One of the central themes in many fantasy stories is that of travel and exploration. Whether it’s the Fellowship trekking across Middle Earth, the Night’s Watch venturing beyond The Wall or a young wizard sailing from island to island in Earthsea, the journey is a crucial component of the hero’s story.
You can tap into this joy of adventure to get your whole family out of the house and into the wilderness. There’s no better way to drive home both a love for imaginative fiction and the wonder of the natural world than by going for a long hike somewhere far from civilization. It’s one thing to read about the smells, sights and sounds of a pristine landscape, but quite another thing entirely to actually spend time in it.
To get a true replication of your children’s heroes’ journeys, you’ll need to find a long, secluded trail and head out for a multi-day hike. The acts of planning, packing, mapping, setting up camp, cooking over a fire and simply being face to face with the landscape will really drive home the nitty-gritty, day-to-day life of an adventurer. But such a journey is an enormous, potentially expensive undertaking, with entire books on the subject. So, for the newly adventurous — or for very young — you’ll want to attempt something shorter and less logistically intimidating.
Fortunately, there are literally thousands of short hikes scattered around the country that are perfect for a family day trip. Even if you live in NYC or L.A., you’re not far from an awe-inspiring trek through the wild. And while hiking, you may want to introduce a storyline that the kids can act out along the way.
WHERE TO GO
Picking your location will be the first thing to consider. Most communities have hiking clubs or outfitters where you can get detailed information on your local hiking options. Outfitters usually stock maps of nearby National and State parks. Spend some time reading up on what other hikers have had to say about the hiking options near you.
You’ll want to pick a trail that is remote enough to really get away from the sights and sounds of the city, but still accessible by road. You’ll also want to take the difficulty of the trail into consideration. You don’t want to end up somewhere that requires special equipment to get in and out of, and you want your kids to enjoy the experience, not be terrified for their lives.
WHAT TO PACK
Day hikes don’t require much in the way of gear, but there are some things you’ll want to keep handy. First, bring lots of water. During extremely hot weather, the average adult can consume up to a liter of water per hour while engaging in strenuous activities. Children may need less, but you’ll want to make sure everyone has their own water supply. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can become life-threatening if untreated, and will probably be the most dangerous risk of your entire hike.
Bringing some food, such as dried fruit, is also a good idea. You can even do a little research with your kids to find out what kinds of foods explorers carried with them, or try to replicate the foods from your favorite novels. (How about this lembas bread recipe?)
WHAT TO WEAR
You’ll also need sturdy shoes to protect your and your kids’ feet. You can pick up hiking boots if you are so inclined, but a good pair of sneakers is usually enough, unless you’re going over some very rough terrain. Wear loose-fitting, breathable clothing that is easy to move in and that you don’t mind getting dirty.
Shorts and T-shirts are optimal for warm weather, but layer if you’re heading out during the colder months. You’ll want enough clothing to protect you, while keeping the option to downgrade if you start to get hot from the exercise. In general, however, capes and swords are unwieldy, but may be necessary in the heat of battle.
Finally, you’ll want to carry a small backpack with some first aid supplies (bandages, pain relievers, antiseptics, etc.), some sun screen and bug repellent.
And, of course, make sure you tell someone where you’re going and what your itinerary is. Speaking of itineraries, make sure you plan your timeline so that you have enough daylight for your hike. You’ll want to start early enough that you can complete your hike before sunset. Find out ahead of time when sunset will be, and keep track of the amount of time you’ve been on the trail.
Once your time on the trail equals the time until sunset, you’ll need to turn around. Maybe leave a little wiggle room. The trek back is always more tiring than when you start fresh. You may need to take more breaks upon your return. You may also have to fight a mythical beast, so be ready.
Who knows, maybe a little hike in the woods will inspire your kids to come up with a fantasy adventure story of their own. Or create an adventure game that makes the family millions.