Hiking is a great way to practice your preparedness skills and learn to use your emergency equipment. It gives you an opportunity to see what you want to have and cannot be without, and it gives you the opportunity to sample and rotate your family’s food storage. Food storage items are great for camping because you can still make nutritious and convenient meals without all the added weight! Learning how to use your emergency equipment in a non-emergency situation is very important. You and your family can learn in a stress-free environment how to use your emergency equipment rather than waiting to learn during an emergency. The Right Equipment Getting started with the right equipment does not need to be expensive. In fact, you may be able to use what you can Replace in your very own closets, garage, and attic. First, make a checklist. Your checklist should be personalized to fit your own habits and to fit your particular trip. For a day trip, your checklist should include these basics: trail snacks (snacks such as raisins, granola bars, sandwiches, crackers, or cookies, these foods keep everyone full of energy), trail shoes or hiking boots (broken-in to avoid blisters), socks, long pants, shirts, sweaters, a hat, water purification tablets, food, knife, matches (waterproof are best), first-aid kit, sanitation kit (if needed), flashlight, map, compass, water bottles, and main course food. You may want to add shorts, rain coat, parka, mittens, sunglasses, sun screen, insect repellent and a whistle to your list depending on the weather. For overnight trips, you will want to add an external or internal frame backpack, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, ground cover, tent or tarp, stove with fuel, mess kit, and a garbage bag to pack out your trash. It’s also important to remember that bugs and insects love to nibble on the tender skin of your little ones. Keep them protected with repellent. It is very important to keep everyone hydrated and fed. Dehydration can take away energy making your vacation less enjoyable. Dehydrated foods are an excellent choice for camping and hiking. Using parts of your food storage is a great option, or you may want to try lightweight camping meals such as Mountain House meals or even Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MRE’s). Both MRE’s and freeze-dried meals come in a variety of tasty foods and are easy to prepare. The Right Backpack Your pack will become very important depending on how long you hike. Both internal and external frame backpacks work very well. There are many reasons to choose one over the other, but the most important is your personal preference. Make sure your pack is adjustable or it fits you well so that the weight of the pack is transferable to your shoulders or your hips, depending on how the straps on the pack are adjusted. This will ensure the greatest comfort while hiking. Backpacks come in all shapes and sizes. Choose a pack that suits your needs. When you’re getting ready to go, be sure to pack only what you need. You may need to package food in small containers or bags. Also many things, like toothpaste and soap come in small sizes that will lighten your load. Your pack will be heavy enough with just the needed things, so you don’t want to add any more. Special Considerations for Hiking with Children Baby carriers worn on the back or stomach, such as the Kelty Kid Carrier, work wonderfully for infants and babies. However, if one parent has the baby, the other ends up carrying everything else, which can also limit the length of the hike. If you have older children helping out, backpacking with one or several little ones can be easier. Infants three months or so can be taken on the trail with the proper preparation. Weather should always be carefully considered, along with the length and altitude of the hike. Backpacking overnight can begin as early as three months, but up to about twelve months, a baby’s respiratory system cannot readily adjust to major changes in altitude. Your first hikes should be short, so if something does go wrong, a quick retreat can be made to car and home. As parents, you may think a one or two mile hike is hardly worth the trip, but it is a good learning environment, and you will quickly learn how much extra is required to care for a baby on the trail, without the risk of a longer hike. Babies generally enjoy the continual bounce of the hike and end up sleeping most of the time. Toddlers from 2 to 4 years old are actually the most awkward age to hike with. Toddlers are too big to be carried; yet have little stamina and cannot walk very fast or very far. Hiking with toddlers requires the utmost patience and creativity. It is recommended to take an extra change of clothes for toddlers, since they tend to be dirt and water magnets. For small children under the age of nine, external or internal frame packs are not necessary. For young children, a small backpack or daypack will do just fine. At around age 9, a child should be able to carry all their own gear and some food. An Opportunity to Learn and Spend Time Together These trips are great opportunities to learn how to use your food storage and to learn how to cook without electricity. These trips can help you to know what items you would need during an emergency. More importantly, these trips are a great opportunity to spend time with your family and to teach children to enjoy the outdoors.