Bringing our kids on new adventures is such a rewarding experience! Watching them discover the wilderness is so neat. But you don’t want that heartwarming experience to turn into disaster. Here are some tips to keep your grand adventure from turning into a nightmare.
First things first: Puddle Jumpers are not life Jackets. Sure, they are great for swimming at the pool or in the lake at Grandpa’s house. But they are not for the Boundary Waters. Leave them at home!
Now that that is out of the way, there are a few things that you’ll want to consider when choosing a life jacket for your kiddos.
Reliable: You need to have a life jacket that is reliable. Be sure to find one that is Coast Guard approved.
Size & Fit: Make sure that you have the proper weight limit and sizing to your child. If the life jacket is too small, they’ll sink. If it’s too big, they could slip out. Children under 50 pounds should have a leg strap and all straps should be snug.
Comfort: Your child’s life jacket should be comfortable. They’ll need to have it on for quite a while. I like the infant life jacket that has the floatation device in the front, it keeps them afloat with their face up and gives breathing room in the back. Killian was so comfortable in his life jacket that he fell asleep in the canoe on his second trip in!
We follow two rules in the Boundary Waters when it comes to life jackets. These are for everyone, not just kids.
#1: If you are in the canoe, your life jacket is on. Even the most experienced paddler can flip a canoe.
#2: If you are in the water, your life jacket is on. Even if you are just swimming at your campsite, these are dark and unfamiliar waters. There may be currents that can be easily misjudged. It is very uneven and rocky under the surface. One minute you are in two feet of water and the next you’re in 20 feet. Yes, it can change that drastically.
This is a pretty important aspect of camping farther away from civilization. At most camp grounds there are water stations, so that’s not a huge issue. But in the Boundary Waters or while backpacking, you will need a reliable water purification system. I recommend bringing two different types. Just in case. Some of these include:
- Iodine Tablets
- Ultraviolet device
- Water Filtration pump
Our family usually brings the Iodine Tablets and a water pump. Even if you are collecting your water from a moving source, like a river or stream, you still need to treat it. We have had a camper get sick in the past. Whether you are using the water for cooking dinner, heating up a bottle for the little one, or just quenching your thirst, the water needs to be treated.
We have seen all kinds of wildlife out there, our daughter has been to the Boundary Waters 5 times and has seen 2 moose already. It’s one thing to see a critter in the zoo, it’s a completely different experience to witness an animal in their natural habitat doing what they do. These are amazing experiences that will stick with them for a lifetime. But, as parents, we need to do our best to keep these experiences safe.
Rule #1: Do not feed the wildlife. That means clean up your camp really well. Any and all scraps, diapers, bottles, formula, medications, literally anything with a scent is in a bag that is hung from a tree at night or while you are away from camp
Rule #2: Do not bring or use scented lotions on yourself or your munchkins. Do not season yourselves. See Rule #1.
Rule #3: Scare off any bears. Do not let them get too close and don’t run. If a bear wonders into your campsite, just act big and be loud. Do not chase them. If you’ve been to the Boundary waters in the past, then you’ll for sure remember that wonderful video we all have to watch before entering. I’ve had so many Boundary Waters adventures and have yet to have a face-to-face encounter with a bear. Don’t worry too much, these encounters are rare.
Rule #4: Keep your babies close. If you are hiking or exploring around the woods, your little ones should be right with you. If they are out in front of you leading the way, they are too far. You should be able to grab them before anything else does.
Rule #5: We are guests. Remember that this is their domain, we are just visitors. Clean up after yourselves and keep your distance.
What is there to worry about with sleep? It’s pretty straight forward… Well there are a couple of things to think about, but it’s pretty much common sense.
Temperature: Depending on the time of year you plan your adventure be sure to pack warm enough sleep attire. Our last trip was at the beginning of June. The forecast looked pretty hot, but we still had a pretty cold night. Bring warm jammies for your little guys. And dress them in layers. If you are planning a trip in the fall, you might even want them to have a hat on, we lose a lot of heat through our heads.
Sleeping Bags: You can go out and buy super spendy infant/toddler sleeping bag. But odds are, they will grow out of it in about two seconds or end up in your sleeping bag anyway. I prefer that Killian sleeps in my sleeping bag with me. If your little one ends up in your sleeping bag it’s easier for you to monitor their body temp and keep them warm with your body heat.
Air Mattresses: My husband and I do not bring an air mattress along just yet, we do however bring sleep mats. I feel so old admitting that. But lets face it, we all get sore after sleeping on a root all night. Even though we don’t use an air mattress there are a couple of things that I believe are worth mentioning. Air mattresses are bouncy and somewhat unstable, if you have a little one sleeping with you be careful not roll over on them. Also, if you have an infant along, be sure they are not sleeping on their tummy, the risk of suffocating would be higher in that setting.
Hammocks: Safe sleep is still something we need to keep in mind while in the woods. Keep your infants and toddlers sleeping on their backs in the hammock and don’t let them sleep alone. They could get tangled up so easily in there. And napping with them is great bonding time out there. Safe and sweet! The hammock that we purchased last summer for Killian’s first trip was the best purchase! I highly recommend bringing a hammock along, they are fantastic for naptime in the wilderness. Be sure to find one with a mosquito net!
Tent Zipper: When closing into the tent for the night, place the closed zippers at the uppermost point of the tent door. Tents are different, if your tent doesn’t allow this option, you may want to bring along a clip or something to secure the zippers closed. I am a pretty light sleeper while camping, but just in case this tip can keep the zippers out of reach and your toddlers from wondering off in the night. We recently used this method while camping in Florida, it’s the first time it was a concern with our on-the-go little guy.
Communication is key!! Odds are you won’t be tackling this grand adventure on your own and will have other adults along. Use them! But be sure that all adults know who has who. For example: My husband, Scott, and I were going to do dishes. Killian wanted to go toss more rocks into the water, my mom announced, “I’ve got Killian,” before heading to the shoreline with him. So all adults knew which adult had the toddler and where they were going to be. This will eliminate the “I thought you had him?” “No, I thought you had him” dilemma, and keep your baby safe.
EYES ON AT ALL TIMES! I am not exaggerating. There needs to be an adult with your infant/toddler 100% of the time. Having more adults along is really helpful with this aspect of the journey. I understand that it’s really hard to watch a curious and/or hungry toddler while trying to cook dinner on the camp stove. There are a few things we found that really help.
Tip #1: Have them help. Kids love to help! (Until they are teenagers) Of course you don’t want them running around a fire or tripping into a camp stove. But having them bring things to another person can make them feel like they are contributing. “Bring the sporks to Grandma, she needs them!” Giving them a job is better than them finding a job on their own!
Tip #2: Hide things. This can be a fun and safe little game as long as it’s played in a specific area. While we were cooking or preparing things in camp we would hide Killian’s little bear and moose toys. Killian is pretty little, so we mostly hid them in the same spot under a pile of leaves and pine needles. We kept his hiding spot in the middle of the action, so eyes were on him constantly. This entertained him for so long, it was great!
Tip#3: Keep them close. Keep the distance between you and your little one short. Scott was really thankful that he did just that while exploring the waters edge with Killian. Killian was putting his hands in the water when Scott had noticed a fish jump. Right when Scott looked back at Killian, a huge snapping turtle was coming out of the water after Killian. Who knew a snapper would be so bold! Scott was right there to grab Killian out of the way. Killian kept his fingers, but that turtle hung around for a while.
I hope these safety tips help you on your next excursion with your little adventurers. We are always learning and these tips were derived from my own experiences in the great outdoors. It’s not exactly a walk in the park, but it’s so worth it!