Family hiking in spring

Sensible precautions ensure happy hikes with the kids

Hula Valley: Watching cranes fly above: Watching cranes fly above (photo credit: ITAMAR GRINBERG/INFO.GOISRAEL.COM)
Hula Valley: Watching cranes fly above: Watching cranes fly above
Our too-short spring has arrived, when mild weather tempts one outdoors to walk the land. Here are some safety reminders to make sure that everyone enjoys their hike and returns home in good spirits.
Convene a family meeting ahead of time. Lay out the plan so that each one understands what the hiking area is like, the estimated length of the hike, and detours to visit particular sites. Have everyone study the map of the area. Hear what each family member expects from the trip. Decide what’s reasonable – and what’s not. If you plan to be away overnight, decide where you’ll be sleeping and if you’ll be setting up a tent or sleeping in the open. Make sure everyone knows and agrees to the plan.
Work out a flexible schedule: Determine how many hours a day the group will be on the move, using the pace of the weakest person as the measure. Plan time for photographing, rest stops, or just stopping to enjoy a view, but stick to a time frame so you reach your goal before nightfall.
Reduce risk: Choose trails that the weakest member of the group can manage.
If your group includes a small child, hiking through forested land is a safer choice than attempting a steep wadi where there’s risk of falling.
Keep small children at the side of an adult at every moment, to prevent them from wandering off alone. That’s especially important when walking through areas where our native wild animals live, such as jackals and boars.
Pair each person with a buddy. Small kids should buddy with their parents, or with a responsible older person.
Appropriate clothing reduces risk.
Fair-skinned people should protect themselves from sunburn by wearing thin clothes with sleeves. Everyone should wear a hat and apply sunscreen religiously. It’s no fun to return from a hike with a sunburn.
Sneakers and sandals aren’t always the right footwear, especially hiking through areas where low-growing bushes and herbs make homes for scorpions and snakes, and some plants underfoot have prickly thorns. Have everyone wear boots that cover the ankles while walking through such territory.
Snakes live in bushes and under rock crevices, so wear gloves when gathering firewood or collecting rocks to make a ring around a campfire.
When first setting out, people might want to wear a hoodie or thick shirt against the morning chill and dew. Later, they’ll want to change to something cooler, so pack for it.
If camping, find out what temperatures to expect at night. It’s surprising how freezing cold nights can be in hilly regions like Meron, even in midsummer.
You might need to pack thick socks and a heavy sweater with your sleeping bag, if you plan to sleep where it’s cold.
If setting up a tent, do so before the light fails, to see the safest ground for it.
Stay on level ground, not close to river edges or steep land.
Preplan how to handle emergencies.
Tell a trusted person where you’re going and where you plan to be each day.
Carry a portable power pack and stay in touch by cellphone once daily, or if plans change. If an emergency arises, you’ll need someone at the home end to help organize a rescue.
Carry a first-aid kit. It’s surprising how many hikers don’t pack this essential item. Study it and be prepared to use it.
Anyone with known allergies to bee stings should carry an EpiPen in their backpack. A designated person should know how to apply it. Signs of allergic reaction are swelling around a bite, dizziness, reduced alertness and heavy breathing. Bees nest on the ground, and wasps nest in trees. Stay alert for stinging insects at both levels while trekking.
In case of snake bite, the patient should be taken to a hospital immediately.
Have each person carry a whistle or small mirror to flash in the light in case they get separated. Teach children to stop where they are and not wander around if they get separated from the group. Show them how to use the whistle or hold up the mirror to make it flash, so others can figure out where they are.
Safe and pleasant meals: Make sure there’s something for everyone. No point in dragging a hungry, grumpy kid along because there was nothing he liked to eat in the picnic basket.
Do not pack foods containing mayonnaise or salad dressings. Bacteria grow amazingly quickly in warm fats, and will knock a hiker down with diarrhea. Don’t eat wild herbs unless you’re an experienced forager, or are hiking with one. Every year, people are hospitalized in Israel after sampling toxic mushrooms and wild greens that look innocent but are not.
Stay hydrated. This bears repeating: stay hydrated. Have everyone drink water to fullness one hour before starting out. If someone feels thirsty, dehydration has already started. Avoid this by calling out for everyone to drink every 15 minutes – a drink being about a cup of water for adults and half a cup for kids.
Plan on a liter of water per hiking hour for adults and half a liter per hour for kids.
Signs of dehydration are a headache, exhaustion, aching eyes, dark urine and dizziness.
An insulated water backpack is more efficient than carrying bottles.
They come equipped with a long rubber straw that twists around so the hiker can drink without taking the pack off. Here in Israel, they’re called shlookers and are sold at traveler’s shops. Find out where to replenish water before starting the hike. Don’t drink from rivers or streams, even if they look clean; it’s safest to bring your own water. Depending on length of the hike and the weather, you may need to bring bottled water anyway.
If anyone is even slightly sick before starting the hike, postpone the hike. A sick person can dehydrate rapidly. Better disappointment now than an emergency on the trail later.
Keep kids entertained and interested.
Get them excited beforehand about the sights and things they might discover on the trail.
Take them shopping for their trail snacks, and let them pack their own backpacks. Have them invite a friend along. Don’t pressure kids to keep up; let them climb rocks or squat down to examine something interesting. Set an intriguing goal for the hike. Water holes, waterfalls and rivers are especially attractive.
Tiny ones or toddlers will tire before anyone else, so be prepared to carry them on your back for a nap.
Plan games to play on the way, like identifying flora and fauna. Buy cheap cameras and let the kids stop to snap photos.
The importance of snacks: It’s not only water, it’s snacks. Children need to replenish energy more often than adults, so have them pack snacks like nuts, dried fruit, string cheese, energy bars and Bamba into their backpacks. Keep salty snacks like potato chips to a minimum and dispense them at meals, when everyone’s resting and drinking water.
Teach the kids the rule of responsible hiking: take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.