Better Outdoor Trips with Kids: Lower your expectations

One of the hardest lessons for me to learn about hiking or camping with small kids, is that I need to substantially lower my expectations.

Our trip last year to Sunshine Meadows was a good example of that. We did a lot of prep for the trip: had our packs ready the night before, clothes, boots, and snacks all lined up; got up early to catch the bus from Sunshine; pumped the kids up for a fun day in the mountains and how we’d hike all the way to Rock Isle Lake. Then we get off the bus, start moving, and 100m later the kids want snacks and a break! Super Frustrating!

This was the first moment when it became fully clear to me that we needed to redefine what it mean to have success int the outdoors with kids. Prior to having kids “success” usually meant blasting out four summits in three days or getting up at 4am to climb a snowy couloir. While I am confident that we’ll have those days again they aren’t the kind of adventures you can have with a kid under 4.

Banff based adventurer, writer, and parent, Meghan J Ward of the Adventures in Parenthood Project addressed this re-definition really well in her piece The Transition to Parenthood: 5 (More) things I didn’t consider. Number 3 on her list that “Practicality Will Keep You Sane”, she writes

A huge weight lifted off my shoulders when I discovered, and accepted, that it would be impossible to keep my standards for, well, everything. Organization, cleanliness, punctuality… I do my best, but I simply had to let go of my perfectionism in these areas. I also let practicality guide my outdoor pursuits. I pushed it a few times this summer, but mostly preferred gentler, whine-free adventures. Eventually we’ll be able to handle longer hikes and less stressful overnights. (source)

After our meltdown at Sunshine Meadows we redefined success in the outdoors with kids as the following:

  • Having fun
  • Letting the kids set the pace
  • Sharing a love of the outdoors
  • Having a positive experience for kids and parents

As our kids grow in age, skills, and ability we can keep refining and adjusting our definition of success outdoors, but for now this works for us.