6 Tips for Hiking With Kids: How to Properly Plan Ahead
If you’re an outdoor lover, we probably don’t have to tell you why hitting the trail with your little ones is an amazing activity, but let us provide a quick rundown anyway. Studies show that fresh air is the ultimate medicine, providing benefits ranging from improved concentration to better physical health. Throw in some hands-on learning, family bonding and a break from the screens, and you’ve got yourself an all-around positive family activity!
But hiking with kids can be challenging. Even lifelong hikers turned parents sometimes struggle to introduce the trails to their kids, so don’t stress if your first few attempts don’t go as planned. Here are some of our favorite tips for making your kid-friendly hikes especially enjoyable.
1. Don’t Rush Things
When you weren’t a parent, you probably occasionally banked on those quick 1- and 2-mile weekday hikes that you could conquer in under an hour. With toddlers and kids who can walk, there’s no real way to “speed hike.” They’ll want to meander along the trails at their own pace. Don’t rush and don’t worry about distance or burning calories.
2. Invest in a Baby Carrier
On the other hand, the fitness hikes are still on when your little ones still fit in their hiking carriers! Actually, you can hike with a child in the carrier for longer than you think, as there are styles that can hold kids up to 50 pounds with no problem. Go for a frameless sling when your baby is still little and graduate to a carrier around 6 months old.
3. Pack Like a Pro
The principle tenets of parenting are not unlike the principle tenets of hiking, starting with the most important one — always be prepared. When you’ve got kids, you need to bring a backpack or waist pack with the essentials. You may even want to use a cooler backpack to hold snacks and water for the whole family (plus milk and teething rings for the little ones). Be sure to also bring:
- A battery-powered tactical flashlight or a headlamp you can wear if you need a hands-free light source while hiking in low-lit conditions
- A spare blanket, jacket, hats, extra socks and gloves for the kids
- Sun protection, including sunscreen and hats for the kids
- A small first-aid kit with items for treating wounds and stings
- Emergency supplies, including a safety whistle and compass
- Wet wipes antibacterial wipes
- Diapers and wipes, if necessary
4. Make Everything a Teaching Moment
One of the main reasons why it pays to bring your kids out into the wilderness is that it will set them up for success in survival scenarios while also laying the foundation for an interest in the environment, biology and conservation. Teaching plant and animal identification and educating kids on the principles of Leave No Trace will help ensure that they grow up to be engaged but responsible lovers of the outside world.
5. Pay Attention to the Weather
A surprise rainstorm or snow flurry could quickly ruin a family hike if you’re not prepared for it. Kids should always be properly protected from the elements — including extreme temperatures and precipitation — so, if there’s inclement weather in the forecast, either skip the hike and save it for a sunny day or make triple-sure you’ve packed the proper gear. Dressing for different weather systems is an important lesson in and of itself, so be sure to make it a teaching moment when you’re getting ready for your hike.
6. Bring Some Fun Stuff Along
For most of us, at its core, exploring the outdoors is a recreational activity, so remember to keep some fun in the game! Bring along some extras that facilitate amusement, such as field guides, binoculars and camera gear for snapping some awesome nature pics. Kids love scavenger hunts, too, so consider sending them off to find fun stuff like edible plants, different species of birds, wild mushrooms or unique rocks. Just remember that your parks system probably has rules regarding foraging and removing items from the park, so it’s best to leave the treasures where you found them!
Hike Early and Often
As parents, it’s our duty to ensure that our children grow up to be responsible stewards of our natural lands, and one of the best ways to do this is by hiking with them early and often. By getting them used to the outdoors at a young age, you’re planting the seed for a strong appreciation for the environment, which they will undoubtedly carry with them for a lifetime.