*Guest Blogger* Taking Young Kids into the Wilderness

    I am so honored to be a part of Michael Lanza’s blog tour introducing his new book: “Before They’re Gone.” I have admired his writing and lifestyle for a while now and his stories are some of my favorites.  

    “Before They’re Gone” is a gripping book that will inspire you to get out with your own family just a little bit more.  Even this mama (who can hardly stay awake at night to read ANY books) couldn’t put it down.  Lanza will make you think a little more about our National Parks, the future of our children and why the little things just don’t matter.

    He agreed to join us in this Screen Free event so today we celebrate him, his book AND gearing up families!  As usual when we have guests, check out his bio at the end of his post and feel free to leave him some love.  Also, please note that we are giving away a copy of “Before They’re Gone” today too (among a pile of other great gear to help you get outside and hiking with your family)!

    I paused and stared at the trail ahead of us. Barely more than a foot wide and plastered in hard-packed snow and ice, it clung to the face of a cliff with a sheer drop-off to one side of hundreds of feet.

    Then I looked down at my seven-year-old daughter, Alex, four feet tall and 50 pounds and exuding an innocent faith that her dad, holding her hand tightly, would guide her safely across that scary traverse—and the next, and the next, and so on for more than a mile and nearly a thousand vertical feet on our descent of the Grandview Trail, which zigzags across wildly exposed ledges on its steep drop into the Grand Canyon.

    That was in the last week of March 2010, a bit premature for backpacking into the world’s most famous canyon precisely because of the likelihood of encountering ice on trails at the rim. But it was also our kids’ spring break from school, and we didn’t want to wait until they were out of school, in June, when the inner canyon would be too broiling hot for this 29-mile, four-day trek from Grandview Point to the South Kaibab Trailhead. 
    Despite our concerns—heightened after a ranger at the park’s backcountry desk told us that the Grandview Trail was “treacherous” with ice and snow—my wife, Penny, and I decided we could do this hike safely with our kids. I had microspikes—mini-crampons with small metal points that slip over backpacking boots—for myself, Penny, and our nine-year-old son, Nate (whom I nonetheless guided across every narrow, icy section). But I didn’t have spikes small enough for Alex’s boots. 
    So I led Alex by hand, and she walked that icy traverse with slow, cautious steps, and supreme calm and confidence. I’m sure it helped her that I projected calm, although my heart was in my throat. I wondered: Do parents whose kids spend seven hours a day in front of electronic screens ever grapple with the existential question haunting me now—is this really a good idea?
    People sometimes ask me whether I ever worry about my children’s safety when we go on wilderness adventures. My answer is, yes, of course. Worrying too much is the unavoidable curse upon every parent. But I worry much more that they will not spend enough time outdoors. 
    We’ve all heard and read about the growing epidemic of childhood obesity and statistics suggesting that the generation of children growing up today may be the first in U.S. history with a shorter life expectancy than their parents. The term “nature-deficit disorder,” coined by the writer Richard Louv in his seminal book Last Child In the Woods, has entered into our national lexicon. American children are suffering from inactivity and insufficient exposure to the outdoors, and if we let this trend continue, they and our society will be worse off for it.
    My kids are like most kids—they like playing computer games. I work at home, and my wife occasionally works from home, so Nate and Alex see us on a computer for hours a day; why wouldn’t it seem normal to them? We push them outside to play as much as possible, but frankly, the daily lives of today’s children are so heavily scheduled and managed by their parents that our kids’ friends are often not available to play with them. Plus, in summer and during school breaks, especially, many families travel—we plead guilty—so when we’re in town, our children’s friends may be out of town.
    So I feel there are numerous reasons that we must take Nate and Alex on outdoor adventures.


    Of course, most families do not take a four-year-old cross-country skiing through a snowstorm to a backcountry yurt, or six-year-old kids rock climbing up a 150-foot granite cliff, or nine- and seven-year-old children sea kayaking in Alaska, paddling among alligators in the Everglades, and backpacking in the grizzly country of Glacier National Park. We all have to pursue the activities that are within our physical abilities, skill level, and emotional comfort zone—which is fine, exciting, and always rewarding. Just taking a walk along a creek is a magical journey for a young kid and profoundly relaxing and reinvigorating for an adult. That feeling is the real destination, and you can get there on any kind of outdoor “adventure.” 

    Now 11 and nine years old, Nate and Alex have seen more adventure than most Americans do in a lifetime. They have some sense that our family is a little unusual in what we do. But to them, getting out backpacking, skiing, climbing, or rafting down a whitewater river just feels normal.
    And that’s exactly how I want them to see it.


    Michael Lanza is the Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine and the creator of TheBigOutside.com, where he shares his stories and images from his outdoor adventures, many of them with his family, in the U.S. and around the world. His book Before They’re Gone—A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks, traces his journey to show his kids iconic national parks that could be altered forever by climate change.

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      1. It’s nice to see a parent pushing himself to get his kids outside! often we have more trepidation than they do!

      2. I’m currently pregnant with our first, and my husband especially is already getting excited at the thought of being able to introduce our child(ren) to hiking and camping and rock climbing…anything outdoors!

      3. Hi Amelia! I don’t think I actually left comments in order to enter the drawings. I didn’t see anywhere to type comments! Not sure what I’m doing wrong!P.S. I’m 90% sure we’re going screen free next week…still trying to convince John!

      4. Sounds like a great book. Will have to get a copy. We’ve been getting our 15yo out since she was 3yo. However in the teenage years it’s not her highest priority. Just hoping and thinking that she will come back to it once she’s in college and realize just how great the outdoors are. 😀 Now for our 4 month old, we are already getting her out as much as we can.

      5. Nice little story, makes me wish I took my kids out more than we do.

      6. Just visiting here for the first time! Great giveaway! I have Last Child in the Woods, and loved it. Would love to win the book or the baby carrier, as we’re expecting baby #2 in October! 🙂

      7. p.s. I’m from Canada, so think I can only win a couple things here, even though it entered me in all of them

      8. Anonymous says:

        Always good to get kids outside wherever you are heading, Jess bressler

      9. Michael – love that you are raising your children to enjoy, appreciate, and experience the Great Outdoors! While not quite as adventurous as your family, we try to do that, too. :)We moved to Colorado when my oldest was a baby, wanting our kids to grow up hiking, camping, and playing outside. My biggest fear was they would then take it for granted, and not appreciate the mountains like we do. But I don’t think that’s gonna happen…Enjoyed your post.

      10. I am so glad when I see parents taking their kids out in the outdoors like I do. Great job Michael. I go all the time and taken kids for 8 years ever since first one was 3 months old.

      11. I love his thoughts on the risks and benefits of taking kids outside. The benefits are so amazing, and I love to see people sharing this message. Our kids gain so much even if it’s just by a simple hike where we throw rocks, that we wouldn’t trade it for anything!

      12. Hiking with kids… my favorite moment. My 2 1/2 year old, maxing out the Kelty Kid Carrier, but still in it “just in case” on a rocky trail with alot of elevation gain and rock scrambling. It took about 5 minutes for her to beg to hike herself, with her little kids Camelback on… she scrambled all 3 miles to the top. She got alot of positive feedback from fellow hikers, and we were very proud of her. It was awesome, and that true moment when we knew we had a little Mountain Girl on our hands 🙂

      13. I can’t wait to read Michael Lanza’s book! Our family loves visiting National Parks and taking iconic photos at the entry signs. It’s something that always brings us closer.

      14. We hike with our son and to keep him interested, we letterbox while we hike. We can go hiking all day and he’s right there with us! While we hike and letterbox, we point out different trees and plants, he loves seeing the wildlife. Hiking is a wonderful way to bond as a family! For those who read this, and might not know what letterboxing is: Letterboxing is growing hobby that combines elements of hiking, treasure hunting and creative expression into an activity that the whole family can enjoy. Participants seek out hidden letterboxes by following clues that are posted on the Internet and then record their discovery in their personal journal with the help of a rubber stamp that’s part of the letterbox. In addition, letterboxers have their own personal stamps which they use to stamp into the letterbox’s log book.

      15. Hiking with kids is sooo much fun! I feel like when I’m in nature with kids I see the world through their eyes.

      16. Some of my best memories growing up were both the great and the awful hiking trips we took as a family. Obviously, I survived, and we still all laugh about our “Hiking Trip from Hell.”

      17. Great idea for a book. I am really gratefull now that my parents took us on some amazing adventures. One of our favorite places to go camping has a hydro electric plant, which completely changed the landscape. I call it my own private Hetch Hetchy.

      18. We have had some great day trip “hikes” with our little man and are so excited to get out a ton this summer for lots of camping trips and fun! I have been itching to try some new baby carriers. This is a great day for baby giveaways!!!

      19. We are always looking for new adventures. Right now we are planning our southern states high points and heading to Costa Rica for two weeks of exploring. These giveaways would be put to good use 🙂

      20. Michael your book sounds amazing! I truly want my kids to feel like doing those things are “normal” as well. Can’t wait to read it!

      21. Can’t wait to read Michael’s book. His trip in the Grand Canyon reminds me a lot of our adventures in Mt. Rainier last summer. I love reading about other families having crazy adventures – makes me feel better about our own choices.

      22. Great story! I’m interested to read the book! It is tough to balance the need for technology and the need for nature in today’s world, but it sounds like Michael is figuring out how to make it happen and building so amazing memories in the process! His kids are going to look back on these times and tell the stories for years to come!

      23. Anonymous says:

        My family loves to visit National Parks! Would love to read Michael’s book! And hiking boots!!! My boys live in them!

      24. What a fun adventure to write a book about! I have such fond memories of camping, hiking, and exploring from my childhood. My brother and I learned so much from our naturalist dad. I would hope for that kind of beginning and base of understanding and respect for nature for every child. And thanks so much for the giveaways! 🙂

      25. Anonymous says:

        Another baby carrier is a must with baby number 2 coming.

      26. This looks like a great book. I will always be grateful that my father took my sister and me on outdoor adventures when we were young. It has instilled in me a love of the outdoors ever since.

      27. Sounds like a good book – we get out hiking when we can but i was just saying that I have really bad boots and need new ones!

      28. I like the story. I think that more families should spend time in the outdoors with their children.

      29. I think he is right, they have had more adventures then most of American! Both terrifing and exciting! I would have been scared to death for my children, but you know they are safe today and experienced in some extrodinary things. My kids and I would both love to read more.

      30. Sounds like a great book! Loved reading what was on here and so true!

      31. I just want to say thank you to all of the parents who get out and stay active with their children. All of us who do, know hiking or such like activies can be frusterating and difficult at times, but completely worth it. Kids need to experience God good earth and it’s just not happening as often as it should with t.v.’s video games and computers. So I say Way to go parents who don’t let children be the excuse or reason to slow down!

      32. Now that my kids Re getting older I am looking forward to spending more time with them outdoors! Great giveaway!

      33. That book sounds really nice. Added to my Amazon wish-list!

      34. I wish I had a budget to travel and do extreme outdoor activities with the kids- I’m just happy to take them for a hike at a local park and having backyard campouts and on occasion going camping away from home. Great story and great giveaway!!

      35. what a great adventure story. I’d love to have more adventures with my family.

      36. It’s inspiring to hear about families getting out. My hubs and I love to go on hikes, camp, and adventures. But since we had our son we have been going on a lot less. the stress of taking him and trying to make sure has fun has made it difficult in the past. We are hoping to be able to get out more this year!

      37. We hike in our local woods. We love exploring. We hiked cloud canyon in GA last year and had a lot of fun. It was mostly stairs but a carrier would have come in handy.

      38. I love hiking with my son! I can’t wait for our 2+ year old to join us in our adventures.

      39. Our family loves to get outdoors and go exploring! My little guy is starting to become a nature lover too! I would love to check out Michael’s book.

      40. Anonymous says:

        I think it is great to get out doors, I know I need to push myself and my family to do it more often!!!

      41. I love the action carrier! SOOOOO helps me back!

      42. Now I’m really excited for all the camping we’ve got planned for the summer. I’m looking forward to hiking with our boys and challenging them with some more difficult hikes. Now I just need a new baby carrier to carry the baby 😉

      43. Michael Lanza – what a great idea for a book! My parents did a great job of taking our family on all kinds of “dangerous” adventures and hikes. America is SO beautiful. It is sad to me that so many families chose to not spend time in nature. Our souls need the wild!

      44. Anonymous says:

        We are trying to get outside much more with our kids! A new pack would help a TON! – Clarissa S.

      45. Hi Amelia-Great guest blogger. Really amazing what you can help your children accomplish when you encourage them and I like his comment he used about this generation being “nature deficient”. I am glad there are people out there like you guys trying to change that. Keep it up!

      46. I know how important it is to take children outside no matter what the age. I think that children the more that they are outside and active the more that they will be healthy. I think that it is really important to make sure that you are ready to go outdoors and have the right equipment. I found that many times we would want to go hiking and do outdoor things but, did not have the right equipment. I think that since we have moved closer to the wilderness we have found that we do not have any other option but to get out and get active.

      47. We love hiking with our daughter. It’ll be even more exciting this year now that she can walk!

      48. I love how Michaels book inspires us to get out more as a family. That’s just what we need!

      49. Michael, I think it’s awesome that you are getting outside with your children and making outdoor adventures a normal part of their lives! I’m going to have to check out your book =)We don’t get out hiking too much, but we talk LOTS of nature walks with the kids! It;s amazing to watch them discover new things in nature, or be awestruck at some of the beautiful sights!

      50. Sounds like a great book, can’t wait to get it. We live to be outside and it’s great to read about other families who get out.

      51. Michael, I think what you are advocating is wonderful…truly a gem in child rearing advice. I have found that there is no greater peace and happiness to be had for our children than when we allow them adequate time outdoors. We live in Maine and encourage our children out in all sorts of weather to explore and play. They are restless and ill at ease when indoors too long. We have a TV, but no video games. Shows are closely monitored and we have disconnected our cable. We see our sons as needing time outdoors as a natural extension of who God made them to be. They need to conquer, examine, explore and create. We have not hiked much, but simply utilizing the outdoors as a classroom for creative play is so very healthy for everyone, even Mama!

      52. I have not hiked anything significant with our children, just simple walks if you will. We have enjoyed them immensely but do plan on taking them to Acadia this summer.

      53. An excellent effort to keep your family connected to the outdoors. And to capture some memories of our national treasures before they disappear.

      54. We love hiking with our kids. We are really looking forward to them getting a little older so we can start going vertical. (Currently age 5 & 7)

      55. Congratulations to the winners!


      1. […] “Core Concepts is a small outdoor manufacturer using cutting-edge design and the best materials to produce some of the best technical apparel in the outdoor industry. If you haven’t heard of them yet, you’re behind the curve.” – Michael Lanza, author of “The Big Outside“ […]

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