For outdoorsy parents, having children can feel like the ultimate limitation to freedom. After all, kids have so much stuff, and they don't always like being outside and participating in outdoor activities like you do. On top of that, it takes most kids some time before they're able to do the things that you love to do, and before they're good enough at it to be an asset to a trip.
However, it's possible to take some outdoor trips even if your kids are young, unskilled, or less than thrilled about being outside. You may have to modify your desires to make a trip that works for both you and your child, but doing this will allow you to not only get outside yourself, but introduce your kid to the world you love so much.
1. Get the Right Gear
It's no fun being outside when you're too hot, too cold, too wet, or too anything else for that matter, and the same thing goes for your kids. While buying gear that you know they'll grow out of may seem expensive, making your kids comfortable will also make them more likely to enjoy being outside.
If you live somewhere with an REI or similar outdoors store, see if they have swap days. On these days, people bring their used gear to swap or sell to others who want it. This can be a perfect time and place to find kids' stuff for cheap and to sell what your kids have grown out of.
2. Camp… for One Night
While some kids love camping, the idea of sleeping outside and all the changes that come with that often disrupts sleep schedules. Tired kids are testy kids, so it's better to try on camping before you jump into a week-long trip, or even one that encompasses several days. Give camping a try one night and find other cheap accommodations for other nights. If it works out well, you can always cancel your reservations and stay in tent-sweet-tent for the rest of the trip.
3. Practice at Home
If you want your kids to be comfortable camping, walking, carrying a backpack and more, start before you leave your house. Have them practice sleeping in bags on their bed, then on the floor, then on the living room floor, then in the backyard. Similarly, they can carry a backpack when you run errands, so they get used to the weight, balance, and feel. That way, when it's time for your real trip, your kids will be ready to go and you won't have any surprise complaints.
These practice times offer a great chance to break in new gear, too. Make sure your kids won't get blisters and that all their tags are cut out or not bothering them by having them wear their outdoor clothes and shoes around the house.
4. Try a Kid-Sized Activity
Even kids who love to be outside will struggle if you make them do too much too fast. Look online at where you're headed, and find activities that will challenge your kids without leaving them exhausted. Make sure there's something exciting at the end, whether you're hiking to a waterfall, kayaking to a sea cave, or climbing to a magnificent view. That way, your kids will stay motivated even when they get tired.
5. Be Willing to Stop
Sometimes, no matter what you do, things go wrong and your kids stop enjoying your outdoor trip. For many parents, it's so difficult to find the willingness to stop and be where your kids needs to be. However, having this willingness can mean the difference between a moderately successful trip and one that your child never wants to repeat. And when you start the trip with stopping as a possibility in the back of your mind, it will be easier to do if the necessity pops up.
While stopping is impossible on some trips (through backpacking hikes, or multi-day rafting trips, for example), it's usually within the realm of possibility. If stopping won't be possible, be sure your kid buys into that idea before you leave, and understands that he'll need to go on even if he's sick, tired, or scared.