Geoff Mallinson

Digital Strategist and Delivery ★ Digital Project Management ★ Adventurer

Why green time beats homework

I was with my kids the other when one of them started being violent and disrespectful. We were watching a presentation at the end of a mountain bike race and he’s attention had long gone and he was struggling to keep things together. He was getting more and more out of control. My wife and I were struggling too, with his behaviour.

So I took him by the hand and led him off away from the group and we went and stood under a tree. It wasn’t even 15 seconds and he calmed down. See he’d spotted some ants on the ground. One in particular was working to cary a large (to the ant) object allow the ant corridor. He watched carefully, making notes on what they were doing. His fascination continued to grow.

I said “ok, you can come back now” his response was “can I stay here and watch the ants?”
“Sure” I was happy with that.

I took away confirmation that unstructured outdoor play (nature play) is beneficial to our children. I need to practice this more often.

Tomorrow is Nature Play NSW‘s “Boycott Homework Day“. Kids are spending less time outside than chickens and maximum security prisoners. I believe they deserve better. So boycott homework day is one day where instead of doing homework (which is a good thing) we’ll send the kids outside to play, in nature, unstructured.

Mountain Biking Pearl Beach

I had an opportunity to spend a very early morning with Matt Gracie from my local bike shop Ride Ettalong on a mountain bike ride along the water from Ocean Beach to Pearl Beach.

I had my quadcopter out and did some filming of the ride to share with you all what a gorgeous place this is. It’s even worth getting up early for sunrise.

How to make a day hike more enjoyable for your kids

We’ve all been there. You want to hike to the bottom of that great waterfall and the small kids are well…not to keen or able. The walk is turing into an endurance event far greater than the tiny distance you are trying to cover, an endurance event for the mind.

The little one wants to stop at every flower, rock and plant and wants you to share their excitement. Meanwhile the older ones are running off ahead. You’ve gone though enough games to entertain a small African country trying to motivate the kids to walk. And the peaceful but fun adventure you had in mind disappears amongst the building anger and frustration.

Free Nature Play

Free nature play on a family hike can make the adventure a positive one for the kids.

Here’s a tip to help you all have a good trip.

Free nature play.

1. Free

Let them do what they want. Allow a time and place for you to stop and for them to explore. It could be the bottom of a waterfall where they can muck about. See them get excited as they find rocks and sticks to play with and create their own games. You won’t have to entertain them. Please don’t. Resist the urge to tell them what and how to play. Let them play freely.

2. Nature

Well this part is easy. They’re outside, mucking about. Don’t just focus on the playground (which can be great) but find places in nature along your walk that they can play in. They don’t need to be amazing views. A small place to sit will do just fine. Every hour or so of travel or shorter depending on the walk and the age of your kids plan on stopping for a break and deliberate play time.

3. Play

Non-structured play. They’ll create games. They may get hurt or argue. Let them be and they’ll work through it. They’ll make it fun as long as you take care of the basics.

  • Water
  • Food
  • Sun protection
  • Correct clothing

So what should the parents do?

I get bored easily while sitting doing nothing. I encourage you to get something that you can do so you don’t end up hovering over the kids. They’ll get a better free nature play experience if they aren’t being closely watched by their parents. I firstly took up kite flying when we went to local parks. Now I do things from photography and often fly my quadcopter to getting footage of the nature we’re in.

We never stop for long enough. Every time we leave the kids want to stay there for more, I take that as a good sign.

Fear the wilderness or it will kill you

Childhood fairytales like “Little Red Riding Hood” taught us that there are big bad things in the woods. The message is reinforced by our loving and perhaps overcaring parents who “just want to keep us safe”.

As we grow up wilderness continues to become a place only “experienced” and “hard” men and women visit. A place better suited for those wanting to carry an 12 inch knife and who could build a shelter with a shoelace and driftwood. Those brave (or stupid) souls who head out “there”, well I could never do that, and why would I want to anyway?

The bush is so dangerous you’d have to have special military training and be like Bear Grylls just to “survive”.

Every rescue we hear builds the story we have in our minds of the danger lurking just behind surburbia. Who would dare go up to the mountains where a wild storm or avalanche will kill you? That is if you have not already been mauled by a wild beast. Only a few would survive long enough to die from dehydration.

The story continues as we feel unprepared to take our own children to wild places, and so we pass on the fear. Our boundaries of safety drift backwards towards our homes until there’s nowwhere natural to go. The mown grass at the local park becomes our “wild” and the untended overgrown bushes are “the last frontier”, not to be explored.

The cycle continues and our children’s only engagement with the wilderness is with a bulldozer or mining truck on the TV.

Perhaps it’s time for you to head out to the “wilderness” or somewhere natural.

Somewhere away from the man made. A place to sit and see the world for what it really is, and your place in it too. A place to look out at huge cliffs or perhaps an angry ocean or a heavily wooded forest.

Or we could go on fearing, making another excuse. I’m sure you’re too busy.

Teaching kids how to navigate

Knowing where you are during wilderness travel gives a sense of freedom and a greater level of immersion in the outdoor environment. My children feel more independent and less isolated by knowing how to navigate and being aware of their position.

Taking bearing for an upcoming hike

Taking bearing for an upcoming hike

I’ve learnt a few things over my last few trips as I’ve been working to teach my kids how to navigate.

Start with general awareness

  • Overall direction of travel
  • Main features
  • Use the street directory and travel in the car around your local area to give them a sense of navigation

Establish the fundamentals first

  • Let them see the mapping GPS you have, but teach them from a paper map and compass first
  • Encourage them to always be aware of navigation and where they are even when just doing your regular trips to the shopping center.

Let them have their own nav gear

  • Encourage them to look at the map and even have their own copy
  • Buy them their own compass and map case
  • Show them where you are starting and where you’re destination is

Teach basic map skills

  • Read topographic features
  • Evaluate steepness of terrain
  • Orient a map
  • Read a bearing
  • Understand declination
  • Estimate travel time

Give them input on trip planning

  • Let them choose the route and if safe let them make mistakes and learn from them
  • Let them determine the destination and distance travelled

Let them lead

  • Let them do the navigation in the field
  • Give them a simple objective and follow along answering questions when they ask
  • Give harder navigation exercises and objectives as they progress such as resections
  • Choose easier areas first and work up to harder options

What are your tips for teaching your kids how to navigate in our wild places?

5 Signs you had a great weekend (adventure)

  1. You have lost weight despite eating the world’s largest pub meal on the way home
  2. Your skin stings when you first get in the shower from small cuts and abrasions
  3. You fall asleep before 10pm (or you’re still driving home)
  4. You have to use the disabled toilets at work because your quads are too sore to squat
  5. You get bombarded by messages when you finally take your phone off airplane mode
Off Tracking Walking in Morton National Park

Off Tracking Walking in Morton National Park

Carrington and Fitzroy Falls topo map

Carrington Falls - Fitzroy Falls topo map

I’ve produced a few handmade maps for a trip this weekend with the Bushwalkers Wilderness Rescue Squad of the Carrington Falls to Fitzroy Falls area. I’m still learning and developing my mapping and GIS skills and want to use the maps I’m producing and continue to refine them to be the best possible.

They are topographic with some relief showing overlaid with some custom points of interest and some Open Street Map data.

Contour intervals are 20m and they are on a WGS84 datum.

BWRS Carrington – Fitzroy 25k

BWRS Carrington – Fitzroy 60k

Let me know of any specific things you think I can do to improve these maps.

Bogong High Plains Handmade map

Bogong High Plains Topo Map - Handmade

I’ve been learning some mapping software recently as so decided to build a rough map for the Bogong High Plains. A few basic features:

  • 1:50,000
  • Built from 1 arc second SRTM data modified from some other sources
  • Contours at 20m
  • Some POIs for my own personal use such as
    • the Bogong Rover Chalet
    • Mt McKay
    • Mt Jim
    • Mt Cope
  • Grid intervals at 1km UTM
  • Based on WGS84
  • Limited Open Street Map data (with poor styles for now) for roads, aqueduct

I plan on getting some more additional data and refining it for download.

Bogong High Plains Large 50 k

Bogong Highplains A4 Smaller Area 

If printing these maps make sure you print with no scaling to keep their scales true.

When I ‘push on’ with kid’s adventures

Outdoor adventure is about freedom.

I want my children to experience the joy I have in sitting by a remote mountain lake for hours in Spring looking at the wildflowers, insects and small weird but wonderful plant life.

I want them to get the excitement I feel when I the breeze stiffens in my face on the last hundred meters of a ridge climb to a peak.

I want my kids to get the awe I have when I wake up on in the mountains on still and crisp morning looking down at a temperature inversion.

I want them to enjoy being outdoors.

But too often I plan the trip. I decide the route. I decide the pace. I choose the objective.

Kids enjoying a view while hiking

Just like a choose your own adventure book, I’ve found my kids need to have some input into own adventure whether it’s a hiking trip, a back country snow shoe or cycling across Australia. Likewise I need to be flexible and adjust my ‘when to push on’ meter.

Recently Dan and I went to the mountains to do some backcountry snowshoeing. I had been dreaming of visiting the Western faces in winter for a while now so that quickly became our objective. It was a pretty easy snowshoe to Mt Townsend where we’d camp the night and then hopefully get a great sunrise over Watsons Crags and the Sentinel. It was an experience I really wanted to share with Dan, however things didn’t go to plan.

We got away late and there was a blizzard blowing into our faces. We headed West towards Mt Kosciuszko and had only travelled about 400m when Dan seemed to be having a miserable time.

The decision I was about to make would change the way my son viewed the mountains.

I could encourage him to push on, into the wind and snow. Or we could change our objective.

Through the cloud we could see a small rocky outcrop with some steep snow drifts around it. Perfect, we both thought.

We proceeded to spend the entire day just 450m from the top of Thredbo in our own mini mountaineering course. He learned to kick steps with snow shoes, self arrest with just his boots and hands, self arrest with an ice axe (by far his favourite) and to use an ice axe for climbing and self belaying. We dug a small snow cave then headed back with our packs full of unused camping gear, smiles on our faces to a hot chocolate.

Rams Head North in winter

The next day was better weather and I’d learned a lesson. We headed West again, but this time he choose the route and we visited some remarkable and less travelled places. We visited a small emergency hut (Coomtapatamba) and climbed up into an ice world on Rams Head North.

He’s still talking about the trip and keeps asking to go mountaineering again. This time I made the right choice.


Trail runners will revolutionise your hiking

Lucy and Susan (aka the barefoot sisters) hiked most of the 2,600 mile long Appalachian trail without any shoes, only wearing footwear when there was snow on the ground. Their mantra was to hike barefoot “only while it was fun”.

Working out what footwear (or lack of) can drastically change your approach and enjoyment of walking. It can make a big difference between what is ‘fun’ and what becomes a constant painful experience with every step.

Footwear is a personal choice and above all of the ideas, arguments, tech and medical advice the best tip is to wear something that is comfortable for you.

I started my outdoor footwear story by wearing a pair of Scarpa Trek’s absolutely everywhere. The now famous full leather stiff hiking boot and it’s siblings represent one end of the spectrum and are either loved or hated. They worked for me at the time, but since then I’ve had to opportunity to refine my choices and experiment more with other types of hiking shoes. I now wear a light weight trail runner for most of my walking.

innov8 x-talon 190s as hiking shoes

6 Ways to choose the right footwear.

1. What terrain will you be covering?

Scrambling along the Western Arthurs requires footwear that’s better at climbing than a hike to Mt Kosciuszko along the flat metal track. I like having shoes that can bend and mould around rocks and tree routes giving me more grip.

2. What weather will you be walking in?

A winter trip along the Australian Alps track will require different footwear to a trip along the Larapinta. I find my trail runners to be fine in most conditions until I need to wear snowshoes. Remember you can always wear warmer socks too.

3. How fit are your feet?

Boots have long been recommended because of the superior ankle protection. They act as a strong fixed shape giving support. We don’t all need this high level of support though. Personally my feet are strong and I prefer to let my muscles do the work. My feet are less sore after a big day in trail runners than when locked into a boot.

4. What’s your budget?

Any historical look at Australian bushwalking will bring up the mighty and cheap Dunlop Volley. A tennis shoe that has probably spent more time in Blue Mountain canyons than on a tennis court. However recently the quality has suffered greatly. Trail runners are generally cheaper than boots, but mightn’t last as long.

5. What does your gut say?

In the end it comes down to comfort. Go with what feels good. You have to be comfortable with your choice. If you’re really unsure about the ‘toe shoes’ someone is recommending, then don’t take the risk for your next week long adventure.

6. Experiment and test thoroughly

Only time in your shoes will tell you what works for you. Never wear a new pair of shoes for a big walk. Try a pair of lightweight runners on a shorter walk to see if you like them.

Remember this is a personal decision that a retailer can’t make for you, nor can your outdoor friends, an online forum or even an eZine article! Gather the information and opinions and filter that that through what you want to do, and what’s important for you.

Why Trail Runners are my first choice

I thought boots were the best footwear for bushwalking. They were strong and almost indestructible. They were waterproof (well kind of), they had grippy soles and they had good ankle support (which apparently we needed when carrying our heavy packs).

I’ve since moved on to trail runners. A lightweight running sneaker that is designed for use on rough terrain, just like we walk on. I’m currently wearing Inov-8 X-talon 212’s. They are far lighter than any hiking boot I’ve worn, have better grip in mud and on slippery rocks and have enabled me to hike faster and further than previously.

Generally trail runners:

  1. Are lighter
  2. Dry faster
  3. Cheaper
  4. More minimalist (more flexible, less arch support and lower heel raise)
  5. More breathable
Innov-8 x-talon 212s - my go to shoe for everything but snow

Innov-8 x-talon 212s – my go to shoe for everything but snow


Don’t you miss the ankle support?

No. I travel reasonably light and don’t need the ankle support. For me I find having fit strong feet and ankles is better than supporting ankles with boots.

Do your feet get cold?

Occasionally. I can change socks depending on the weather. The only time they really get cold is when walking through cold alpine creeks. They are warm again 30 seconds later due to my smart wool socks. They dry far faster than in boots. My feet would always gets hot and sweaty in full leather boots.

Are they ok for off track use?

Absolutely. I’ve hiked, scrambled and walked through many places and find their nimbleness a great benefit when walking off track. Think ballet shoes, vs ski boots. Your feet and flex and grip the terrain far better. I feel more in touch with the ground I’m covering.

Do they wear out too fast?

Trail runners will wear faster than your full leather boots. They also cost less so you can replace them. I’m yet to have a big failure and have only seen small holes wearing through the top layer on one set (and extremely lightweight pair). I really don’t mind replacing them every couple of years.

Do your feet get tired in them on long multi-day walks?

No. However greater muscle strength in our feet is required. Just like your legs will get tired if you haven’t walked much then go on a big hike, if you always wear boots you may find your muscles are a bit tired in your feet too until they strengthen (a good thing IMHO). I find lifting the weight of boots constantly more tiresome.

Can you walk in the mud?

Yes. I’ve long ago disposed of the idea of clean dry feet when walking in muddy terrain, whether walking in boots or trail runners. I now focus on wicking the moisture away and managing the overall health of my feet. I wear gaiters just like with boots (or sometimes some smaller ones) and walk through rivers, creeks or mud with my shoes on. It’s really nice to stop for a break, take your shoes off and they’ll be dry when I’m ready to move. I also don’t need the coveted space around the fire in the hut to dry my boots overnight (which isn’t very good for your boots).

This article first appears in the March eMag

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