home in time for dinner/bed routine. 

Another tactic is to consider trips which have a shorter option (say, turning around at the first hut/bridge/junction) whilst the rest of the group does the loop trip.  This does mean that parents will need to cope without the group, so it only works if they are confident and competent enough. 

‘Easy’ trips are clearly the best candidates for ‘family-friendly’ tramps, but even when the trip is shorter or slower, participants need to factor in the time and flexibility to make the trip enjoyable for the parents.  Just like any trip; managing expectations of the participants is key to success; ensure that members know that a ‘family-friendly’ trip with very young ones means more breaks (in odd spots) probably a slower pace and less distance covered.  Much better to have the spare time for a long lunch, than be rushing to make the destination, or get back to the cars in time!

 

Toddlers (1.5-2.5 years)

This age group is pretty challenging

By this stage, the kids are really keen to walk for themselves, but their speed and endurance is pretty limited. Their weight means that even if they still tolerate mum or dad carrying them, the parents are going to be carrying pretty heavy loads, which again limits speed and range.

Tramping with kids in this age group requires plenty of patience, and to be honest probably isn’t that compatible with many club trips.  Base-camp type trips can work, since the little ones can explore as far as they are able to, and return easily to the base camp without the pressure of an A to B or loop walk. 

Off to Coppermine Creek hut with a couple of 21 month old trampers. Photo/D.Clearwater

But before long, the kids stamina will increase to the point where they can cover some pretty decent distance and keep up with patient and considerate adults. 

 

Pre-school kids who don’t get carried (3-5 years)

Bring a friend

Try to encourage them to bring a friend; all kids walk best with similar aged company!

Start early

Kids have more energy earlier in the day. Meet at the track end at 9:30am for a 10am start, have an hour long lunch break so you complete a 3-4 hour walk by 2 or 3pm (with some spare time if the walk is longer than expected; or plenty of time at the hut/camp site.) It’s horrible marching cold, hungry, tired kids hard as darkness and the cold is setting in.

Family in the West Matukituki Valley, by Maggie Evans

Consider the type of track

Children this age want interesting things to see and do on the way and will want the opportunity to stop and explore.  They also want to walk along an interesting track and will be more enthusiastic scrambling over rocks and tree routes than on a benched track or 4WD track.

Consider the pace

These kids will need more stops than an adult group.  They get tired quicker, but also regain their energy quicker, so despite grumbling while they were tramping, once at the destination they will be running round while the adults just want to rest.  

Older preschoolers, 4-5 year olds, will usually be able to keep up with a slower adult group, however, like with adults, there will be a range of fitness levels. 

Consider the parents

The parents will often be worried about slowing down the group or being a burden or their children not behaving appropriately. Re-assuring them them to relax, and helping them with the kids without needing to be asked will go a long way to having a successful trip. 

 

Independant walking kids (5-8 years)

Teach, mentor and model

Never will you have such mouldable apprentices as when you’ve got these kids along! They really want to be involved in what the adults are doing, so take the time to incoporate learning throughout the trip, rather than just getting safely from A to B (and back again!). This helps develop family trip leaders (parents) and the children into confident, competent young adult trampers.

Teach things like how to use the stove to make a cuppa, emergency fire-lighting (and how to put the fire out and deal with the ashes!) Make time for roasting marshmellows!

Start them learning how to read a map, identifying destinations and stopping points. Make sure they have a copy of the map to use along the way!

Bring flora and fauna identification books, and try to identify what you see along the way. 

This is your chance to instill the foundation of a kiwi backcountry ettiquette: leave no trace, replenish firewood, cleaning huts, sweeping out, filling log books, removing others’ rubbish, welcoming all to the shelter from the storm. 

Kids in the Tararua’s. Photo/Ken MacIvor

Thank you to these people who contributed toward this resource:

  • Dan Clearwater, FMC Development Officer and father of a toddler tramper
  • Rebecca Gray, FMC Administration Officer and mother of three young trampers , 
  • Anne Dowden, Tararua TC family tramp coordinator, and mother of three teenage trampers.

This resource was created during FMC’s Outdoor Community campaign, celebrating and encouraging Family Tramping. Check out the other blog articles on Family Tramping here on Wilderlife. As always, if you’ve got wisdom to share on this topic, then please get in touch

Last updated: 29 August 2019

Wilderlife