Skills

What The World’s Greatest Adventurers Teach Their Kids

What outdoor skills should your kids know? We went to 18 professional explorers, athletes, and naturalists for answers.

Chris Burkard

There’s no more rich classroom than the one found in the great outdoors. Nature has a lot to teach our kids. There are of course the concrete skills — the knots and fire-starters and natural fishing lures you find in Boy Scout manuals or the mind of Bear Grylls. The softer skills are no less profound: stewardship and humility and how to “live deliberately,” as the great outdoorsman Thoreau put it. When it all comes together, it’s hard to overstate how much of an impact a relationship with nature can have on a kid. “The hard skills, the conservation ethics, risk tolerance, stewardship, and more will eventually come if they are drawn to the thing, whatever it is, that brings them outside more often,” says Eric Larsen, a polar explorer and dad of two kids who know their way around a campsite. Still, nature can be harsh — a cold, wet, and downright dangerous classroom — and as parents, we need to guide the kids. To home in on the parental tools needed to safely navigate this rich and varied world, Fatherly went straight to the biggest names in adventure and asked them for the single most important skill they have (or plan to) pass down to their children. The result is a master class in adventure skills, for parents to explore and kids to learn.

Read the Ocean

From the time his boys were very young, renowned outdoor photographer Chris Burkard began teaching them to “read” the ocean. Before one can safely swim and surf, says Burkard, they must learn to observe the ocean, preferably from an elevated perspective like a pier, cliff, or the top of a staircase. Even very small children can learn to spot groupings of birds and seals on the water. From there, the lesson moves on to watching how ocean water moves. Waves are the most obvious, but the wind’s effect on water can also be seen, as can the presence of a rip current — a strong, narrow current of water that appears like a river and flows strongly away from the shoreline. “The whole point is, before you touch and feel the water, you’re studying it with your eyes,” says Burkard. “It’s teaching them to be observant and not just rush out into the water.”

Chris Burkard is a father of two, and world-renowned outdoor adventure photographer, filmmaker, and surfer. His relationship with the ocean has taken him to some of the coldest, most remote places on Earth. His new book Wayward: Stories and Photographs (Abrams, 2022) narrates some of his most notable journeys.

Organize Camp

When Rue Mapp, founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, took her three children camping, basic campsite tasks were just as much a part of the experience as the more adventurous to-dos like making a fire or ascending a nearby vista. “Everyone is responsible for a camp task such as preparing the food, pitching the tent, washing the dishes, or deciding our daily activities,” Mapp says. Ultimately, having an organized and efficient campsite helped inspire wilderness confidence in her kids. “My children also learned early that everyone has to work together to produce high-quality experiences in nature,” she says. As they got older, Mapp started putting her kids in charge of organizing an entire trip — such as a family bike ride — which gave them a sense of ownership in the outdoors, further increasing their confidence.

Rue Mapp, a newly minted grandmother, launched Outdoor Afro in 2009. It's become the nation's leading organization in connecting Black people with the outdoors through outdoor education, recreation, and conservation. Mapp serves on the board of directors of The Wilderness Society and is chair of the California State Park and Recreation Commission by appointment of the governor.

Freedive ... In a Bathtub

At barely 5 years old, ocean adventurer Willie Mitchell’s oldest son sticks to small-scale expeditions. His favorite? Freediving in the bathtub with dad. “He’ll be like, ‘OK, I’m going freediving,’” says Mitchell. “And then he goes under and does hang times of like 22, 23 seconds down there!” When Mitchell’s son surfaces, he places a pretend urchin in a little plastic bucket and invites Mitchell to share it with him. Mitchell plays along, guiding his son on how to locate the spiny echinoderm’s mouth to crack it open and eat it. “He’s beginning to make the connection with where his food comes from, and how to sustainably harvest it,” says Mitchell, who provides a sizable portion of his family’s food himself, directly from the ocean. Besides fish, crabs, and prawns, Mitchell also feeds his kids delicacies from the intertidal zone, including oysters, urchins, acorn barnacles, gooseneck barnacles, aquatic snails, and sea cucumbers.

Next up for his son is learning to snorkel in the intertidal zone, which Mitchell thinks the boy will be ready for this summer. It’s one more piece of what Mitchell calls the “circular experience,” in which kids start to understand that everything is connected, from the food they eat to the waste they make, and begin to live their lives accordingly.

After retiring from the NHL, two-time Stanley Cup Champion Willie Mitchell, now a dad of 5-year-old and 1-year-old boys returned to Vancouver Island, where he grew up, and opened Tofino Resort + Marina, a boutique hotel and adventure center. An avid angler, ocean forager, and free diver, Mitchell is regarded locally as a pioneer of both deep-sea tuna fishing and spearfishing off the island’s rugged west coast.

Build a Fire

Oceanographer and environmental activist Philippe Cousteau Jr.’s two kids are 7 months and 2.5 years old — a bit young for serious outdoors skills. But for Cousteau, there’s no time like the present. He has started their outdoor education in the backyard planter boxes where, this season, the family is growing tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs. The little one plays in the dirt, and the older one is learning how to plant plants, tend the soil, and what to do with compost. “They’re learning how that whole cycle works,” says Cousteau. “Not only plants, but the bugs and insects and pollinators that are part of it. A lot of kids are afraid of bees — not my kids.”

When they’re older, around 10, Cousteau will teach them a skill he learned at that age and is still proud of today: how to build a log-cabin fire at a backcountry campsite. The kind that can boil water in the wilderness in less than three minutes. “There’s an art to making a really good fire,” Cousteau says. “And a responsibility — you need to understand where you can build a fire, where you can’t. You have to understand the rules, the drought, and, really, the rhythm of nature.”

The son of Philippe Cousteau and the grandson of Jacques Cousteau, Philippe Cousteau Jr. founded EarthEcho International in 2005 with his sister, to continue the work of his father and grandfather in educating the public about environmental issues. The nonprofit works with partners across the world engaging young people to make an impact in sustainability and conservation.

Clean A Fish

Outdoor adventurer and educator Phil Henderson’s favorite thing to do in the outdoors is fish, especially fly-fishing. He taught his daughter, who is now a teenager, how to catch fish when she was 5. “I believe her first fish was on a fly,” says Henderson, “if not a fly, with a lure for sure.”

The lesson didn’t stop there. He soon taught her to clean and cook her own fish over a campfire. Henderson skirted the potential “eww, gross” factor of gutting a fish by exposing his daughter to the practice early. “I taught her that in order to fish, she had to know how to clean them,” says Henderson. She also had to know how to carefully return a fish that she wasn’t going to eat to the water.

Henderson feels that fishing itself teaches one the self-sufficiency and confidence that comes from being able to feed yourself in the outdoors. It also imparts ethics, compassion, and respect for life — as well as the lesson that you that you can reduce your stress level by engaging in relaxing activities in nature. “All very important things in a healthy life,” Henderson says.

Phil Henderson is the expedition leader for Full Circle Everest Expedition, the first team of Black climbers to summit on Mount Everest, on 18 May, 2022. He is one of the few African Americans to have summited Denali, and, in 2018, led an all-Black ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro. Henderson received the Outdoor Afro Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020 for his many contributions, including more than 20 years spent mentoring and educating youth as an instructor with NOLS.

Swim (Before You Can Walk)

Marine biologist and shark conservationist Jillian Morris started carrying her infant daughter into warm, protected ocean inlets near her home in the Bahamas as early as 1 month old. At 6 months old (the age infant aquatics programs typically begin), her baby went under for the first time. “I have it on 8K video,” Morris says. “Her mouth’s closed, her eyes are open, you can see the joy. It’s very natural for them at that age; there’s no fear.” At 13 months, Morris started her daughter in swimming lessons. “A big part of swimming lessons is teaching parents the activities that they can work on with their kids in the water, which is super helpful,” she says. Morris feels that early childhood swimming lessons grants access to (and comfort with) the most predominant form of nature in the world — our rivers, lakes, and oceans.

Jillian Morris could swim before she could walk. In addition to her work as a marine biologist and shark conservationist, Morris is the founder and president of Sharks4Kids, a nonprofit dedicated to shark education, outreach, and adventure. She’s authored two children’s books, Norman the Nurse Shark and Shark Super Powers, and is currently at work on her third.

Put Your Coat on Before You’re Cold

Mountaineering guide Peter Whittaker wanted his son and a daughter, both now in their early 20s, to make the transition from being guided by him to becoming independent thinkers who could hold their own in the mountains. He started with simple decisions, with consequences that weren’t too extreme. “When they were little, I’d tell them, ‘Don’t wait to get cold before you put your jacket on,’” he says. “As they got older, I stopped telling them and watched them get cold — which is kind of tough when it’s your kids and they’re suffering a little bit, but they would learn.”

Whittaker’s world is high-altitude mountain climbing (he’s taken his kids up Kilimanjaro and to over 20,000 feet in the Ecuadorian Andes), but he says the lesson can be taught just as easily in the flatlands of the U.S. Midwest. Take the example of cold hands. “You can tell your kids, ‘You need to put your gloves on’ over and over again, and they’re out there with no gloves, snowball fighting until their hands get cold,” Whittaker says. “And then they’re inside and into the rewarming phase, which can be rather painful. But they’re learning a life lesson.”

When his children were in their teens, Whittaker would let them set the pace while out ski mountaineering with dad. The kids always started way too fast (even though Whittaker had been telling them their entire lives that you need to start slow). Instead of reining them in, he’d wait until they bonked, and then have a discussion on why. “You’re not trying to punish them,” Whittaker says. “You just want them to have that experience directly with the mountain, so they learn to listen to the mountain.”

Peter Whittaker co-owns RMI Expeditions, the largest guide service in the United States, with expeditions all over the globe. He has summitted or guided many of the planet’s greatest mountains, including his home peak, Mt. Rainier, more than 240 times. Whittaker's uncle Jim was the first American to climb Mt. Everest, in 1963. His father Lou was one of the greatest mountaineering guides of his time, leading expeditions on the world’s three tallest peaks: Everest, K2, and Kangchenjunga.

ID Trees

Susan Tyler Hitchcock, the author of Into the Forest: The Secret Language of Trees, raised her two children in the country and wanted them to know the trees that lived nearby. Together, they’d gather autumn leaves, bring them home, and iron their findings between two pieces of wax paper. From those “little museum pieces,” her kids were able to observe that a red oak tree’s leaves are much pointier than a white oak's and that a Sassafras tree’s leaf looks like a mitten.

Hitchcock contends that knowing a plant by name is the first step in establishing a relationship with it, which not only helps connect people more strongly with the natural world, but also inclines us to protect species that we know personally. “One of the things I write about in Into the Forest is a pair of botanists who in 1999 proposed the concept of plant blindness,” says Hitchcock. “When we raise kids, we give them stuffed animals, we take them to the zoo, we really point their attention toward animals more than toward plants.” This didn’t happen in Hitchcock’s household, and she feels it led to a stronger conservation mindset in her children, who are grown now, and to a stronger relationship with nature. In fact, both ended up making plants their livelihood; her son works at a vineyard, her daughter in floriculture.

Susan Tyler Hitchcock is the author of more than a dozen books; Into the Forest: The Secret Language of Trees (National Geographic, 2022) is her latest. She is also a senior editor in National Geographic's book division, specializing in nature and science.

Work Through The Fear

When Matthias Giraud’s son decided, at age 5, that he wanted to learn tricks on a skateboard, Giraud, a big mountain skier and BASE jumper, knew he wouldn’t be of much help. “I love skateboarding, but I’m a horrible skateboarder,” Giraud says. So he got the boy lessons. On the day that his son was learning to drop in on a vert ramp, he looked down at Giraud and said, “Papa, I’m scared.”

The comment triggered Giraud’s recollection of his own process for dealing with fear in the outdoors, like when he’s about to jump off a cliff. First he validates the fear. “I told him, good, you should be, you’re about to do something gnarly,” recalls Giraud. Next he reminded his son of what the sensation of fear means in extreme outdoor pursuits: that it’s time to pay close attention, to concentrate, to focus. Then, he instructed the boy to close his eyes and see in his head exactly the move he was going to do. His son was quiet for a moment, then opened his eyes and said, “OK I saw it.” Giraud confirmed, “You’re ready to drop in,” and the boy did.

“I can’t teach him the tricks on how to be a good skater, but I can teach him the mental tricks of how to execute properly,” says Giraud. “People say little kids can’t focus, and that’s f*cking bullsh*t — pardon my French.”

Professional mountain athlete Matthias Giraud, aka “Super Frenchie,” has one son. He is best known for combining skiing with BASE jumping, completing first descents across the globe. His ski BASE jump from Mont Blanc in 2019 set a world record for highest altitude, and he is the first person to ski BASE jump off all three peaks of the Alps trilogy: Mont Blanc, Eiger, and Matterhorn. Super Frenchie, a documentary about Giraud’s life, and near-death after a crash in the Northern Alps, premiered in 2021.

Pack a Bag and Plan an Overnight

Scott Briscoe, a mountain adventurer and the executive director of WeGotNext, is currently teaching his daughter, 7, an essential skill in mountaineering: the art of packing your bag. “It started with day outings near our home in the Mission District of San Francisco,” says Briscoe. “Those lessons carried over to our overnights — we’re doing one to two nights now — in Tahoe National Forest.” First, Briscoe and his daughter talk through what they’re going to need, including the types of food and water, based on the amount of time they’re going to be gone. They make a list, which he says is not only critical for remembering what to pack, but also fun for his daughter, who enjoys running down lists and checking things off. “I love paper maps, so one of those is always on the list,” Briscoe says.

His daughter packs her own backpack, and then puts it on so they can test the fit. “We talk about how it feels on her back,” Briscoe says. “Does it feel like it’s pulling her down? Is it well-balanced? Does it feel like she’ll be able to carry it really well?” Their last step is a phone call, usually to the grandparents to tell someone where they’re going and for how long. “These are really simple and accessible skills for my daughter, at her age and with her having a neurological difference,” Briscoe says. “And they’re the same skills I’d use on longer and more technical expeditions.”

Scott Briscoe was a member of the first African American team to climb Denali, the highest mountain peak in the United States. In 2019, he founded WeGotNext, a non-profit that amplifies individual stories of adventure and environmental activism from underrepresented communities including Black, Indigenous, brown, LGBTQIA+, and people who identify as having a physical or neurological difference.

Read a Mountain

Ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson lives in Telluride, where she frequently recreates with her two boys at the local ski resort, all the while peppering them with questions about the terrain. “Are we on a north or south-facing aspect? What’s the pitch? Based on that snow over there, which way did the wind blow? Is this a convex or concave slope?” Nelson is teaching her kids to make the same observations she does to assess snow safety when she’s at work in the field, whether in places like the Himalaya or in the San Juan mountains of Colorado.

“I feel like if I’m pounding that into them now, hopefully it will become second nature to them when they start skiing the backcountry,” Nelson says. And if her boys end up never becoming backcountry skiers, she thinks the real skill she’s teaching them is critical thinking, which translates into all areas of life. “You can take this as a metaphor for anything,” Nelson says. “I hope they’ll be able to stand at the top of something, and instead of just jumping in, to lift their heads up and look around them and get perspective, get their bearings, and to make better decisions based on what they’re observing.”

Hilaree Nelson, mother of two, is a North Face athlete and former National Geographic Adventure of the Year. She’s considered one of the best ski mountaineers in the world, and has amassed multiple firsts in the sport including the first-ever ski descent of Lhotse, the fourth highest peak on the planet, and the first woman to summit both Everest and Lhotse back-to-back in 24 hours.

Sit With Boredom

When adventurer Erik Weihenmayer’s kids were really young, he read the book No Child Left Inside by Richard Louv, and absorbed the author’s advice about the importance of unstructured play, sending them beyond a small fence to the creek in his yard. “Louv said to just throw them over the fence, and we literally had that fence," says Weihenmayer. “They'd go back there and make bridges and dams and catch crawdads. They’d jump out of trees and build forts and slide on their butts down mudslides and come back filthy.”

The real lesson in this experiment, says Weihenmayer, was that his kids had to deal with boredom. They would sit on a stump, head in hands, complain, and try to come home. Weihenmayer sent them right back out. “It starts like that, I think,” he says, “with a little bit of boredom. If you let them be bored, they’ll find something to do, they’ll go catch a tadpole. And they take that into their adult life, in terms of how to lead people and how to be creative, how to understand the consequences, the real consequences of the real world, not what mommy and daddy tell you.”

Erik Weihenmayer was the first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest, in 2001, and the first blind person to stand atop the Seven Summits — the highest peak on each of the seven continents. He went on to found No Barriers, a non-profit organization that empowers people to overcome obstacles, live a life of purpose, and give back to the world. Weihenmayer continues to push the limits of what’s considered possible for a blind person in the outdoors, most recently by kayaking the entire 277 miles of the Grand Canyon.

Be in Your Body

Starting when ultrarunner Katie Arnold’s daughters were babies, she and her husband began taking them on wilderness river rafting trips with other families. During the safety talk, before putting the rafts into the water, she always took a moment to clarify that this was the wilderness, not a jungle gym where an accident was as simple as a quick trip to urgent care. She’d tell her girls and the other children, “We need you to take care of your own bodies and each other.”

Arnold, who is also a writer, chose the wording for her directive carefully. “It’s teaching them the autonomy and personal responsibility of looking after themselves, while also having that collective mindset that you always need on expeditions — and also in real life — which is that we also need to look out for each other. Because if something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us.”

Now that her girls have entered adolescence, and are seriously into skiing (both are part of the ski team at their local resort), Arnold’s employed the directive, “Ski in your body.” In other words, “Don’t be in your brain thinking, ‘Who’s going to love this when I try to attempt this 360? Who’s going to see this tail grab?’ Ski in your body. If it’s your body saying, ‘Yeah I want to do this,’ then do it,” Arnold explains.

Something the directive does not say is “be careful.” Which is also intentional on Arnold’s part. “There’s this gender bias where we tell girls to be safe and boys to go for it,” says Arnold, “and I didn’t want to be perpetuating that.” Arnold adopted the directive from her own mantra as a professional runner, “Run in your body.” “It’s a more evolved version of, 'Take care of your bodies and each other,'” she says. “But it’s the same message to stay in your body, be aware of it. And act accordingly. And I think you can apply that to anything.”

Katie Arnold is professional ultrarunner who’s won many of America’s most elite races including the Leadville Trail 100, TransRockies, and the Angel Fire 100. She is also an award-winning freelance writer and contributing editor at Outside magazine, where her column “Raising Rippers,” about bringing up adventurous kids, ran from 2011 to 2019. Arnold’s memoir Running Home (Random House, 2019) recounts the healing powers of long-distance running in the wake of her father’s death.

Develop a Tolerance for Discomfort

Climber Alex Honnold hopes to pass along his love of adventure to his infant daughter, who was born this past February. He says the most useful skill for that is a mental one: getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. “Or at least to develop a tolerance for the discomfort,” Honnold says. “It gets dark and starts to rain? No problem, that's just part of life. Being a little cold and wet doesn't really matter on the grand scale.”

Honnold contends that a life of adventure requires such equanimity, and the self-confidence to handle whatever situation may arise. If outdoor adventure doesn’t turn out to be his daughter’s thing, he hopes the skill will serve her well in all other aspects of life.

“But to be fair, I'm only two months into fatherhood,” Honnold says, “so I haven't really had any opportunities to ‘parent.’ Though we have been taking her hiking and to the crag already, so I guess she's getting used to cold wind at a young age.”

Alex Honnold is best known for using the free-solo style of rock climbing, forgoing the use of ropes and other gear to protect him in case of a fall. In 2019, Free Solo, a documentary about his quest to complete a free-solo climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, became the first climbing film ever to win an Academy Award.

Find Adventures Everywhere

Diane Regas, president and CEO of the Trust for Public Land, has three grown sons who regularly climb, ski, paddle, hike, and cycle. “I asked them what made the difference when they were kids,” Regas says, “and they all said some version of ‘make getting outside easy and fun.’” She used to take her boys to the local park almost daily, to state and national parks every few months, and further afield every year. “We also created special events, like we would wake the household early on a school day, go get donuts, and arrive at the cherry blossoms in D.C. at about 6:30 a.m.,” Regas says. “We all enjoyed the treat — and they arrived at school energized, if a little late.”

Regas feels there’s an important nexus between enabling these types of childhood experiences for her sons, and the focus of the work she now does at the Trust for Public Land. “We know that access to the outdoors is a fundamental human need,” she says, “and yet there is a significant outdoor equity gap in America: 100 million people, including 28 million children, do not have access to a park within a 10-minute walk from home.” Regas aspires to close that gap by creating more places that bring us outside — parks, trails, playgrounds and public lands — and making them available and welcoming to everyone, everywhere.

Diane Regas is the president and CEO of the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit conservation organization that works to connect everyone to the benefits and joys of the outdoors. She is the former executive director of the Environmental Defense Fund, and prior to that, served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, working under both Democratic and Republican administrations to protect our nation’s rivers, lakes, and bays.

Ignore the First 15 Minutes

This one’s for the parents: While their three boys were growing up, alpinist Conrad Anker and his wife spent nearly every weekend and vacation with them outdoors. The family would hike and camp together in the mountains around their home in Bozeman, Montana, and further afield in places like Yosemite and Grand Teton national parks. During those outings, Anker noticed a pattern with the boys. “The first 15 minutes, it would be all grousing and complaining,” Anker recalls. “‘I want to go home. This is dumb. I want to do something else. Why are you making us do this?’ And then all of the sudden they’d get into having fun.”

He noticed the same thing can happen with adults. “Say you’re going for a run,” Anker says. “Those first 15 minutes when you’re trying to get yourself motivated can be a bit difficult, and then once you get over that little barricade, the fun sets in.” His takeaway? Just get through the first 15 minutes — they’re not representative of the rest of the experience. Or as he tried to instill in his boys: “The first 15 minutes might be miserable but then after that, happiness comes to you.”

Anker’s boys are now 26, 29, and 33. And while they may not be able to recite their dad’s mantra for the first 15 minutes, they remember some of the other ways their parents tried to sweeten the deal. “They still joke about ‘mid-flight refueling,’” says Anker. “They were absolutely enthralled with those big jumbo jets that have a nozzle that fills up a fighter jet mid-air, so we’d have them sip out of our Camelbacks filled with juice as they passed by us on the trail.” Anker and his wife also brought little fun-sized candy bars to encourage the boys not to give up.

Today, none of the boys need coaxing to spend time in the backcountry. And they’ve even picked up a few of dad’s best practices. “I always told them, you’ve got to pitch your tent before you go out on expedition to make sure it’s all there,” Anker says. “I’ll see them gearing up, getting ready to go camping with their friends in the woods, and I’ll see them pitch the tent in the yard before it’s time to head out.”

Conrad Anker is one of the most accomplished alpinists alive. His oldest son, Max Lowe, a photographer and filmmaker, directed the 2021 National Geographic film Torn, to document a transformational period in the Anker-Lowe family history. Lowe was 10 years old when his father Alex died in an avalanche. Two years later, his mother married Anker — Alex’s best friend and climbing partner — who raised Max and his brothers as his own.

Picking Fish

Corey Arnold’s son is still a toddler and his daughter just 10 weeks old, but as soon as they're old enough, perhaps 7 or 8, Arnold, who works as a National Geographic photographer and commercial fisherman, will take them out in the skiff, on a mellow day, and teach them how to harvest salmon from a gill net, or “picking fish,” as it’s called. “One of the most valuable skills is how fast you can pull a fish out of a gill net,” Arnold says.

Arnold spends every salmon season at an off-grid fishing camp in the middle of nowhere in Bristol Bay, Alaska, which may not seem like the best place for children. But Arnold knows otherwise. “It’s an amazing environment to raise kids around,” he says. “You see a lot of families out there working, picking fish out of the nets from the beach. Driving three- and four-wheelers around with trailers. Dogs running by. It’s a total adventure for the kids.”

And it’s chock full of important life lessons, according to Arnold. “I think there’s something about commercial fishing that really pushes the boundaries of what you physically and mentally thought was possible,” he says, “in regards to hard work and troubleshooting and uncomfortable situations like bad weather, wetness, big waves.”

In his 13 years working at the camp, Arnold has watched many of his colleagues’ kids, who spent their childhoods around commercial fishing, grow up into capable, confident, successful young adults. It starts with picking fish.

When he’s not shooting commercial, fine art, and documentary photography, Corey Arnold is working at the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery in Alaska. Bristol Bay is the most abundant sockeye fishery in the world because its watershed remains free from industrial development. Arnold is one of many who are fighting to keep it that way.

Have Fun Outside

Polar explorer Eric Larsen has two active and adventurous children under the age of 9, and instant access to one of the most storied outdoor environments in America straight out the door of his family’s home in Crested Butte, Colorado. But Larsen says that’s not necessarily enough for kids to feel drawn to nature and the outdoors. “You need to make it fun,” he says.

Larsen makes it fun by removing some of the rules and boundaries that his kids are subject to indoors or in town. “One of my favorite things right now is to set up at a remote car camping spot and just let them wander and explore without me guiding them,” says Larsen. “I’ve also set up a tent for them in our backyard, in the winter, which is a different kind of fun.”

At this stage, Larsen says he and his wife are playing the long game with the kids. “The hard skills, the conservation ethics, risk tolerance, stewardship, and more will eventually come,” he says. “Right now, my goal is to simply get them outside in as many ways as I can and having fun while we're out.”

One of the world’s most accomplished polar explorers, Eric Larsen is the first person to stand on the North Pole, the South Pole, and the summit of Mount Everest within a 365-day period. Larsen’s Last North Expedition, in which he traversed 500 miles, unsupported, to the geographic North Pole in 53 days, was featured on Animal Planet and Discovery Channel. The 2016 book On Thin Ice: An Epic Final Quest into the Melting Arctic narrates the arduous journey. In 2021, Larsen was diagnosed with stage 3 rectal cancer, and has openly shared the story of his struggle to recover. As of April 2022, he is NED (No Evidence of Disease).