A Mom’s Guide to River Ready Kids

By: Daniel Iglehart
Kids on Log in French Broad River
Danielle’s kids take a break on a log in the French Broad

As Labor Day weekend unfolded with friends in Black Mountain, NC, we got to reminiscing about the days in which all we required for a multi-day trip was a backpack each–thoughtfully packed, of course, traveling light with a handle of whiskey and broad smiles.  Perhaps most importantly, we took with us a level of spontaneity that you just can’t achieve when you’re outfitting a family of four—including a 7-year-old and 4-year-old.  I learned from my experiences, and I’ve put together a guide for the entry level river-bound family.

By now, my kiddos are old pros at camping, hiking, and just plain being river rats.  They’re happiest when they’re entertained, and what better place to keep them busy than an atmosphere where inside voices are null, running is encouraged, and the dirtier you are, the more fun you’re having?!  Our time in North Carolina was limited, but our level of merriment was boundless.  Preparation, realism, and flexibility proved to be our BFFs as we navigated an incredibly mellow seven-mile stretch on the French Broad and a brief but breathtaking summit on Lookout Mountain.  Sounds like a great time, right?  Did I mention that our buddies brought along their 6-year-old and 2-year-old on these adventures, as well?  Four adults.  Four children under 8.  Plenty of microbrews.  No melt downs.  One hell of a weekend.

On the river, we took just the essentials but carefully considered what was going to keep these littles going during our stretch from the Bent Creek put in to the Hominy Creek takeout.  PFD’s, a dry bag, insulated screw top water bottles, a Yeti cooler, sandwiches, snacks, sunscreen…of course, all on my every float must-haves list.  A few of my favorite handy items you may not have considered taking on your next paddling adventure are…

An extra vessel and a tie down strap  

We had our five-man inflatable raft, two inflatable stand up paddle boards, and an inflatable kayak with us.  Knowing it would take two adults to successfully manage the big raft, we strapped up one of the SUPs to it for an easy tow behind.  The kids LOVED jumping from vessel to vessel freely, being able to stretch out, play, and enjoy the ride without the added responsibility of paddling themselves all day and getting fidgety—that’s where meltdowns happen, even for my two, who usually paddle their own kayaks with ease and impressive agility.

A waterproof Bluetooth speaker

Sure, we jam our tunes all day long and the kids don’t mind, but once in awhile it’s nice to let them choose a song they want to sing along to.  It freshens their mindset and gets them reenergized.  I’ve learned that at their ages, having that type of autonomy basically makes them feel like the bee’s knees.

Long sleeved rash guards 

You will rarely see me on the water without one, and you will certainly not see my children without one.  This is a healthful and helpful choice all around!  Less sunscreen application means not only less struggling with the kids, but less sunscreen in general means less chemicals on the skin—and less in the water, protecting our waterways, wetlands, and the animals that reside there.  Also, rash guards help to keep you cool, and provide an extra layer of protection between your body and your personal flotation device to prevent irritation or itching.  Comfortable kids are happy kids!

Guide to river ready kids with Outside World Outfitters Flag
The kids show their support for OWO! Thanks guys!

A release buckle lanyard and dry phone bag


For me, this is necessary.  I love every photo of my kids on the water and the release buckle lanyard allows me to unclip the bottom section that holds onto the phone bag without having to remove my hat and fumble around (because I’m clumsy and that kind of nonsense will send me right off my SUP and into the water).

A sense of humor

Hey, you’re going outside to play, right?  If your kids get to the hangout spot on the bank and want to pop up covered in river muck pretending to be swamp monsters once or twice, they’ll live, and so will you…even if you’re cringing, like I was this time around.  They’re filthy by this point anyway, and if you leave the river clean, you’re not doing it right.

Maybe the ONLY thing I’ve felt like I had control of during the last 7 years of parenting experience is my own level of preparedness—and man, it’s saved my behind and our experience more than a few times!  Don’t let a new outdoor adventure intimidate you—YOU’VE GOT THIS, and your kids are capable of more than you think!  A little cautious and inventive pre-planning will go a long way towards outfitting your family for success!  Sure, we need a little more than a backpack and a handle of bourbon these days, but it’s absolutely do-able.  I know this great store in Dawsonville that has everything you need (besides the sandwiches and beers, of course)…

Is your family river ready?  See you outside!

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