Adventurous Dads Offer Advice on Raising Kids to Enjoy Outdoor Activities

father and son outdoor lake
DisobeyArt / Shutterstock

My earliest memories as a kid include sailing and camping in the backcountry. That’s why at 18, the day after I graduated from high school, I moved to Yosemite, where I became a dirtbag rock climber and later went on expeditions around the world. Today, in my 40s, there are more crash pads than couches in my house, and the adventures only continue. But now, many of my friends have kids and families, altering their lives, but offering new opportunities to create those same memories capable of fueling a lifetime of adventure.

I needed to know how the adventures continued.

First, I reached out to my old friend, computer programmer and artist Mike Dewey in Oakland, CA, to ask his advice for adventure dads. For years, Dewey and I climbed El Cap, and as his kids have grown, he’s shared his love for the vertical with them. His boys ride mountain bikes, enjoy camping in the Sierra Nevada, and just like their father, they love climbing.

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Mike Dewey active dad outdoor fathers
Courtesy Mike Dewey

Then I talked to Sean Jones, my neighbor in Mariposa, CA. Jones has completed 100 first ascent rock climbs— just in Yosemite. He takes his kids with him everywhere, including exploratory climbing in Shuteye Ridge (east of Bass Lake). He also takes them into the Merced River for river wave riding.

climbing dad outdoor father
courtesy Sean Jones

My third call was to Elevation Outdoors editor and MJ contributor Doug Schnitzspahn from Boulder, CO. I have climbed with Doug and his kids for years; they’re like family. This spring as COVID-19 shutdown Boulder, the Schnitzspahns took their adventures inside, where they applied camping skills to divvy up responsibilities and have some fun. They also took off out their front door and made steep and strenuous hikes and rode their bikes around the city and beyond.

outdoor dad with covid mask
courtesy Doug Schnitzpahn

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These fathers share their hard-won wisdom, both at how the health crisis has affected their activities, and how they’ve adapted to the changes in their outdoor adventures.

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Dewey: “We often go to a BMX park, and I get on a bike and head out there with them. Our excitement can feed off each other’s, and it is easy for me to show true enthusiasm when they start talking about a jump that evening over dinner. I think it is also important to show your kids what it means to be a good partner, and a good partner makes a trip a shared experience even when your abilities are not perfectly matched.”

Schnitzspahn: “The big thing is scheduling, a written schedule that has goals. Like at 8 a.m. you’re going to get an hour of exercise. They’ve been setting goals too and have kept busy SUP’ing, biking and skateboarding.”

On Raising Resilient Kids

Jones: “[My three kids], they started climbing when they were 1. We had a climbing wall in the house. Raising them as resilient means supporting them to get up when they fall. The key is when they’re really little, keep doing what you are doing and bring them with you.”

Schnitzspahn: “I think the most amazing thing when [the coronavirus pandemic] started, we knew this drill, it was normal for us. They had already been camping. They knew how to hunker down and work under stricter rules that are needed from car camping and backpacking. Isa (teenage daughter) cataloged what food we had in the cabinets, which was a skill she learned from car camping and river trips.”

“Kieran (teenage son) and I have paired off on real adventures, like doing Bear Peak or doing a mountain bike ride. We would find ways to use bike paths, so we never had to get in the car.”

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Dewey: “I got the kids good sleeping bags and left them around the living room for a while. They played with the bags a lot, and often even chose to use sleeping bags when they slept in their regular beds. When we did go camping for the first time, the sleeping bag was already familiar, and they knew how to adjust the zippers to make it comfortable.”

Jones: “It became normal for them right away. We spent four months in and out of Shuteye when my son was nine months old. The mountain became his second home. I just had Willow (age 5) out with me for five days in the backcountry in Shuteye. Only the two of us.”

Schnitzspahn: “The kids have been camping since before they can remember. It’s always been a way for them to see new things and get away from the day to day. They’ve never had a problem with it is as they’ve done it for long.”

“Especially for little kids, there’s always something for them to learn when they’re out there, like looking at stars, learning to identify birds, and cooking marshmallows.”

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