Tips for Hiking with Kids
If you're looking for a fun family activity that combines adventure with exercise without breaking the bank, look no further than hiking. Great for children of all ages, hiking exposes kids to the outdoors and the wonders of nature. Young children can travel in a child-carrier front pack or backpack, while older kids and teens can be taken on multi-day hiking trips into the backcountry. Hiking with kids does require more advance planning and patience on the trail but the reward of exploring the outdoors outweighs these costs.
Hiking with kids is all about the journey and not the final destination. When choosing a hike, opt for short trail hikes with minimal elevation gain that have interesting natural landmarks such as lakes, ponds, rivers and waterfalls along the way. On the trail, let your young ones set the pace (their shorter legs take three steps for every one of yours) and pause often to further explore and answer questions. Expect to walk at a leisurely pace and be alright with only making it a partial way to the end of the trail.
When hiking with kids, emphasize fun by making hiking an adventurous game and not a strenuous activity. Before you even set out, get the kids involved in the planning so they know what interesting landmarks are on the trail and the plants and animals they can look forward to finding. On the trail, point out interesting objects and create games to keep them engaged. A game can be as simple as finding animal tracks, plants with uniquely shaped leaves or birds with specific coloring. When engaged in a game or scavenger hunt, kids will want to keep walking to continue the game. Invariably, kids will get tired and when they do, stop to refuel with water and healthy snacks. Snacks keep kids going so pack snacks that they will look forward to munching on.
Like any activity, hiking has a degree of risk but many of these risks can be avoided with pre-trip education and planning. Make sure you talk to your family about the following before you go hiking:
- Know your surroundings and what plants and animals are native to the area. If you will be hiking in an area with bears, snakes or other large animals, educate your kids as to what they should do if they come across a potentially dangerous animal.
- Tell kids to not eat or even pick leaves or berries. Unless you have an advanced understanding of edible and harmless plants, plants and berries are best left alone.
- Young children should stay within eyesight and older children need to stay within earshot and communicate often. Everyone should stay on the path as venturing off can damage plant life and possibly cause the family to get separated and lost.
- If a child does get separated, instruct them to stay put on the trail until they are found. It is a good idea to dress younger children in brightly colored clothing for easy recognition.
- Plan your hike to be off the trail before dark. As visibility decreases when the sun goes down, plan to start heading back by a specified time to give your family ample time to finish hiking.
- Make sure to bring along a basic first aid kit with essentials such as bandages and cleansing wipes to take care of scrapes, small cuts and insect stings.
Planning ahead for your hike and bringing the necessary gear is essential when hiking with kids. As a general rule, the younger the child, the more clothing and gear you will need to bring. The following items are essentials for most hikes:
- Check ahead for weather conditions and dress the kids in layers. Bring extra clothing so the kids can change when they get dirty, wet or cold while out on the trail. Water-resistant jackets are great for wet weather as well as windy conditions.
- Everyone in the family should have adequate hiking shoes. Depending on the terrain, this can range from water shoes to athletic shoes or hiking boots. Regardless of the footwear you choose, your shoes should have good support. Avoid wearing cotton socks as cotton is slow to dry and can cause blisters on longer hikes.
- Sunglasses, hats and repeated application of sunscreen are essential to protect your kids from the harmful effects of the sun. On colder days, a beanie and gloves are necessary for warmth.
- Bring along enough water and food to comfortably get your family through the hike. Take your kids to the store and let them pick out their favorite healthy snacks so they can look forward to eating them along the trail.
- Give your kids their own gear so they can be just like mom and dad. Camelbak hydration packs are fun to drink from and encourage kids to drink their water. As you will be wearing a pack, you can get your child their own lightweight pack and include in it a snack, some water and a lightweight jacket.
- As nature should be left as it was found, be prepared to pack up and carry all trash out with you.