Four wheeling is and should be a family affair. Getting away from the rat race and enjoying the great outdoors can be some of the best times you and your family experience. Kids of all ages love to get out into the woods and open terrain.
Like any event, four wheeling presents its own set of hazards, especially for children. Kids are naturally curious, but require a bit more supervision when they’re outdoors. Here are some things to think about as you prepare to take your family on that much-needed trip to the outback.
One risk is that kids can get lost. Therefore, every child should have some sort of signaling device. A whistle is a good place to start. They’re small and can hang around the neck. A mini flashlight is handy, too. Life+Gear ® makes a nifty gadget that is a flashlight, whistle and light stick all in one. It’s compact – about the size of penlight – and made of sturdy plastic. Consider one of those for your child. As soon as a youngster can master it, teach them their name (first and last) and their dads name. Then work on address and phone number. In this day and age, we have mixed fillings about the advantage of little kids wearing a t-shirt with their name on it vs. the risk of a stranger taking advantage of that knowledge.
Staying hydrated is important. Each child should also have his or her own supply of water. A water bottle is usually enough, but on longer hiking trips consider a larger unit. Camelback ® offers some nice storage units.
Institute a buddy system when you arrive at your destination. Emphasize to the kids that they are to stick together at all times. Make sure they know where they may go and not go, and that they keep an eye on each other. Tell them what to do in the event someone gets hurt or they get lost. Blow the whistle in blasts of three and find the closet adult to tell.
FRS radios are a handy way for the kids to stay in touch with camp. Just make sure they don’t operate on the channel you assign the drivers. You don’t want them interfering with your communications while vehicles are in motion. Pick a channel for the kids, and tell them not to change it.
Their clothing must be appropriate for the area. Only closed-toed shoes (sneakers or boots) should be worn in the wild. There are too many hazards for sandals or flip flops.
Remember to pack warm clothing and jackets. The weather can change dramatically, and it’s often cool at night. Plus, you never know if a trip will finish on time. Obstacles or even a breakdown can delay your return.
Make sure your first aid kit includes medicines designed for kids – Motrin, Tylenol, epinephrine, an asthma inhaler, and such.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: All driving rules apply off road. Everyone must be belted in, with young children in their car seats. Everyone’s hands and legs are kept inside the vehicle. Because children are especially prone to reaching out, roll up the window on that side of the car.
In fact, it’s a good idea to keep all windows rolled up at least half way. Driving through thick vegetation can result in branches and other debris – even bugs – flying inside. Plus, the vehicle can catch and bend a branch, which would snap forward if it reaches an open window.
Remember to perform a 360 degree walk-around whenever you’re about to resume your drive. Kids like to roam around and under vehicles. Remember this simple rule:
Driver In First And Out Last
Being the first one to enter a vehicle allows the driver to control it if starts to roll. Similarly, if the driver is the last one out, he’ll have the control that the passengers will not. There’s an exception to this rule when kids are present. In that situation the driver should perform a walk-around before hopping behind the wheel.
Keep kids away from the vehicle during any repair or recovery. Young ones don’t appreciate just how dangerous the winching process is. Have another adult or older child closely supervise young children during those operations. Remind your children that cars are tools, not toys.
Here are some additional suggestions based upon situations I’ve observed while camping and hiking.
– Make sure your tent stakes are pounded all the way in. It’s easy for someone to trip on one and possibly even fall on a tent stake. Along those lines, consider marking the tie down cords for your rain fly. Because they’re black, they can be difficult to see in low light. Tie one or two strips of light colored ribbon to each cord.
– Remind your kids of any environmental hazards that may be present. These include snakes and other critters, cacti and similar plants, water wells, and abandoned mines. Tell them to be careful about reaching into crevices or on top of rocks. A good rule of thumb is to avoid placing hands or feet where you can’t see.
– Kids need to eat on schedule. Sometimes you can’t take a break on time, so plan snacks and other meals for the kids.
– Challenging portions of the trip can be stressful for you and your children. As you approach a difficult area, ask your children to remain calm so you can concentrate. Explain what is about to happen to lessen the anxiety for everyone. Say to your kids, “Daddy needs to focus on this. It would help if you would be quiet.”
– Talk to your kids about the dangers of playing around the campfire even the next day. The coals may still be hot. Supervise them carefully whenever you’re enjoying a campfire.
– All gear must be strapped down. If you hit something hard, break hard or – worst case, roll over – the refrigerator or box of tools cold crush someone.
Spending time with your family off road creates memories everyone will cherish for a lifetime. Exercise caution, and all your memories will be good ones.