9 Tips for Hiking with Kids
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.
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. 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.
Bring enough snacks and drinks
Needless to say, bring plenty of snacks and drinks. When hiking with kids, these will help you secure your (and their) comfort on the trail. 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. Hiking with 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. Teach them what to do when lost (stop and blow the whistle in three sharp bursts; stay put so that you can be found more easily) or to find “Mom and Dad”. Keep in mind that kids can go out of sight pretty fast.
Bring a first aid kit for traveling with kids. It’s similar to your regular first aid kit (check out our post about packing for a day hike for a complete list of its content). Main items are Ibuprofen, blister care pads (Leukotape also works well), bandages, Neosporin, and antiseptic towelettes. You can also treat minor injuries with gummy bears - they work instantly and flawlessly.
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 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.
You don’t have to buy some fancy trekking shoes or boots for your kids as they don’t need special ankle support for walking or hiking. Keep it simple - a pair of trail runners 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).
Keep hikes short or divide them into several sections
When hiking with kids, 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 by keeping them focused on getting to the next stop. You can offer them a 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. 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.
Teach and play games with the kids
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 the time and to teach the children about important things. 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.
- How to use a compass and read a map and why it is important to know it.
- 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.
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 1) keep kids engaged in a hike; 2) create synergy between people and nature; 3) remember the hike and make unforgettable memories with your kids.
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 while hiking with kids 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.
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 and enjoy the hike
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. Oh, and don’t be afraid to get wet a bit. Just enjoy your time and have fun with your kids on the trail.
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. Let them do it but also remind them that you have to keep moving to reach your end goal or next pit stop.
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.
Hiking with kids is worth it. It’s an incredibly rewarding activity for both you and your kids. 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.
Hiking with kids can be and should be fun so don’t hesitate and go explore nature with your children!