We have been getting emails regarding hiking with children lately. We often go on family friendly hikes as well as family backpacking trips. These trips allow our kids to get out and enjoy nature. We’re going to share a few tips with you to get you and those kids out on the trails!
The first thing to remember is to prep. If you’re new to hiking then I would suggest reading REI’s Ten essentials article as well as their beginner hiker article. Those who are not new can focus strictly on the little ones.
Hiking with Family
The first thing to consider is this, What is your goal? What I have found is that those who do not have children focus on the destination while those with children focus on the journey. This is something to keep in mind when looking for family friendly hikes. For us, hiking with family is fun. Whether it be day hikes or family backpacking trips.
Staying warm, dry, fed and hydrated are things to consider for the whole family. In practice this means bringing plenty of snacks, water, watching the weather and dressing appropriately. Since the children are not your average hiking partner, those jobs fall squarely on your shoulders.
Family hiking should be enjoyable, however, you have to realize that the children will keep you going at a slower pace. This gives the family more time to enjoy things they may just gloss over if they were going at a faster pace. As parents we have to be able to enjoy the little things during family hikes. For my wife and I, it turns into a learning adventure for our kids and ourselves. Pointing out snails and flowers, showing my son how to pet a bee to climbing trees when you come across one. To foster a love of the outdoors you have to let them explore, climb, run, fall, look, ask, and enjoy being out in the wilderness.
Hiking with an infant
Hiking with an infant sounds scary. If you’re not prepared for it, it can be. The good thing is that outside of feeding them and changing their diapers, you can pretty much hike how you want with a few exceptions.
The biggest difference is your going to have to carry your new hiking partner everywhere. An infant should be swaddled and carried on your front for the first 6 months. There are a few front carriers available. I don’t have a preference since we didn’t hike with one when our son was born nor when our daughter was either. Amazon seems to have a high selection though. After 6 months you can transition them to a backpack carrier. These are a bit nicer, roomier, comfortable, and pricier. We use the Deuter kid comfort III. This pack has worked great for us! It has a sun shade, H20 bladder pocket, tons of pockets and a little plush bear for the kid. Osprey has a few good kid carriers as well
It can get hot in those carriers so it is important to put a hat on or use the sun shade for the kiddo’s as well as keep them hydrated and cooled down. A nice little spray bottle works for that.
The factors limiting your hike would be your endurance, your child’s endurance, as well as the weather. We would suggest not to make it more than a 3-4 hours. In our experience, children get a little stir crazy when strapped in to long.
The motion of the pack while hiking tends to put children to sleep, plan your hikes around nap time.
Hiking With Toddlers
Hiking with toddlers brings its own set of rewards and challenges. Your child will want to walk more and that is great, however, they don’t usually walk very far. We have taken our son hiking and have seen a dramatic increase in the distance he can go. When he was 2.5 he was able to hike around a half mile or more depending on elevation. He is 4.5 now and routinely hikes 4-5 miles with elevation gains. This does not include any side climbing we may do on the trail.
Start slow, keep the baby carrier with you. Your toddler will get tired, you will have to carry them. Stop and take breaks from the hike often. Let them play, snack and drink before you head back on the trail. Know how far you are from the trailhead, you will have to carry them all the way back.
Toddlers love to have their own hiking gear. As they get older, your trekking toddler can get their own pack, hydration bladder, whistle, boots and more. Our son has his own pack now. While he can’t carry a lot in it, it is his pride and joy and he likes to carry my handheld GPS on it. Add these items slowly. Your 2 year old does not need his own pair of boots just yet.
Dress your toddlers in bright clothing. This makes them easy to spot if they run off. Teaching your toddler to use a safety whistle is another great step to take. These are loud and easy to hear out on the trails. Having a system in place to know when your toddler is lost gives you peace of mind. Beware, your toddler will blow the whistle in the car.
Hiking with Children (5-pre-teen)
Hiking with children offers you the ability to give them more independence. At this age you can begin to teach basic map reading as well as the leave no trace rules.
Giving children independence on the trail can be as easy as letting them hike a little bit ahead or even going out of sight of mom and dad on the trail. Scary as this thought is, it will be great for their confidence as well as your confidence in them.
The kids can start participating in the planning as well as the prep for the hike or the backpacking trip if it is longer than one day. They can pick places to go, routes to hike, and trails to try. They can pack their own hiking pack with their snacks and water bladder. You may even let them lead the hike!
At this age you may want to try geo-caching to keep them engaged on longer hikes. Or go low tech and scavenger hunt. Look for certain wildlife, plants, creeks, and rocks.
Point out obstacles for your children to conquer. Crossing streams, climbing rocks, and balancing on fallen logs will keep them engaged and enjoying the hike.
This is the age where the kids really want to explore and go off trail. These are great passive teaching moments. Let them explore. This will keep them engaged and interested in the hike.
Start teaching basic map reading. You can start with a trail map and work your way to topo maps as they get more advanced.
Second, have a ton of fun. When hiking with family or children it is about the journey as well as the destination. Have fun with it. Climb those rocks and trees, swing from a branch, play I spy, and look for wildlife.
Third, be safe. Don’t do dumb things, you have to take care of those kids both at home and on the trail. That’s hard to do if you’re hurt or dead.
Fourth, Hike often. While hiking every once in awhile is ok, it is much better to get out their often. You will be surprised by how much you and your children enjoy it.
Do you have any tips or tricks with hiking for your kids? We would love to hear about it. Comment below and come join our liberty parents facebook page or follow us on twitter!