Benefits of Playing Outdoors

This weekend, I went with a good friend of mine (I’ll call him Luke) on a two night backpacking trip. I took my five oldest kids (ages 13, 11, 9, 8, and 5) and Luke took his three oldest (ages 11, 10 and 8, all boys). Because they never went on an overnight pack packing trip before, I decided to do a relatively easy trip. We hiked up to a lake, about a mile and 500 foot gain from the trailhead and set up camp. The following day, we did about a 4 mile loop up over a ridge, with about a 1,500 foot climb and back to camp.

The Long Winded Story

Now, I do not want to talk disparaging of my friend in anyway. But I could not help to notice the difference in our families during the hike. My oldest three and his 10 year old loved the hiking, they bounded forward and were like gazelles, going up the trail. His 11 year old, who is crushing on my 11 year old daughter, did his best to keep up with them. They wanted to explore and go on. I hung back with the little kids and Luke and tried to keep things organized.

When we got to the lake, we set up camp. I proceeded to set up our 4 person tent with my 5 year old, the girls set up theirs, and my oldest boy gathered firewood. 10 minutes, and done. They had a similar tent, which they took about a half hour. When we got done, we got on swimsuits and swam in the lake. My oldest three and swim well, and we hung swam around. Luke hung out with all his kids and my two youngest on the shore, maybe waded in up to their shoulders, but they couldn’t swim. I could tell their oldest boy totally wanted to swim out where my daughter and I were, and did his best to act cool along the shore, but couldn’t swim.

On top of that, the kid has a doughy build, not horribly overweight, but very little muscle mass. The rest of the family is the same. Luke is about 30-40 pounds overweight. He took two sleeping bags up to the lake (as did I and my oldest boy did) for his youngest boy, but I could tell he was more winded at 10,000 feet than we were. The slow one in the bunch was their 8 year old, not my 5 year old.

The following day, we packed up a lunch, our emergency ponchos and water we needed for the day hike. We made a four mile loop, half the distance was overland. The trip took about four hours hiking with another three hours skipping rocks at a lake, swimming, or goofing off. When we got back, I could tell Luke was not feeling well. He took a nap in his tent. Meanwhile, I swim with the kids and proceed to make dinner. After dinner, he lays down again. A half hour later, we are sitting there poking at the fire, and I hear him throwing up.

I ask if there is anything I can do for him, he says no. About an hour later, he is throwing up again. By this time, it is getting close to dusk. We discuss it, and decide it would be best if he goes on home. With little time to pack, they quickly grab their stuff. My oldest boy, my 9 year old girl, and I grab whatever is left and we head down to their car. Luke is sick, so he doesn’t carry anything, and we just load up their belongings into our backpacks and hoof it on down. Again, we are held up by their 8 year old boy, who is not carrying anything either.

When we get down, I give him one of my 5 hour energy drinks and we empty our backpacks into his car and we part ways. By now it is dark, for once, we can go as fast as we want and we hoof it right up to camp. My 5 year old is there, stirring the fire and we just hang out for a while until we go to bed.

In the morning, I wake up. My daughters soon follow, along with my 5 year old. To avoid the logistics of packing everything up tightly in order to carry two sleeping bags, and our tents (and to save on my back), I grab the sleeping bags and stuff with my daughters and we make another trip to our van to come back up before breakfast. This trip goes fast. After the oatmeal, we pack up all that is remaining and head home.

The Point of the Long Winded Story

Looking back on the trip, I can say that overall, my family enjoyed the trip much more than Luke’s family did. They were struggling more in the hiking, we think Luke got altitude sickness, they were unable to swim, and they struggled with logistics of setting up camp. What is more, because they spend more time with electronics, less time outside or doing physical activities, they have poorer health, and less attractive.

Now, you don’t have to necessarily be outdoors to gain those benefits, but you will need to put forth the effort in one way or another. Enroll your kids into swimming classes. If logistics make it difficult to get above 10,000 feet; there are gyms, climbing walls, sports, cool cars to work on and a plethora of other things you can do to see that you and your kids get some experience off of the electronics. Sure, you can spend time on electronics, but spend time off of electronics to become interesting to people around you.

Edit: Aftermath

So, after we put the kids to bed last night, my wife and I walk to the post office. Along the way, my wife starts talking about what Luke’s wife was saying about the trip. (They are good friends and hung out at the park the following day with their kids). Even though he got altitude sickness, Luke really enjoyed it, and was looking into getting more backpacking equipment for next year. She said it was the happiest Luke has been in quite some time.

I guess it being a new experience, it was more exciting for them than I thought.



Author: Jim Johnson

As a man in his early 40's, I grew up on a dairy farm in an irreligious home. Disgusted with the choice of women out there, I looked into religion to find a worthwhile mate. At 23, I joined the LDS (Mormon) faith, married, became a civil engineer, and now have six children. My favorite things are puppies, long walks on the beach, and the color blue (not really).