If you want to buy fewer toys and enable more adventure, here are 12 outdoor gifts for the kids of all ages in your life.
“We are not buying a whole bunch of toys for Christmas,” I said to my husband last year. In fact, that’s pretty much what I say every year. We’re not always successful, but generally try to focus on gifts that support our values of simplicity and adventure. Outdoors gear does both while also getting our kids more excited than ever about going out in what can be frigid weather in our area.
Adding some of these gifts to your kids’ (or your own) Christmas lists can help winter feel more fun and spring feel closer than ever. Here’s gifts that are great for our three favorite outdoors activities: hiking, biking, and camping.
2014: Holding my one-year-old, I stared up at fireworks and started belting out Let It Go. Tears streamed down my face. It was the end of a week-long trip to Walt Disney World, during which I spent most of the time imagining my kid getting trampled. Earlier that week, my hands shook and mind went blank in the Tomorrowland snack bar as I had my first identifiable panic attack. That perfect girl is gone, indeed.
2017: Leaning over my four-year-old in his car seat in a parking lot in Nevada, I thought, “I hope he’s okay.” Right on cue, his cheeks filled, he leaned forward, and spewed out water and pretzel bits all over me. Touching my hand to my hair, it was wet and sticky. We were half-way through a three-hour car ride to Zion National Park. I breathed deep and said, “Hey honey, it’s going to be okay.” Then I got out the baby wipes and went to work cleaning up everything up.
What on earth happened in-between? In that three years, I had a second kid, started dealing with my anxiety, and grew so much as a parent. But I also learned a ton about traveling with kids. In-between the trip in 2014 and the one in 2017, we’ve been to Las Vegas, Cape Cod, multiple camping excursions, and so many day trips. While the anxiety still flairs, adjusting my expectations and my own behavior has helped me stay sane when we travel with kids.
Nothing makes you feel more like “The Parent” than bringing your kids somewhere your parents brought you as a kid. Last week, we visited Zion National Park with our four-year-old and 18-month-old. The last time I was there, I was 17 years old on a trip with my own parents.
Needless to say, there was a world of difference between the two trips. The last time, the trip had gorgeous scenery, tough hikes, and lots of driving. This time, the scenery was pretty much the only similarity. Here’s what was different then and now:
“Look, there’s a rabbit!” I exclaim to my four-year-old son, trying to keep my voice down.
“Where?” he asks, as I point to the animal.
“Do you see it? Let’s be quiet so we don’t scare it away.”
“Yeah,” he replies, as he watches the bunny twitch its tail. It looks at us, then goes back to munching on the clover. It doesn’t think we’re a threat.
While the rabbits in our neighborhood do tend to be bold, my son’s calm demeanor definitely allowed us to watch it longer than if he had a louder reaction.
While we may think of a “wild child” as boisterous, exploring nature isn’t limited to adventurous extroverts. In fact, more quiet or introverted children can get just as much, if not more, out of being outside. While he sprints and yell-sings inside, my son is naturally a bit cautious and calm outside.
Here’s what I’ve learned from exploring with him:
A trip with cabins, right?” asked my friend. She was responding to my message about a camping trip our family was taking in a few weeks with her husband and son.
“Hahahaha. No,” I answered. I thought it was a joke; it was not. Knowing her general dislike for the outdoors, I had assumed she wasn’t coming. I was wrong.
Changing my tune, I said, “Well, cabins it is then!”
That was just one of the many ways I learned to tweak our routine and expectations to accommodate our first camping trip with another family. Because of the following lessons learned, our family ended up having a great time.
What do peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, surprising canoe trips, and bad decisions have in common? This story, involving one of the adventures Chris and I had in the Adirondacks far before we had kids. Misadventures Magazine was lovely enough to publish An Unexpected Tour of the Adirondacks!
Here’s the first three paragraphs:
A crying girl, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and a supermarket parking lot. Not exactly the elements for an epic summit. But having missed the turn-off for our hike, we were now on the wrong side of Lake George in upstate New York, eating the lunches we were supposed to be having on the peak.
By the way, I was the crying girl.
“This is your fault!” I pouted to my then-boyfriend, Chris, even though I had the map. I curled up in the passenger’s seat of his Civic, my tears falling on my bread. “If you hadn’t been speeding…”
Be sure to read the rest at Misadventures Magazine!
Feeling the thump thump thump of kicking feet against my back and the cries of the baby who did not want to be in the car any longer, I thought, “What the hell was I thinking trying to go camping with two kids?” We were still 45 minutes from our site and things were already going very badly. Fortunately, a couple of potty breaks and some whining later, I realized that the camping trip this past weekend turned out a hell of a lot better than I expected it. In fact, it was easily our best camping trip so far.
It had been almost two years since we had gone camping with Sprout. It was the first time we went camping with two kids. Even though the times with Sprout were chaotic, from clueless packing to partying college students, I still wanted to go. There’s a genuine magic that makes all of the other nonsense worthwhile.
Getting kids outside has a whole host of benefits, from stronger immune systems to the sheer joy of play. While sometimes all that’s needed is a stick and a bit of imagination, having certain gear can help bringing kids outside easier, safer and more fun. Whether you’re in the mountains or your own backyard, this gift guide – which is mainly focused on kids in preschool and elementary school – should provide a few helpful suggestions. (Note – none of these are affiliate or sponsored links, just products and/or companies I personally like.)
Cape Cod is full of activities for children, from sand-castle building to mini-golf. But Cape Cod is also home to unique ecological habitats and natural landscapes that are wonderful to explore with kids. Our family visited the Cape last week and these were some of our favorite activities:
To stave off an ever-increasing case of cabin fever, we headed out to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Park on Monday. I had wanted to go for National Parks Week last week, but the weather conspired against us. But as Monday was sunny and in the high 60s, we were going, come hell or high water.
Or more specific t0 our situation, come a hungry newborn and cranky toddler. We were mostly ready to go – adults showered and dressed, the kid dressed and the newborn fed. But then Sprout wanted to do tummy time with Little Bird (he loves encouraging him). But then Little Bird needed to eat – again. But then Sprout had a meltdown because Chris was packing cantaloupe instead of watermelon and a turkey sandwich instead of peanut butter and jelly, even though he had asked for turkey earlier. But then, but then, but then. We finally left an hour later than I planned. The getting out the door routine with two kids is going to take some getting used to.