Tramping with Kids 101
Updated: Feb 7
We have a few simple rules we follow, but really the key thing is if you haven't tramped before go with someone experienced. The Tararua's are beautiful but can be lethal, there is usually no cellphone coverage and the weather is unpredictable. You can never be too careful.
Hopefully our list below is helpful :
Always let someone know your plans. We always let someone know what time we expect to get out and the track/route we're taking, who's with us and what safety equipment we have. It's also good to have a lose plan re if they don't hear from you what they should do. That might include calling you first, contacting other group members contacts, raising with search and rescue etc. On our way home we call our contact to gloat about our amazing trip...and to confirm we're back and all is well. Keep in mind it could be a 20 minute drive to cellphone reception. Our plan is to never chase the dark so we we usually plan to give ourselves 2-3 hours to get out before sunset.
Know where you're going, carry a map. It could be a topo hard copy or an app that you can down load. If you can read a map with a compass it's a good idea to bring one too.
Weather! read the weather!!! .. read the weather (is that enough times? :)). If it looks really bad just call it off. But also, it changes rapidly and once you're out of cellphone reception you don't know what's coming so go prepared for every season. Even if it's hot when you get high up it always cools down, even in summer.
Have a disaster plan. Like with an earthquake, have a plan. Go with a group where you you can figure it out. Have a couple of strong people who can carry two packs or a kid, ideally someone/two people who can run out for help. Early on we're tramping with 3 families and all of the adults are capable. We could always leave the kids with a couple of adults and the others could go and find help if we had an injury. We always bring emergency blankets for us all and we know we could build a makeshift shelter if needed. If you get lost stay put (if where you are is safe), if you're moving around try and leave a trail/make it obvious, light a fire, keep warm, think about how to be seen by people trying to find you. This website has lots of information: https://www.mountainsafety.org.nz/learn/skills/emergency/
PLB - Personal Locator Beacon - it's your insurance policy. You can hire these if you're not ready to fork out $400 for your own (https://www.mountainsafety.org.nz/learn/skills/communications/).
Packing - you need a big plastic liner to line your bag, you can buy special bag liners or just use a rubbish bag. If your bag gets wet you need everything inside to be okay. In the bottom of our packs we put all our hut gear (sleeping/cooking/hut change of clothes). We usually double pack hut gear as it doubles as our survival (if we're cold and wet and need dry warm clothes). No matter how wet the kids get tramping we don't dip into these. At the top of our packs (or in easily accessible side poaches) we put all our walking gear: rain jackets, an extra warm layer, hat, lunch, snackage, map, first aid kit, sunscreen, insect repellent, PLB etc.
Stay together - have a plan where the front always waits for the back and there's always an adult at the front. Children must have an adult with them. Keep a fit person at the back, someone who can sprint to the front for help and who can assist those struggling. There is nothing worse than having all the unhappy people at the back feeling miserable. The fit person can focus on motivating and telling stories (it's hard talking the whole time you're walking, a great challenge for the marathon runner).
Sign the DOC intentions book - all the huts have intentions books which become really important if things go wrong. Another good safety play is to show an interest in the other people around you. Say "Hi" to the people you pass and find out where they're going, they might become your lifeline or you theirs.
Always bring extra food - usually we throw in some extra porridge and rice. Basically enough to do another night or so on a hungry tummy, but knowing with all our other food we could probably stretch 2-3 days if we had too.
Never be afraid to turn back - you have to always be open to turning around. There will always be another day and safety comes first. Don’t see it as failing - it’s just part of the gig, sometimes you won’t get to where you planned to go. This is particularly important as you get into an alpine environment and the weather becomes increasingly unpredictable. If the children aren’t coping that could also be enough of a reason to call it quits.