Hiking and Camping with Kids: Safety

I relish experiences where my daughter is encouraged to move out of her comfort zone. It is character building and a confidence booster. I like to think I walk a good balance between creating a safe environment in the outdoors and allowing space for natural consequences that create learning opportunities.


There are some aspects of the outdoors that I simply do not compromise on when it comes to safety though. A situation can quickly turn dangerous.


When setting out on a hike regardless of terrain or distance, it is good hiking practice for everyone to have a whistle. The whistle is a safety tool and should not to be treated as a toy. The signal that help is needed is three long blasts of the whistle. Not all whistles are created equally so look for a pealess whistle that does not have any moving parts that could freeze or jam. My daughter carries a Fox 40 Sharx.

Older children should learn how to read a map and use a compass. This year my daughter has started carrying our compass and has been tasked with being our navigator. It is her job to look for trail markers and trail tape. I am obviously very aware of where we are and am not about to let an eight year old lead me off the trail. We talk about the importance of staying on the trail so that we don’t get lost or damage the eco-system around us.

Teach children that if they do become lost, that they should “hug a tree”, stay in one spot, and not move. Make sure they know that if a tree isn’t available, a large rock or other landform can be used. The further they move from their original location, the longer the search will take.

Boundaries need to be respected. When stopping for a longer break or at camp for the night, physical boundaries need to be discussed. Having lunch in the back country is not at all like having lunch in a quaint neighborhood park. Camping in the back country is vastly different from a drive-up camp site in a bay with 20 other families camping in close proximity. The wilderness is raw and untamed and it needs to be treated with the utmost respect.


Bear Safety:

I have low tolerance for food-dirty hands, faces, and clothes when camping in a tent. Bear safety is not something I take lightly. When it comes to the back country, plan non-messy meals (future post in this series) that kids won’t spill on themselves, pack extra clothes (food dirty clothes go in the bear safe container), and clean hands and faces well to remove traces of food.

The food has been hung in a tree, placed in a bear canister, or put in a provided bear bin along with all scented items including toothpaste and lotions. Do not unravel your work by allowing marshmallow covered faces and clothes with food drippings to come into the tent.

Water Safety:

We love hiking along trails that have water where we can fish and swim. Last summer I went for a swim by myself and my husband knew I was in the lake and was aware of my plans. Cold water immersion is immediately life-threatening. My breathing and heart rate changed and I knew that I was headed to big trouble. I was thankfully treading water not far from the dock and I was able to get out in time.

Drowning looks different than how we would expect it to look. Water safety is something I take quite serious. My daughter will continue to wear a PFD near all open bodies of water until the day that she can confidently swim enough to give herself a fighting chance at survival.

Shore fishing at Sturgeon Falls in Manitoba and wearing a PFD

Hydration and food:

In the mornings, I encourage my daughter to drink as much water as she can. I want to start the hiking day as hydrated as possible and when we come to a water source, we “camel up” while resupplying. Encourage kids to drink as much water as possible throughout the day. Always hike with enough water for every member of your group and carry a water filter, tablets, or drops if you will need to resupply.

We eat more when we are active. Be sure to bring enough food including meals and snacks. Choose high calorie items that will keep kids full for longer and give them the energy that they need.


I always have some form of a first aid kit with me when I hike. The kit honestly fluctuates based on who I am with. I carry less units of a particular item if I am by myself and more if I am with my family. Last fall I went into the back country with three kids under the age of nine and while I am sure their parents had first-aid, I packed a little more variety knowing that kids can get crazy and end up being stabbed in the face with a stick (or something along those lines).

My standard first-aid kit for hiking with my family:

  • After Bite
  • Advil
  • Benadryl
  • Blister treatment
  • Tweezers
  • Bandaids in varying sizes
  • Emergency blanket / shelter
  • Gauze pads
  • Knife / multi-tool (carried in my hip belt)
  • I primarily use clean water to flush wounds instead of carrying alcohol or antiseptic wipes. I have on occasion carried antiseptic wipes like when I was on the Appalachian Trail and knew water sources could potentially be dried up or hard to get to.


Go forth and encourage kids to climb rocks and trees larger than them. Let kids learn how to tie their own hooks onto their fishing line. Getting a hook in the hand is like a right of passage for little-fishing-folk, just like stepping in a hole while ice fishing is. Give older kids with hiking experience the freedom to go a head and wait for you at the next trail marker. We do that a lot when we see one in the distance.

I want to raise a smart and confident outdoors kid who can use her common sense to keep herself safe and know when it is OK to take a risk for the love of the trail.

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