Plenty of avid outdoorsmen think that their days of hiking are on hold once they become parents. However, there’s a much more viable alternative – they can just bring their kids on the trail with them. Many people see time on the trails as a great way to bond as a family while sharing their love of the outdoors with their children.
Hiking with kids is fun once you ensure that the experience is positive for both you and your children. Keep in mind that your kids will remember their first hiking trip with you for the rest of their lives so make sure they love it. You might even consider this as an important mission the result of which would have a great impact on your children’s attitude towards hiking and backpacking for many years to come. Take the kids and don’t listen to the people who say no. A day in the woods can be a great gift for your little ones because of at least three reasons:
- It’s a great way to build children’s endurance while teaching them to enjoy the outdoors.
- It can be a great adventure, an awesome time for your kids.
- Makes life-long family memories.
Certainly, there are some distinguishing features of this type of hiking that you need to be prepared for. Firstly, be aware that you’ll have to slow your pace. Secondly, kids are very curious so they prefer to explore the trail rather than just walk from point A to point B. And finally, be prepared to carry all their stuff if necessary.
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Tips for hiking with children
Here are some tried and tested tips to help you keep your hike kid-friendly.
Plan out your route
There are some challenges with taking kids. Thus, you need to plan your hiking adventure carefully, preferably together with them. This way, by allowing the kids to help with planning the trip, you’ll be able to get them more interested in the whole thing. Check the weather forecast and pick a nice sunny day for your hike. Hiking in the rain isn’t very suitable when with kids, especially if they’re very young.
During the planning stage of your hiking trip, take into account how far your kids can hike, how much they can carry, what they’d like to see/do or be interested in, get some brochures or go online to search some trails. There are some great apps that you can use to filter trails by length, elevation or rating.
AllTrails has a collection of detailed maps from all over the world. Millions of hikers, mountain bikers, and trail runners record and share their outdoor activities there. The best part is that you can filter the information about the trails in a particular area for length, difficulty, rating, activities to do, things to see, and even if it is “kid friendly” (it’s in the suitability menu). Hiking Project is another great app offering valuable information and accurate data about many trails not only in the US but also in close to 100 other countries from around the world. You can see trail profile, weather conditions, and reports from other outdoor enthusiasts who have already hiked the trail.
Pick a short and interesting hike – one with a destination such as a historic site or a waterfall. The end goal is important so don’t go somewhere just to take a photo. Your children would appreciate it much more if they can feel it as a special place – don’t forget what it cost you to motivate them to follow you there. So, you can set up a picnic there or let them run around or just stop, take a break, and enjoy the view.
In short, choose an interesting trek that your children are going to like. Something with nice views, lots of short side trails to explore, interesting wildlife or water. Kids love it so they wouldn’t miss a chance to jump into the water if by a stream, lake or waterfall.
Choose easy trails and lower elevations
Huge drops and narrow paths can be dangerous even for experienced backpackers. A lot of people get hurt (some of them lose their lives) every year in the mountains. Don’t risk your children’s health by choosing difficult terrain that they might not be able to handle. Be aware of the elevation especially if you don’t live in a mountain region. You need family-friendly terrain easy enough for kids – maintained trails are perfect while rugged and steep trails are not. Scrambling and bouldering can be fun but don’t push them over their limits. Unfortunately far too many people overestimate their abilities and underestimate nature. Going up and down the mountain isn’t a joke – especially if you have to do it with children.
Bring enough snacks and drinks
Needless to say, bring plenty of snacks and drinks. When with kids, these will help you secure your (and their) comfort. Bring snacks your kids like and are easy to take with you – think of simple things like granola bars, graham crackers, fruit, chips, and candy (yet avoid chocolate during summer hikes).
Snack early and often and don’t forget to drink frequently. When doing something fascinating such as exploring the trail, kids tend to forget how thirsty they are, so make sure that you stop regularly and remind them to drink water. Don’t underestimate the power of hot chocolate, gummy bears, tic tacs, M&M’s, Kit Kat or Snickers as bait. Kids on the trail can be compared with many thru-hikers. High energy foods will motivate them and keep them in good spirits. Especially when tired and start to complain, keep them distracted with something that lasts a long time and will occupy their mind while walking such as a sucker.
Safety comes first
Safety should be your top priority when hiking in the great outdoors. Spending time with your kids requires prudence and constant vigilance both on and off the trail. First, you have to do your homework by planning your hike carefully. Make sure that you have some kid-sized headlamps in case that you’re still on the trail when it gets dark. Night hiking can be dangerous, especially if you aren’t properly equipped. Give each kid a safety whistle – you can put it in each kid’s pack or attach the whistle to a zipper pull – and explain how and when they should use it.
Bring a first aid kit and be prepared for anything
When backpacking with kids (especially young children), you need to be prepared for anything. Thus bring a gear repair kit and a first-aid kit. For the former, you can see our article where we go through everything you’d need for making a field repair kit. For the latter, you basically have two options – either to build up your first aid kit yourself or to buy one online. Certainly, both options have their pros and cons. For example, the first option will take time and effort but you can pick up all the necessary things yourself. Buying a kit is best for those who don’t want to spend extra time collecting everything they would need in an emergency. If you prefer this option, we recommend EVERLIT 250, which has everything you might need to cover nearly all emergency medical situations.
We’ve discussed the content of a basic first aid kit for backpacking in our article about high altitude hiking. You can check it out and use it as a guide to assembling your personal first aid kit. Some of the main items are Ibuprofen, blister care pads (Leukotape also works well), bandages, Neosporin, and antiseptic towelettes. Get sunscreen for additional protection from the sun radiation. Additionally, think about having some other items such as gummy bears. It is empirically proven that you can treat minor injuries with gummy bears – they work instantly and flawlessly.
Don’t let the children out of your sight
Keep in mind that kids can go out of sight pretty fast so don’t let them out of your sight. Teach them what to do when lost and how to find “Mom and Dad”. Emergency whistles are lightweight and can be really loud (most whistles can provide up to 120 decibels, which means that you can be heard far away). We recommend you to look for a metal safety whistle that is sturdy so you don’t have to worry that it will break easily. Explain to your children the basic rules for using a safety whistle and have the kids wear them when you go backpacking. Here are the most important rules:
- Stop and blow the whistle in three sharp bursts (it’s universal distress call).
- Stay put so that you can be found more easily.
Photo by Simon Rae
Kids love having hiking gear
You might want to check out some equipment for your kids, especially backpacks, hydration packs, water bottles, even trekking poles (unless your children are too young). Kids love having hiking gear of their own as it helps them feel more like the adults and as part of the whole hiking experience, in general.
They can use their packs not only for carrying things as they hike but also to collect the treasures they find such as rocks, sticks, acorns, and pine cones. Hydration packs are cool to keep your children hydrated. Teach them how to use trekking poles properly so that they take full advantage of having them. You can also give them some cool and cheap stuff that they will like such as a compass, flashlight, multi-tool, etc.
Kids don’t need special ankle support for walking or hiking. So, you don’t have to buy them some fancy trekking shoes or boots. Keep it simple – a pair of classic kid’s trail runners such as Merrel Trail Chaser will suffice. They’re lightweight, comfortable, and dry fast so that you don’t have to worry when their feet get wet (especially if you’re hiking near rivers, lakes or creeks).
Dress in layers
Body cooling when hiking is a normal process that can happen really fast in changing weather. Remember that young kids are not able to regulate their internal body temperature as efficiently as adults can do it. This means that they have an increased risk of cold injury than adults. Even when they say that they’re warm it may be an illusion. The reason is that when playing, their bodies are generating enough heat to keep them feeling warm even when that’s not true. Thus make sure that your kids are dressed properly. It is especially important when backpacking in cool-to-cold weather conditions as well as when there’s wind (as it cools the skin faster than if there was no wind).
Dress in layers both your kids and you – it’s a proven strategy for keeping comfortable when traveling outdoors. Always bring some rain clothes and a pair of dry clothes just in case you get caught off-guard. Marmot has some very good models for kids. Both boys’ and girls’ designs are lightweight and compact, fit well and are functional. The only difference is that girls’ jackets are often offered in beautiful colors. Gloves and hats are important when hiking in cool weather or early in the morning. Long-sleeve shirts, as well as hats, can be used for protection from the sun in hot weather.
Keep hikes short or divide them into several sections
Don’t start immediately with multi-day trips. If your kids have never hiked before, you’d better train them with some day hikes first. Keep hikes short and try not to push the kids past their comfort limits. Keep in mind that small kids may look unstoppable, however, they can also tire out. Then, whether want it or not, you’ll have to carry them out.
If the hike is longer, break it up into segments to motivate your kids further. This will keep them focused on getting to the next stop. You can offer them candy or something else they like if they go to the next pit stop. This technique is an incredibly effective way to make them walk all the way to the end goal.
Rest often especially when backpacking with young children. Plan to have a lot of stops to sit and rest as tired and hungry little hikers are no fun to deal with. In general, kids can go a lot further if you take rest breaks regularly and allow them to play and explore interesting things they find on the trail. Use these stops to have a snack and energize your children as they’ll be much more motivated to keep going. Never forget that the key to a comfortable and successful backpacking trip is motivated kids. As long as they are enjoying themselves, you’ll be fine.
Go at their pace
Another valuable tip is to go at your children’s pace. Kids are curious and like to explore and examine. Let them do it but also remind them that you have to keep moving to reach your end goal or next pit stop.
Photo by Julian Ebert
Watch the weather
Bad weather can put a halt to your backpacking trip if trail conditions become uncomfortable for your little ones. Watch the weather and be ready to head for home if necessary. Thunderstorms and other natural phenomena can be spectacular but frightening especially when walking in nature.
Bring a map and a compass
A map and a compass are among the essential items to have. It’s a perfect time to teach your kids how to use a compass and read a map and why it is important to know it. Start as early as possible and they’ll be able to use a map and a compass before you know it. You can find some really good compasses on Amazon. Nowadays, it’s easy to find a lightweight and inexpensive compass with added features – perfect for the kid’s first lessons in orienteering.
Teach and play games
Hiking should be fun, a memorable adventure to think and talk about, so allow your kids to associate this activity with having a great time. Playing games is a good way to pass time and to teach children about important things. The classic book Theories of Childhood is recommended for everyone who has a child. This short book covers the basics of child development up to about 10 years old. Educating kids about important things can extend their knowledge of the world and help them advance their skills, which is a great way to support their development. For example, you can teach them about:
- The trail etiquette and low-impact hiking so that they can enjoy nature in a sustainable way.
- How to identify plants and animals.
- About the forest or mountain where you hike. Knowing more about the particular place and the wildlife there will help them connect with the natural surroundings.
- How to filter creek water to get clean drinking water.
- Signs of impending weather. For example, what are the signs of a storm coming or how to tell when a storm is coming?
When (small) kids act tired on the trail, the reason is often boredom. Playing games along the way is another technique to hike longer and to make hiking more interesting for the children.
Leave no trace
When kids are engaged, learning is exciting and fun. It’s perfect time to teach them how to appreciate and enjoy nature in a sustainable way.
Nature provides a perfect science center and outdoor environment where children can learn so many things. Initiatives such as Leave No Trace for Every Kid are aimed at helping young people learn how their responsible actions can help preserve wilderness.
Bring a camera
Make sure that you bring a camera because there are always good opportunities to take some good photos on a hike. Taking wonderful hiking photos is an excellent way to
- Keep kids engaged in a hike.
- Create synergy between people and nature.
- Remember the hike and make unforgettable memories with your kids.
|Want to take some great photos on your next hike? Size and weight are key considerations when looking for a backpacking camera.
Designed for a great outdoor experience, the Olympus TG-6 is the ONLY backpacking camera you will need as it’s capable of doing a beautiful job on the trail. This compact camera is fairly lightweight and is also dustproof, shockproof, crushproof (100kgf), and freezeproof down to -10 degrees C (14 degrees F). Plus, at 12MP, it takes great photos and can get several hundred pictures per charge. The camera can handle sand, water, and all sorts of punishment – a total game-changer when taking kids hiking.
Bond with your kids
Sharing your love of nature and the outdoors with your kids brings the whole family closer together. Use the hike to bond with your kids. Talking often works great. Most of them are really keen on talking about things they like and they can do it for hours. Find some interesting topics and just let the kids talk. You’ll have a great opportunity to know your kids better so listen carefully – it can be really interesting what they have to say. Listening with full attention (even if sometimes you do it silently) usually works like a charm because children often need just to put your listening skills into action.
There are no rules on how to communicate properly with children because the relationship between parent and child is a very personal matter. However, if you are not so good at communicating with your kids and want to improve, we’d recommend How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, which is a great book teaching communication skills for parents. It will be highly appreciated by those who need to change their parenting style but don’t know how. There are a ton of real situations and examples as well as some basic techniques, suggestions, explanations, and exercises to help you understand things from your children’s point of view. If you need doable advice for pretty much any situation with young kids (ages 2-7), How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen is a great guide to communicating with toddlers and easily one of the best parenting books.
Children, in general, love to be outside and play so if you can share that time with them, they’ll enjoy being with you in the outdoors. These hikes can make lifelong memories, something that they (and probably you) will always remember.
Have the right attitude
Remember that the first impression is likely to be a key determinant in your kids’ willingness to participate in future trips so this may be your last chance to introduce your family to hiking. The experience that they have on their first hiking trip can be very good or very bad. If they don’t like it, they may never want to do it again and even if they agree to do it again, their attitude towards backpacking is going to make a huge difference.
Try to make the most of your hike and make sure that not only you enjoy your hiking trip but also your kids like it as well. Have a ton of patience and if your kids want to stop and explore something for a while, be flexible and do it even if it means that you won’t stick strictly to your initial plan for the trip. Have fun even if it means to embrace dirt and mud because your kids will (yes, they love jumping into mud puddles and it can actually be beneficial for them). Oh, and don’t be afraid to get wet a bit. Just enjoy your time and have fun with your kids.
Hiking for the kids is about the journey, not the destination so keep this in mind and try to stay positive when they want to stop to check something.
Have a positive attitude and try your best to make your first trip a good one – your effort will pay off in the long run.
Photo by Greg Rosenke
Have a habit of hiking often
Try to get into a habit of backpacking with your kids often enough so that they can get used to it. Affection for the great outdoors needs to be nurtured. Going for a family hike regularly is a perfect way to get your little ones outside. Moreover, time outdoors on a beautiful day is one of the best gifts that parents can share with their children.
Nature has a lot to offer plus walking in nature is healthy for pretty much everyone. It also boosts both mood and self-esteem. Sharing your passion for the outdoors with your kids will bring you closer together and will give you a chance to create special moments with your dearest ones.
Know what your children can and what they can’t do
This one can be tricky given the fact that all kids are different. However, we can offer some guidelines according to the kids’ age. Experts say that toddlers can hike up to 2-3 km (no more than 2 miles), while young children are usually able to walk up to 6.5 km (4 miles), which is twice as much as toddlers. You can double the distance for older kids as many of them can hike for 10-16 km (6-10 miles) a day.
Needless to say, the comfort limits of everyone are different and probably your kids are no exception. Try to learn what they can and what they can’t do (you should know your kids best). Having an idea of how far they can hike as well as how much they can carry is essential for having happy kids on the trail.
An incredibly rewarding family activity, backpacking with kids is worth it. Just remember to keep your first hikes short or segment them if they are a bit longer.
Plan your hiking adventure carefully and let the kids participate in the process. Make things interesting for them, be prepared to slow your pace, and carry all their stuff if necessary. It won’t be easy and you’ll have some challenges on the trail but you’ll also have a ton of fun. Enjoy your surroundings and make some great memories of hiking with your kids.
Spending time with your kids can be and should be fun so don’t hesitate and go explore nature with your children. There is no better way to encourage the development of a life-long relationship with the great outdoors.
Now that we’ve shared these 20 awesome tips with you, we’d love to hear your best tip to taking kids hiking!
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