Tips for Snowshoeing with Kids
There's no doubt about it, something amazing happens when you put snow and kids together. With snowshoeing, you combine the ultimate fun that snow can bring with a great family activity. Here are a few tips to keep the kids having fun all day long!
Before Going Out
Just like any outdoor adventure, it is important to plan ahead and prepare to ensure a safe, fun time for your family or group of kids. However, planning doesn't have to be considered a chore just for adults; part of the fun of snowshoeing can be working together to plan the adventure.
Planning your Route: Depending on the age of the kids you're taking snowshoeing and your own skill level, involving them in the process of planning a route can be a simple, powerful way for them to feel ownership in their adventure. It can be as simple as showing them a map of where they will be snowshoeing, having them draw out their own map, or teaching them basic elements of a map and compass.
Pre-Snowshoeing Meal: Before you hit the snowshoe trail, make sure everyone has eaten a hearty breakfast or snack. Snowshoeing can burn lots of calories so starting off with some energy is essential. Why not get kids excited about the upcoming snowshoe adventure by making pancakes in the shape of snowmen? (See activities).
Lunches, Snacks & Hydration: In addition to a traditional sack lunch, make sure to bring along extra snacks and extra water. Nibbling on snacks and sipping water throughout the day will ensure energy and spirits stay high. Plus if you're out longer than expected you'll have plenty of energy to keep you going. An insulated thermos full of apple cider is always a big hit. It helps to cut the chill of a cold winter day without leading to the sugar or caffeine rush that can come from hot cocoa. Quick Tip: fill the thermos with hot water first to warm it up, then dump out the water and pour in the cider. Warming it up before hand will ensure it stays warm all day long! Click for some great snack suggestions for kids!
Dress for Fun and Safety: Because a snowshoeing excursion can involve exercise, play, and rest, your kids' temperature level will rise and fall through the course of the day. Layering is the key to ensuring that your kids stay warm, dry, and comfortable during their snowshoe adventure. For a great explanation on layering tips, check out the Snowshoes.com layering article geared toward adults, but keep these key distinctions in mind:
Try starting off with the full layers so they are comfortable, but 10 minutes into the trip alert the group of a "Check-in, Shakedown" (see Activities). You'll get your kids' attention, get them focused on their bodies, and give them tools to communicate whether they are feeling hot, cold, or right on target.
When layering for any outdoor activity, it is essential to stay away from cotton fabrics - including underwear. Although it can be super comfortable, cotton does not dry quickly and when it is wet, either from snow or sweat, it does not retain heat. Stay away from jeans, cotton socks, cotton underwear, etc and try to dress your kids synthetic or other natural fabrics like wool or silk. Your kids will stay warmer, drier and happier! When you're not sure of the weather or your kids own comfort level, it is better to be safe than sorry, so dress them in one more layer than a normal adult would wear.
What to bring for kids: beyond the basic essentials for winter adventuring, here are a few things you might want to remember for the kids:
- Plastic Whistle: This is an essential safety item for kids. When they are given the whistle, suggest how it is a great honor to carry the safety whistle and teach them how it should only be used in emergencies. If they're whistle-happy and just want to keep blowing on it, try giving them an incentive suggesting that if they are able to abide by the rules of the secret whistle club (i.e. only using it in an emergency), they'll be able to blow it for a full 10 seconds when we get home.
- Games for the car-ride, snowball maker, & other misc items to keep kids engaged (see activities)
- Change of clothes in the car: kids are bound to get wet because they are working up a sweat snowshoeing and having fun in the snow. You'll have a happier ride home if they change out of their wet clothes into dry, warm clothes once you get back to the car. Things will also be a little less chaotic when you arrive home: just unload the car and throw the wet clothes in the laundry.
- Waterproof notebook & pen: This is a great option for kids to record their experience in words, pictures or notes (See Activities).
- Sunscreen: snow reflects sunlight and can make it very intense even on a cloudy day
- Extra gloves
- Friends! There's no better way to curb boredom than to bring a friend or two along for the trip. Make sure the friend has appropriate clothing to stay happy and dry during the snowshoeing adventure.
- Hand Sanitizer and/or wipes
Check your Expectations: Talk to any adult about why they snowshoe and you'll hear some basic themes: solitude, exercise, camaraderie, excitement of winter exploration, great way to get out during the winter, etc. When they first take kids snowshoeing many adults are excited that they can pair a winter workout with family time. Although this can be true with older kids, younger kids often don't have the attention span to "just" walk on snowshoes. Thankfully snowshoeing has loads of potential to turn a "boring" walk into an exciting adventure. Be patient and focus your expectations on having quality, fun family time rather than summiting a mountain. See Activities for ways to keep kids engaged.
Give Kids a Sense of Self-Sufficiency: At the trailhead, make sure that your kids know this snowshoe trip is an adventure and that they are now big enough to hike on their own (if they are the appropriate age) rather than be carried by you. You can also give them a sense of ownership by letting them carry their own pack with some water and/or their sack lunch. Communicate it all with a spirit of adventure and they'll get excited to participate.
Strap snowshoes right the first time! Before you start out on the trail, do a thorough check of everyone's snowshoe bindings to make sure they are snugly attached.
Manage the group: If you're snowshoeing with a group of kids, it is important to have at least two adults - one posted at the front of the group and one at the back. You might also encourage the kids to pair up with "adventure" buddies. Buddies make sure they stay within site of adults or can be in charge of checking noses, cheeks, and fingers for frostnip (the beginnings of frostbite).
Hydration & Snacks: You planned ahead and brought plenty of water, snacks, and warm beverages, now just remember to nibble and sip away! Normally thought of as a hot weather thirst quencher, water is actually an essential part of staying safe when you're snowshoeing. Kids might be having so much fun in the snow, they might not realize how thirsty their body has become. Snacks are the same way. Best to curb the thirst and hunger before crankiness and dehydration sets in. Take frequent breaks during the day and keep snacks and water handy. Consider getting kids their own water reservoir with tube for their backpack. Both adults and kids alike are more likely to drink more water throughout the day if it is easily accessible through a tube attached to a backpack strap. After each snack or lunch break, do a quick gear check to make sure all gloves, hats, jackets, etc. are accounted for before continuing on the trail.
Bathroom Breaks: With all those layers, it can be quite a chore to make a bathroom trip. As much as you can, plan for bathroom stops that will be easiest on the group (i.e. before leaving the house, before leaving the trailhead, and during "check-in, shake down" times). Just like with snack breaks don't forget to do a quick gear check. For other "bathroom" tips check out Leave No Trace.
Safety: There are lots of things to keep in mind to ensure a safe, fun snowshoeing adventure. When snowshoeing with kids make sure to check for cold noses, ears, cheeks and fingers often, that each kid has a whistle, knows when to use it, and knows the boundaries of play (i.e. stay on the trail or at least within sight), and that everyone stays properly hydrated and energized with water and snacks.
At the Trailhead: Take advantage of the trailhead bathroom; Change into dry clothes (see "what to bring" above); do one last gear check to make sure all the hats, gloves, snowshoes, etc. that left the car actually returned to the car; separate gear into bins in the back of the car that can be transported easily back into the house. Have a bin for gloves and hats, snow clothes, base layers that need to be washed, water bottles, toys or activity props, etc. You'll lessen the stress and chaos and it will be a lot easier to organize upon your return.
In the Car: A snowshoe adventure will take a lot of energy so many kids will use the car ride home to sleep. However, if they're still excited from the adventure, use the car ride as an opportunity to debrief. Discuss the best parts of the day, why they were interesting, new things everyone learned, etc. Then talk about where you could go snowshoeing next or what you would do differently.
At home: After unloading, make a note of some of the things you forgot to bring that would have been handy. Place the note with your snowshoeing gear or add it to a snowshoe check-off list so that the next time you pack up to go out, you'll remember.