Many avid hikers dream of the day when they could take their kids out on the trail and share their love of wandering and the outdoors with them. And why not? It’s not only a great exercise for kids and a way to bring them closer to nature, but it can also lead to an awesome family bonding time and provide opportunities to create magical moments that kids will remember for a long time. However, hiking with kids isn’t always easy, especially when you’re first getting started. That’s why we have here some tips to make hiking with munchkins easier and help you turn your kids into enthusiastic hikers.
Set Realistic Expectations
You may find the prospect of hiking with your kids endearing, especially when you see those happy and smiling faces plastered on many hiking websites. However, the truth is that this won’t always be the case. In some instances, you will have to deal with tantrums and meltdowns. Also, kids are curious and will stop now and then to look at a particular flower or run after that poor bug relaxing on a log. Also, you may not end up reaching your destination, let alone complete the trail. These (and many other similar events) are often enough to deter parents from ever putting on a backpack and taking their kid’s hiking.
However, hiking with kids is a really wonderful experience if you keep your expectations realistic. For example, don’t expect your kid to cover as much distance as you want to, especially if this is their first time hiking. Also, take notice of your kid’s pace and go with it instead of forcing them to keep up with you.
And being the supportive and encouraging parent that you are, be sure to take advantage of the power of positive reinforcement. While hiking, be lavish on your praise and tell your kid how well they are doing (even if they aren’t). Hearing positive and encouraging words will make them feel that they are doing an awesome job and are more likely to be motivated to keep going.
Choose the Right Carrier
If you’re hiking with a baby or a toddler, you’ll want to bring along a hiking baby carrier that is specifically designed to help you hit the trail with your little one. Then again, choosing the right baby carrier for hiking can be quite overwhelming. Naturally, safety will be your primary consideration when choosing one, but there are other factors to look into including durability, comfort, and others. All these will have an impact on how happy you and your baby or toddler will be during the hike.
So that trick here would be to find and get the best hiking baby carrier you can afford. Look at the age and weight capacity recommendations since the size (and other features of the carrier) are based on these. Also, look for carriers with a well-designed cockpit that provides ample support for the neck, head, and back, as well as cushioned support in the front in case your baby decides to take a nap while you’re walking.
You’ll also want a carrier with harness systems that are adjustable and comfortable around your kid’s legs, shoulders, and arms. Also, look for a carrier that can accommodate your hiking needs as long as possible. Consider how long the backpack will last as your child grows and choose one that can stand up to their changing needs and weight. Fortunately, many hiking baby carriers are designed to safely carry your baby from infancy to toddlerhood so you can be sure that you’ll have many fond memories while hiking with your kid.
Get Them Their Own Gear
Kids are more likely to enjoy hiking when they have their own hiking gear. Having a backpack filled with ‘really’ important items (e.g. magnifying glasses, plant or bug picture book, a rope, etc.) makes them feel important. There are child-specific hiking packs that you can get from shops that sell outdoor gear, or you can just get a durable backpack that’s comfortable and easy for them to lug around.
However, make sure that you don’t let your kids bring too much stuff. In many cases, parents always end up carrying their kid’s backpack halfway through the hike. So tell your kids to pack light and leave unnecessary items (e.g. stuffed animals) at home.
Don’t Forget the Kids Stuff
The hiking gear and equipment you need when hiking with kids is pretty much the same as the ones you use when not hiking with them. But aside from the usual items in your hiking checklist, you’ll want to throw in some cool kid-friendly supplies into the bunch. These will include:
- Don’t bother buying the expensive ones since kids won’t really mind if they can see much with them.
- Magnifying Glass. Kids love to look at small insects and plants.
- Kids love documenting plants and bugs that they ‘discovered’.
- Flashlight for peering into caves and holes.
- Map and Compass. This will make them feel like a true outdoorsman, and this is also an opportunity to teach the kids how to use them.
Feel free to add or remove items on the list and adjust it according to your and your kids’ needs.
Choose a Kid-friendly Trail
For the first few hikes, choose a hiking trail that is suitable for your kid’s age and fitness level. Avoid hiking trails that are too long or too strenuous. For the most part, the trail should have more even grounds for walking as opposed to those that have too long or steep uphill and downhill paths.
Aside from that, look also for hiking trails that have plenty of interesting features. These could be landmarks like old lighthouses or towers, a lake or a river, or even a waterfall. But don’t just focus on what’s at the end of the trail. Look for trails that have interesting rock formations, caves, streams, or wildlife along the way. These will keep kids occupied and interested, and even help build up their excitement to reach the end destination.
As your kids gain more experience, you can start exploring new and more challenging terrains. You can even incorporate new activities like canyoneering or rock climbing, provided of course that they are old enough and you have a guide or an expert to assist you. Doing so will not only open new opportunities and landscapes for them, but it will also help to make the hike more memorable and fun.
So when choosing a trail, always pick one that will allow them to have the most fun possible. Keep in mind that the goal here is not to reach a certain destination, but to ensure that they have fun hiking so much so that they’ll want to go again.
Time Your Trip
Always choose a time of day when the weather is pleasant. In many cases, you’ll want to go on morning hikes because then the sun isn’t too hot and the kids still have plenty of energy to burn. Besides, kids are more likely to be in a good mood after a restful sleep. Just avoid going too early since it can be a challenge dealing with sleepy and cranky kids.
Besides, a lot more time than you normally would for the hike. More often than not, you’ll be stopping frequently, either to rest or to let the kids explore.
Let them Explore
One trait of many hikers is that they can and prefer to walk fast and get to their destination the soonest as possible. But when hiking with kids, this will never always be the case. As some hiking parents often said, you can throw your itinerary out the window when you have kids along for the hike.
But this isn’t always a bad thing. If your kids want to stop, get down on their hands and knees and take a closer look at a rock, a bug or a flower then let them do so. Kids are naturally curious, which is what makes them good explorers. And when they do find something interesting, it may well be the most interesting part of their day. So don’t rush them and let them get their fill of the wilderness.
Wear the Right Clothes
You don’t really need any specialized hiking clothes for kids, although there are some available in outdoor gear and equipment shops. The only thing that you need to do is to make sure that they are dressed appropriately for the occasion.
For instance, on a typical day and if you’re traveling on even grounds, you can let your kids wear pretty much anything. You may want to consider letting them wear long-sleeved shirts and pants though just to help protect them from insect bites. If you’re going up in elevation though where the weather can suddenly turn cold, you’ll want to let your kids dress in layers. This will make it easier for you to add or remove clothes from them when they start feeling too hot or too cold.
It is important though to let your kids wear comfortable trail running shoes or boots. These have high collars which provide support and help prevent sprains and other ankle injuries and are often waterproof so your kids can just walk across streams as they please. In any case, avoid open-toed shoes or sandals, especially if you’re hiking in terrains where there are lots of loose rocks and gnarled tree roots sticking from the ground.
Finally, always pack a change of clothes for your kid and leave them in the car for when you return from the trail. Chances are your kids will be wet or muddy after the hike.
Plan Frequent Energy Stops
Hiking and exploring will require lots of energy so you’ll want to plan more stops than usual to give your kids time to re-energize themselves. It has been observed that kids can go further if the hike is broken into several segments. For instance, you can break up the whole trip into 30 minutes of walking followed by ten minutes rest period. You can also segment the trip according to the landmarks ahead.
Play Some Games
Kids can get bored from walking for long periods of time regardless of how scenic the trail is. So to keep them motivated and happy, you’ll want to have a few hiking games at your disposal. These will not only result in a lot of laughs and a generally good time, but it will also distract them from all the walking that they’re doing.
There are plenty of hiking games which are suitable for kids of all ages. You can play a game of scavenger hunt, letting them search for items like a smooth rock, and two-pronged stick, or whatnots. You can also try the alphabet game, where kids point out things in the trail that starts with the letter ‘A’ and work yourselves up to letter ‘Z’. It’s a rather simple game, but you’ll have to get creative with some of the letters (try looking for items on the trail that start with ‘X’).
Bring Plenty of Food and Water
Hiking requires plenty of energy, and when kids run out of it, not only will they be cranky but you’ll probably end up carrying them throughout the trail. To keep this from happening, make sure that you bring plenty of food and water and plan numerous food stops along the trail. Chances are by the time they’ve had their snacks, they’ll be more eager to continue with the hike.
Aside from your packed lunch (unless you plan on finishing the trek before lunchtime and heading to the nearest fast food), you should also bring plenty of snacks for the kids to munch on while walking. This will not only save you from having too many breaks (and slowing down your progress) it will also keep them busy so they don’t notice all the walking that they’re doing.
Also, pack a variety of snacks (from high-energy bars to treats) just in case your kid decides to become picky with what they eat. As for how much food and water to bring, well, you can never have too much of them while hiking in the wilderness so pack as much as you can reasonably carry. On that note, you should let your kids carry some of the food in their backpacks. Lastly, keep some extra food and water in the car for when you return from the hike.
We can’t stress this enough, but always prioritize safety whenever you go hiking with kids. For instance, it can be exciting to see a bear out in the wilderness (in fact this is the highlight of the trip for many kids). However, be sure to observe safe sightseeing practices and never, ever let your kids get close to the animal. As an added precaution, you’ll want to keep a bear spray at hand just in case.
Also, bring a hiking first aid kit because there are bound to be some skinned knees and bruised arms. You can get pre-packaged kits from your outdoor gear shop or you can put together a hiking first aid kit and fill it with different medical items yourself. Also, don’t forget to bring any prescription medications, whether that’s for you or your kids.
Also, it is important to give your kids an emergency whistle (sounds much louder than an ordinary whistle), preferably worn around their neck as opposed to being attached to their backpack strap. It is important to tell your kids that this whistle is not a toy and that it should only be used for emergency purposes like when they get lost. Also, telling them that blowing the whistle unnecessarily will scare away the birds and animals will give them an additional incentive not to play with it.
When it comes to safety when hiking with kids, there are plenty of other factors to consider including what to do when they meet wildlife, hypothermia, or kids getting separated. Fortunately, all of these can be easily avoided by researching the trail you’ll be visiting and following the safety rules and guidelines provided by the local authorities. You should also consider joining an orientation provided by park rangers before you hit the trail.
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Having a kid doesn’t necessarily mean giving up your passion for hiking. In fact, as soon as you’re able to, you should start bringing along your kids to the nearest trail possible so you can start instilling in them a love for nature and an understanding of how important it is to protect and preserve the environment. Just remember that hiking with kids won’t always be easy, will take longer than expected, and will require a little bit more planning (as well as a huge amount of patience). However, considering all the lessons your kids will learn along the trail, the smiles on their faces as they discover something new, and all the fun and magical moments you get to spend with them for a few hours outdoors, suffice to say that all the trouble will be well worth it.
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