What to do when your 16-year-old daughter asks to go on a hike…off the grid?
For years, my wife and I debated how we would react to our daughter’s, “I want to go to a party!” or “Fabio asked me out on a date!” What we didn't prepare for was, “I want to be adventurous and go hiking with a friend." What we heard was, "I'm going into the back country, well beyond the reach of cellular service." Thoughts ripped through my mind, from twisted ankles to angry mama bears, to creepy mountain men lurking in the trees. (Okay, that may just be a Dad thing.) But in all seriousness, the thought of our 16-year-old daughter being tomorrow’s news story of yet another hiker unnecessarily lost in the mountains, a mere 20 minutes from home, was mind-numbing. We have always worked hard to prepare her for whatever she comes across, but when she states she is hiking with only one other person, teaching the one who gets hurt doesn’t exactly make me feel better.
Warming to the Idea...
As the manic thoughts subsided, I turned my attention to the one equalizer when being off the grid: gear. When the unfortunate happens, it's the right gear that makes all the difference. Knowing we would be hypocritical if we flat out said no, we agreed to her request with a conditional affirmative; the infamous, “yes, but…” “Yes, but here is what you need to take with you. No compromises.”
The Perfect Jacket
Since it was an early morning hike and the woods were still very cool (and the nights ice-cold), a lightweight, bright-coloured jacket was a must. I made sure she had her Peak Performance BL Down Liner Hood. This is a product I only recently became familiar with. I love the versatility and function, and she loves the form and fashion. A mountaineering jacket that comes in women's and men's sizes, it's super light, warm, water-repellent and windproof. Plus, as the day warms up she can crunch it into its compact storage bag with ease.
Next was communication. Cellular service ends even before reaching the trailhead. So outside of smoke signals, satellite communication is the only option. I strapped a SPOT Gen3 on her pack; a device I have grown very fond of. With a clear line of sight to the sky by rivers and clearings, she can message us that she is OK. Even better (and so I don’t need to rely on a 16-year-old’s memory) I set the device to automatically send me a GPS coordinate location. This feature means I can easily go online and track her hiking progress.
Next of course, was footwear. Good hiking boots are an absolute must. Several manufacturers can make a great boot, so it comes down to fit and function. My daughter sports the Merrell Siren Sport 2, a perfect combination of being light weight and holding trail stability. When selecting boots, often time budget and hiking level dictate the purchase decision, but anyone who has suffered a blister or rub will tell you compromising on boots is a mistake.
Sustenance & Multi-Tools
Finally, it was the other basics. For a four hour hike, hydration and sustenance were critical, but she wasn’t OK with packing 50 pounds into the woods just in case she got lost for a week. We agreed to a few granola and protein bars, as well as a couple of energy drinks. Additionally, one can not go off the grid without a trusty knife. The Victorinox is a perfect multi-tool that can handle a nasty twig in the foot, but also comes in handy with Henry the Mountain Man.
How does this story end? Yes, of course she came home safe, as I’m sure she would have without all of the precautions, but we as parents felt better and if you ask her in a few years, she will probably agree.
Are your teens itching to explore the outdoors independently? What do you do to ease your mind and promote their safety?
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