If you have children (or their parents) on your gift-giving list this holiday season, don’t finish your shopping until you’ve read the following recommendations from AMC staff, volunteers, and family members. All the ideas listed below are backed by experience and by the belief that family time in the outdoors is truly a gift that keeps on giving.
I’ve added links for some specific options, but don’t forget to look for local options, too.
Babies and Toddlers
– Matt Heid, AMC’s Equipped columnist and blogger, has hiked thousands of wilderness miles and is the father of one young child with another on the way. For babies, he recommends fleece booties: “Great for keeping little feet warm and super easy to put on and take off,” he says. (Try Patagonia fleece booties.)
– Sara DeLucia, AMC’s Adventure Programs Manager, and Alex DeLucia, AMC’s Leave No Trace coordinator, are the parents of Leo, age 2. “My all-time favorite gift,” Sara says, was a combination stroller, jogger, and ski pulk. “We’ve been putting Leo in it almost since he was born, using it for walks, running, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing”—in other words, four-season recreation. She notes that families with young children sometimes feel limited in their outdoor activities. “Something like this or a backpack carrier,” she says, “really increases the options.” (Look at Chariot child trailers to see one option.)
– “The best gift we’ve given our daughter is a bright green raincoat,” says Stefanie Brochu, director of AMC’s Youth Opportunities Program. “We invested in a lightweight, good quality coat and it was worth the money. It cinches at the wrist (very important!) and grew with her. We bought it when she was just 18 months and it lasted until she was almost four. Then we passed it down to her younger sister. We’ve had some great adventures together, knowing that she is just as comfortable in rainy and windy weather as my husband and I are. When other families stay inside on a rainy day we’re out hiking, stomping through giant puddles, or exploring a coastline. Our daughter now loves being outside in all types of weather and I think that the little green raincoat has been a big part of that.
– Sara DeLucia recommends sleds as great gifts for kids in snow country. AMC member Owen Borek, age 12, who hiked the full length of the Appalachian Trail in 2010 with his mother, Cheryl Borek, seconds that idea, but with a slight difference: He’s hoping for a toboggan this year.
– Headlamps, Cheryl Borek says, “open up all kinds of possibilities for exploring outside at night.” For extra fun, Matt Heid suggests LEGO-person flashlights and headlamps.
– AMC Senior Interpretive Naturalist Nancy Ritger and Shannon LeRoy, office and programs manager for AMC’s Maine Woods Initiative, offer ideas to encourage children’s interest in nature: binoculars and a bird book; a butterfly coloring book and a net; a bug cage and activity guide; a guide to the seashore like AMC’s Seashells in My Pocket packaged with a hand lens or activities book; a guide to the stars plus hot chocolate and a promise to go outside and stargaze.
– One of the best gifts AMC guidebook authors and photographers Jerry and Marcy Monkman ever got for their children were child-sized snowshoes, bought when Quinn and Acadia were preschoolers. Snowshoes “let us explore the outdoors as a family at the drop of a hat,” Jerry says. The family also paddles together. Before Jerry and Marcy invested in kayaks for their children, they signed them up for a week of kayaking camp. “The kids loved it,” Jerry says. “By the end of the week they could handle a kayak as well as we can.”
– “I’d love to be able to give my 9-year-old son an experiential gift instead of a tangible gift,” says Eric Stones, a trip leader for AMC’s Connecticut Chapter. His son Roderick, he says with fatherly humor, “unfortunately prefers to open presents.” For gifts a child can unwrap, Stones recommends hydration systems (“It gets them carrying their own water and makes it fun to hydrate on the trail”) and ski gear packages. These packages, which are available for cross-country and downhill ski gear, start with one purchase and then offer low-cost upgrades: “Our local downhill ski store does a free trade up for children’s equipment (for children up to 110 lbs.) if you buy a ski package from them,” Stone says. “It seemed expensive when the little guy was 4 years old, but he’s traded up 4 times now for free and he’s still only 60 pounds.”
The Whole Family
– Heid calls the REI Base Camp 6 the best family camping tent: “Huge, straightforward to set up, and bomber weather-proof.” h
– Nathan Schumacher leads trips for AMC’s Youth Opportunities Program. He suggests sparking outdoor adventures with homemade gift coupons. Create coupon books that can be redeemed for particular hikes—sections of a long trail, perhaps, or to the summits of 3,000- or 4,000-footers, or for 10 state parks or conservation areas. Or add coupons to other gifts—coupons for trips to letterbox locations, for example, that accompany a stamp-making kit and a compass.
– Spending time outside with children is a year-round gift, as Kim Foley MacKinnon learned while researching AMC’s new guidebook, Outdoors with Kids Boston, due out in spring 2012. “As I wrote my book,” she says, “I was acutely aware of how little in our day-to-day lives my family (and our friends) spend just ‘being’ together with no agenda (and not much of it outside). During my research, I spent hours with my 12-year-old daughter and many of her friends, and it was freeing just to wander around together.” MacKinnon thinks it was easier to be outside when she was growing up. “It is rare for my daughter and her friends to have that much time now,” she says. “As counterintuitive as it sounds, I think we have to plan those kinds of days now.” MacKinnon hopes other parents will give their children this gift by scheduling hikes, or clearing the family’s calendar and taking off for an afternoon of exploring. Being outside together as a family, she says, is “invigorating and renewing and ultimately very rewarding.”
Image from Ollie’s Ski Trip, by Elsa Beskov.
“Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.