Kids aren’t just short people; they’re small athletes. They’re also independent thinkers who we are trying to persuade (in not too pushy a fashion) to fall in love with our particular brand of outdoor obsession. After all, family vacations are much more fun when everyone actually wants to be there.
What’s the surest way to encourage a positive experience for anyone – young or old? Properly outfitted gear. You don’t need to spend a mint, but you do need to heed what will satisfy your kid’s physical and emotional needs.
- If there’s one rule to live by in buying kids gear, it’s this: Buy for the “young-uns” as you would have purchased for you. This is more about fit and performance than cost. A 10-year old doesn’t need a $5000 carbon road bike. But an in-shop, professional bike fit may make the difference between a lifelong, two-wheeled love affair and an hour of whining along the community bike trail.
- Listen to your kids. Some children lack the ability to articulate an exact problem, which can make it all too easy to assume they don’t have a serious issue. Your little one may complain that their ski boot hurts – a concept well-known to anyone who has ever skied. This is your opportunity to validate their experience (I’m sorry it hurts), educate them on what to expect (ski boots will not feel like slippers, but they shouldn’t cause too much pressure in one spot or cause your feet to fall asleep), and fix the problem (let’s try on different rental boots).
- Know that kids feel cold more quickly than adults. This is a physiological fact. Opt for high quality gloves, extra layers, all the accessories and toss-away hand warmers. They will not be happy with you as they get dressed, but they’ll thank you when they’ve had a full day of skiing or playing or sledding.
- Allow them to select their own gear. Bringing kids into the process of buying hard and soft goods touches on their affective need to connect with the sport – and to you, for that matter. Your kid may gravitate toward enough pink sparkle that you’ll be ready to puke up a unicorn. But that same pink sparkle parka and skis may be what gets him or her out of bed in the morning raring to go.
- Performance counts for kids, too. Most of us can’t throw down every six months for new top of line gear kits (skiing, cycling, hockey, climbing, you name it) to “grow with” our kids’ new size. Talk to your local shop and do your research to prioritize your gear budget. For example, if you’re not buying a full quiver of skis for your eight-year old recreational skier, consider a mid-fat size with early tip rise – just like you might for your own recreational fun. Sure your kid only weighs 60 pounds, but their skinny-waisted ski won’t do them any favors on a powder day.
Bottom line: Talk to your child about what interests them and listen to what they say. Gear first needs to meet their physical needs for comfort, warmth and safety (i.e. non-threatening). Then it should satisfy an emotional context of adding to the excitement of what they’re about to do. After that… fun awaits.