The beauty of hiking is that it is an activity that can be enjoyed by people of all ages –elderly to young children alike. With the abundance of trails available for all fitness levels to enjoy (some may even be in your neighborhood!), hiking is a great opportunity to bring your whole family together. It also enforces quality family time while combining fitness and exploration. Hiking can be enjoyable even kiddos, however, it is important to take into consideration their needs and properly prepare if you will be bringing your children hiking.
Hiking with children of any age requires adequate preparation and a little bit more effort to have a successful hike. First, you’ll need to plan accordingly. Next, you’ll need to transport your mindset to “hiking with kids” mentality.
Aside from mental and physical preparation, I’ve compiled 9 tips listed below that I hope aid you in taking your children hiking and more importantly, making it an enjoyable experience for all.
9 Tips For Taking Your Children Hiking
- Practice patience and flexibility – You’ll probably hear plenty of moans and groans or your children asking you to stop even though your mind is telling you to keep going. Mentally prepare yourself to take those stops and realize that you won’t be able to go at the pace you would if you were hiking alone or with your partner. Be willing to stop to observe the lizard scurrying in the sand or the rabbit darting away in the grass. Children are curious and are constantly learning. Consider this an opportunity to help them expand their nature knowledge.
- Modify your expectations – It might seem like common sense that if you start a hike you finish it. This is simply not the case with children. You may not even make it half a mile until they are complaining about their feet hurting or feeling fatigued. Be prepared to adjust your hike duration and length when hiking with children. They may not be physically capable of completing a four mile hike or will simply just grow bored and refuse to continue. Remind yourself: the experience is more important than the destination.
- Check the weather beforehand – Check the weather a few days before, and then a few hours before you take your hike. Children get warmer and colder much easier than adults, therefor they require different attire.If there is an area to swim along the hike, pack a swimsuit. Likely, your children will want to play in the water and it may be a nice chance for them to re-energize.
- Choose your trail wisely – While you’re dying to take that serene, six mile trail you read about it may not be doable with children in tow. Search and decide your hike based on your child/children’s capabilities. Something flat or with switchbacks and little elevation gain are your best bets. Even if your kid is the star of his soccer team, a long distance hike may be too much. Also consider finding a hike that is easy to get to in terms of mileage. If there is one thing that children enjoy least is taking long car rides, which can set a negative tone for the day to come at the start of your hike if traveling far.
- Bring a hiking backpack – A large capacity backpack is a must when hiking with children. You will want to be certain to pack plenty of water for the entire family, snacks, and possibly even lunch foods when you consider the time it will take to get to a hike, complete the hike and travel back home. You’ll also want the space to stash a first aid kit as children tend to be accident prone.
- Keep your car clean – Any parent will say maintaining a clean car is virtually impossible. While this may be true, hiking could potentially make your care even dirtier. There’s no way to avoid your children getting dirty on a hike but you can prepare your car to get as little of a beating as possible. Prior to the hike, cover your seats and floors with towels or protective covering to avoid dirt spreading throughout the vehicle.
- Play “Follow the Leader” – Follow the leader used to be one of my favorite games when I was in elementary school. Of course, it was always more fun to be the leader but I got joy out of following along for a while as well – so long as I knew my turn to lead was coming eventually. Use this same mentality when hiking with your kids. Pick one person to lead the hike and switch the leader every so often until everyone has had a turn. At the start of the hike, designate yourself or your partner to lead the hike to ensure you start off in the right direction. Switch to your child once the trail becomes easier to navigate and more straightforward.
- Compliments, and lots of them – A little positive reinforcement can go a long way. Negativity can be utterly deterring in any situation. When hiking, go above and beyond to express to your children what a wonderful job they are doing. Add in comments on their strength, swiftness, and agility. Kids get encouraged by compliments – and there is no such thing as too much positivity, especially if this is their first hike.
- Repeat – Start a family tradition of taking a monthly, bi-weekly or even weekly hike so your children get used to the routine. Kids love being in the outdoors, along with adventure and exploring. After their first hike, you may even find that they get excited for their next hike and begin to ask you where you will be going next. Along with hiking being a great form of exercise for children it is also most importantly FUN!