Worry Free Backpacking With Children

January 15, 2014 in Strategy by Matthias

There are many millions of hikers in the world, and statistically nearly all of them have children at some point in their life. Despite that, as things are at the moment, not many people go backpacking with children, and I think it is really sad that so many families are missing out on this fantastic experience.

The funny thing is: There is no real, tangible reason for that!

I want to tell you about the single biggest obstacle on your way to become a hiking family, how to replace worries with knowledge and skill, and about what part of your body you can use to achieve that.

There is a magic gate at the beginning of each and every trail head in the world. It is too wide to walk around, too high to climb over, and heavily armoured with a powerful spell. The gate allows adults to walk through, while being impossible to pass for most children. There is no lock and no key; the gate effortlessly opens for every individual adult who enters the trail, and hermetically closes again right behind them.

The gate’s greatest strength is the fact that it is invisible. Being invisible makes it nearly impossible to conquer, because you never know that it is even there; all you know is that something very powerful is stopping you from taking your children through to the other side.

However, if you are an observant person, you may already have seen this gate nonetheless.

If you look closely, the gate becomes visible in the discouraging way many people think and talk about taking children on wilderness trips. It becomes visible in the anxious responses you may get from some of your friends and relatives when you talk with them about hiking with your children. It sometimes becomes visible in the form of both amazed and, rarely, disapproving reactions by other hikers that you meet with your children, and occasionally even in the way well meaning park rangers try to talk you into turning back home as soon as they see that you have your children with you in a location where they only ever expected to meet adults. Finally, of course the effects of the gate are clearly visible by the very low numbers of children that you actually encounter on the trails.

Reinforced with multiple layers of misinformation and fear of the unkown, and fortified with the moral yet superficial justification of only wanting to protect you and your children, the many people who are the bars, bolts, and welds of this gate can put a very serious emotional or moral obstacle in your path to becoming a hiking family.

Keep in mind though: The only reason this gate opens for you as an adult is that you approach it with knowledge, skill, and well founded confidence. Actually, that’s not even true; unfortunately this gate also opens for adults who have a serious lack of skill and knowledge, since adults are rarely questioned by anyone about their level of skill and knowledge when they go hiking, and instead, it is just assumed that, since they are adults, they know what they are doing. So in reality, this gate is trying to limit who can go hiking on the trails of the world, while it does not have the slightest ability to actually discern capable hikers from people who are putting themselves and others at risk.

The only factor this gate looks at is age – and age is a very unreliable indicator of skill and knowledge. Notice that I am purposely avoiding the word experience here. I can tell you there are a lot of hikers out there who are very “experienced” in terms of how many years they have spent on the trails, but who still don’t have a whole lot of actual knowledge and skill, and instead have only been returning home in one piece from their many trips through sheer luck in one form or another, even though they are not aware of it and incorrectly attribute their safe returns to their abilities. Just that you are coming back alive does not prove in any way that you were doing things right!

In any case, this gate clearly is no useful source of advice for your or anyone else’s hiking endeavours, and can safely be disregarded. Unfortunately, that is much easier said than done.

The good news is that there is a reliable way to break the spell of this gate, so you and your children can be free to walk on your way – and it will be an enormously empowering experience for your family when you do that.

First of all you need to realise that this gate is not actually located at the trail head. Instead, while it has been collectively built in the minds of the vast majority of people we share this planet with, it is now firmly anchored right inside your mind. For that reason, your brain is the only part of your body that you can use to break this gate – the brain is your most powerful tool in general for hiking, but it is especially powerful here.

The reason so few people go hiking with their children lies in a whole lot of uninformed and incorrect assumptions and ideas that most people have about hiking with children – they think that it is dangerous or reckless, that it can’t be fun, or simply can’t be done. Of course, like in so many cases, their “You can’t do that!” really only means “I don’t know how to do that.” Nonetheless, that – and not actual problems in hiking with children – is the main reason why not more people are doing it. And because nearly no one is doing it, everyone thinks it must be really stressy or hard or dangerous, and so nearly no one is doing it… see the circular argument?

Because most people around us are thinking like that, it can be very hard for you to tune out the noise and focus on real answers – and the Trailbabies Network can help you with that.

It is very much like the magic brick wall at London’s King’s Cross train platform 9 ¾ in “Harry Potter” – which, in case you don’t know, allows you to pass through to the other side if you just take a confident run at it, while you will smash into actual bricks if you waiver during your run-up. The invisible gate at the trail head is similar to the wall at platform 9 ¾ in that it will give you the same surprised look on your face once you stick your head through to the other side and look back, realising that it wasn’t half as hard as you thought it would be.

Whether you are a fan of the Matrix movies or not, I am sure that you will be able to see some similarities there as well.

Your mind is an extraordinarily powerful tool. If you use it well, you can achieve things that seem impossible at first, but really aren’t.

While confidence alone can enable you to walk through the gate at the trail head, what you do need to take seriously and focus your attention on is to make sure your confidence is well founded, and acquire solid and relevant knowledge and skills that enable you to take your children on hiking trips with you, come back safely, and have a lot of fun along the way.

You are well advised to get this information from a reliable source, and there is only one kind of person who can be considered to be that reliable source: Someone who has significant amounts of relevant, practical, real world, first hand experience in hiking with children, and who is applying a sound and well thought through approach to keep things going smoothly and safely on their trips.

If you are one of the few people who know someone like that, and if they are willing to be your mentor, you don’t know how lucky you are. I can only advise you to feed them lots of chocolate, and generally do whatever you can to make sure that person never stops walking with your family!

If you would like additional support, and especially in the more likely case that you have no one like that anywhere near you, I am here for you. The Trailbabies Network is a great place to start your learning journey, I have quite a track record of shattering invisible gates at many trailheads for my own family as well as in helping others to do so, and I would be honoured if you would allow me to help you to break a few in your stomping grounds to add them to the list.

These gates have been put at the trailheads by a massive loss of family hiking knowledge and skills which, as a side effect of the path humans have taken, did not get passed on from one generation to the next. An enormous amount of skills and knowledge about walking longer distances with children of all ages, wisdom that was the collective result of tens of thousands of years of our ancestors walking the earth, has been almost entirely lost.

To the humble extent that it lies within my power, I want to help bring that wisdom back and re-open these gates for our children, so we can walk together as a team again, learning heaps and beyond just hiking skills, and having a whole lot of fun along the way.

Please help me do that – and don’t forget to enjoy the sound of the gate shattering into a million pieces when you walk through it on your way to the trail!

Many happy trails to you and your bunch,


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As a passionate dad and outdoor enthusiast, it was a no-brainer to take my son Loki on real wilderness trips from very early on in his life. Finding an experienced mentor to teach us how to do that right turned out to be impossible, and it took a lot of hard work to figure it all out. Today we are regularly spending top quality time in the bush and the mountains, and I would like to enable more families to have this great experience. I have created the Trailbabies Network as a way to share what we have learned over the years, so you and your children can have a much easier and quicker way to start enjoying safe and fun hiking trips together. I'm looking forward to hear from you - welcome on board!

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