Staying safe when hiking with kiddos: tips from a former survival instructor

Best advice is to plan your trip.

KUSA - Hiking in general can be risky, but that risk increases tenfold when children tag along.

A 9 year-old died Monday afternoon after falling while on a hike at Hanging Lake in Garfield County.

When it comes to hiking with kids, experts like Ford Church, the executive director of the Cottonwood Institute, stress the importance of thorough planning ahead of time. 

Cottonwood is a local nonprofit organization that educates kids about enjoying the outdoors safely.

"I think trying to identify some risks ahead of time and be proactive about what you would do in those situations is the best advice that I would give," Church said. 

Church is also a former survival instructor who used to work with the Boulder Outdoor Survival School. He has two children himself, ages six and eight, who he takes out hiking.

When he is going hiking with his kids, he researches the area where he is taking them. He looks into things like elevation, distance, terrain and difficulty.

"Take some time to get to know more information about where you are going and the potential risks, then mitigate those risks and go enjoy yourself," Church said. 

Church uses a general rule of thumb with his hikes -- don't climb higher than you are tall without ropes or harnesses to keep you safe.

But of course, it's ultimately up to parents to decide.

"That's just a personal risk tolerance that each family needs to look at," he said.

Whether someone is exploring their backyard or heading out on a long hike, Church recommends parents set boundaries for outdoor recreation and engage their children in setting those boundaries.

"One of the things we (Cottowood Institute) do with our students is a risk scavenger hunt to make it kind of fun for kids," he said. "Say 'oh hey, what are all the things that are dangerous around here?' And just help the kids identify things, and look around, and engage them rather than just telling them the rules.'"

For families who are new to hiking, Church says get some help.

"See if you know a family that already recreates outdoors, and see if you can tag-a-long with them on a hike - and just kind of get to know the lay of the land and just what you need to bring," Church said."I always ask people this question, 'If something goes wrong, and you have to spend the night, do you have what you need to make it through the night?'" 

He added, "There's a lot of groups around town that offer free clinics, and workshops, for families and other folks who just moved here and want to get outdoors. We highly encourage those folks take advantage of those classes."

Here is a list of the resources Church recommended for hiking safety: 

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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