How To Raise A Wild Child: What To Pack For Your Adventure
One of my most cherished childhood memories was when my older brother and I would go exploring the terrain around my home. I grew up in the countryside in Nebraska, which meant we had loads of room to do so. And each adventure started with us "strategically" packing our backpacks. I'd pack the cans of soda and fruit roll-ups; he, the Swiss army knife and squirt guns. (It was a different time.) And then we'd disappear off into the prairie grass next door, the tiny patch of woods in our backyard, or off to follow the creek that ran through our front yard.
I wouldn't exchange those memories for the whole world. I would, however, probably pack a little differently. And as constant adventure inspo Rebecca Caldwell told us recently, one of the most important elements of an adventure with your kids is being sufficiently prepared. As she notes, you'll fall into your groove with time—knowing what to bring for the temperatures, and how many snacks to pack depending on the length—but here's a good place to start for a summertime exploration.
It's an obvious suggestion but one that might take a little forethought. The first step is to evaluate where you'll be going: Will it likely have frequent refill stations along the way? If yes, you'll be able to get away with smaller, kid-friendly options like Klean Kanteen Insulated Kid Classic (which is lightweight, won't sweat, and has a top loop) or Contigo Autoseal Trekker Kids Water Bottle (which is basically spill-proof so you could toss it into a bag without worry). This way they will be able to carry it themselves, so you won't be weighed-down with multiple bottles. If not, or you are unsure, you might want to invest in a filtering system or bottle. Grayl Ultralight Water Purifier Bottle is a fan favorite—and it makes raw water safe in 15 seconds flat.
And finally, low-waste expert and nutritionist Abby K. Cannon, J.D., R.D., gave me some sound advice earlier this summer: Make sure you start hydrated. So when you wake up (or even before you go to bed the night before) make sure you and your kids drink plenty of water while at home well before you leave. Then—again seems obvious, but worth a reminder—always full up before you leave the house.
Whether you don't want to dirty your kid's school backpack or it's just not sufficient for outdoor activities, a summertime backpack is just as important as a school time one. You want these to be durable, light, and roomy enough to hold all that they might need. Another bonus: They'll feel more engaged in the activity when they get to carry some of the goods, too.
Deuter Schmusebar Kids' Pack comes in adorable patterns and has easy-to-use side pockets for snacks and water. REI Co-op Tarn 18 Kids' Pack has extra-padded shoulder and side straps (normal packs' straps might be too thin for day hikes, as they'll dig into shoulders).
Snack cups + food
Invest in some refillable snack cups, as you'll be able to reuse them again and again, and you won't accumulate trash from single-use plastic. Lunchskins Reusable bags beat plastic baggies any day; Yumbox lunchboxes won't spill or leak and keeps foods separate.
As Caldwell notes, pack food that will tide them over and keep their energy levels consistent all day long. (Read: Try to avoid a sugar high and crash.) Stick to fresh, whole fruits, veggies, or nut mixes. Or an easy, packable options: bars. Gerber has an organic toddler line that includes Organic Fruit & Veggie, Date & Carrot, Date & Beets, and Date & Sweet Potato Bars.
Books + map
Yes, we are fully aware that the wonders of smartphones and technology mean that you can effortlessly find your way along a trail, read up on all the plants you find on the way, and snap a few photos—all in one handheld tool. But there is a certain joy, resourcefulness, and independence that comes with figuring out something with a hard copy. (Even if it means carrying a few extra things.)
"A lot of parents say, Oh we get out in nature, but then they'll be attached to their device the whole time—and what sort of message does that give to a kid?" asks licensed physiologist Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D., CNS. "It's important kids learn that phones aren't the answer. What did you do when you were a kid? You survived, right?"
If you are going on an established trail, you can likely find and print a map from the park website. If not? Get a little crafty and find your route on Google Earth. As for the book, find one depending on the activity or terrain. Maybe it's birdwatching if you're out in a park; a book to help you identify plants and seeds if you're gardening; an illustrated guide to trees if you're on a hike. And if you're debating what level of book to buy? Err on the side of more advanced. "Kids are smart—way smarter than we give them credit for," says teacher and author Esther Wojcicki. "Let them surprise you."
Another fun thing to bring, especially if your kid is more comfortable indoors with arts and crafts, is a sketchbook with coloring pencils. "Drawing helps you pause and quiet down, and to do this in a natural setting is especially rewarding because as you quiet down, the environment raises its volume, so to speak," says Jessica Dalrymple, a botanical art instructor. "When you focus your attention on nature in this concentrated way, you enliven what you are observing as well as the surroundings by tuning in to nature on a wavelength you would not otherwise."
Bug protection + sunscreen
Now we're onto the more logistical end of the list: protection from the elements. Always pack a first aid kit, with bandages, a disinfecting ointment like Curoxen, and hand sanitizer. Include a natural bug repellent: Kinfield Golden Hour just launched today, is DEET-free and powered by a super-strain of Indonesian citronella. (A hack I learned while on a fly-fishing adventure up north in Canada? Saturate a classic bandanna with the spray and tie it around your neck: The fabric will hold the repellent better than your skin, and it makes for a pretty cute accessory for youngsters.)
And, of course, a safe sunscreen is essential—even on overcast days, when you'll be in heavily wooded areas, or even if they have caps on. Earlier this summer we shared guidelines on finding a safe sunscreen as well as a few of our favorite safe options, with a few just for kids. And make sure you are reapplying as directed: If you apply it first thing in the morning and skip it the rest of the day, it will wear off with time and sweat.