Family camping trips entail much more than smoky clothing and mosquito bites.
For adults, camping can be more than enduring sleepless nights on the cold, hard ground and puzzling about how to cram all the damp, dirty gear back in the car because nothing seems to pack the same for the trip home.
For the kids, these outdoor adventures can be more than s’mores smeared on smiling faces and creepy nighttime noises beyond the thin tent fabric that ignite the imagination.
For grownups, family camping trips can mean opportunities to hand down a heritage. For the young ones, family camping trips can be rites of passage. Last summer, I spent some time teaching a couple of my grandsons how to start a campfire using a ferro rod. I also presented a young family friend with his first pocketknife.
Being trusted with fire and sharp tools can be significant milestones in a child’s life. They eagerly accept the chance to show they’re ready take on the responsibility. Sometimes they’re a bit too eager and you have to slow things down to make sure they build their skills safely and correctly.
When helping to put together the special section in this issue, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a mere sampling of some recommended edged tools for camping with a few how-to tips sprinkled in.
I wanted to make the point that there’s no better time to introduce children to knives than on a camping trip. Naturally, the appropriate age to do this can vary from one child to another.
We’re all passionate about our blades. We never seem to tire when it comes to discussing them, debating their merits, shopping for them. But a camping trip is a great time to put them to good use, actually to use them for their designed purposes.
So while we’re at it, let’s pass not just the skills, but the passion we have for them along to our children. Teaching knife skills to children instills focus, discipline, and responsibility along with self-reliance.
I’ve mentioned before that my first knife was an old Boy Scout folder handed down from my older brother with my parents’ permission. That momentous event happened on a family camping trip. Yes, it was a long time ago, but we don’t need to delve that deep into specifics.
Under careful, constant scrutiny by the adults, I whittled lots of sticks that vacation. That same trip, after some initial instruction, my brother challenged me to gather and arrange a small pile of tinder and kindling in such a way that I could coax it into a campfire with a single match.
As I learned these skills, I was also developing the ability to concentrate on performing these tasks safely. I was earning the trust of my parents, and I hoped, the respect of my big brother.
And when you’re on that family camping trip, be mindful that children have been known to wander off if you turn your back on them for only a moment. So don’t just put a knife in your child’s pocket.
Add a whistle and a compass too, and make sure they know the basics of how to respond if they find themselves separated from you. You won’t be adding just a measure of safety, but you’ll also be setting the stage for that child’s self-assured lifetime of exploration and adventure.
Steven Paul Barlow