If you like to hike and your kids are just becoming old enough to begin enjoying the same benefits of hiking as you enjoy, you must follow a handful of simple edicts. If you don‘t, the whole affair can turn sour for everyone involved.
Keep Expectations Real
First, realize you are accustomed to hiking with other adults. Couples or partners eager to introduce their kids to the wilds should know that children will influence, and often dictate, everything about the hike.
They will moan about being pained, tired or bored long before you do. Remember that every step you take, they are taking two or three.
They will need something to pique their curiosity or satisfy their appetite every hour or so, at least. Keep treats, a guidebook with colorful pictures of plants and animals, a camera (smartphone will do) to take pictures of your darlings almost every step of the way and anything from home—small and lightweight—that makes them happy. This could be a stuffed animal or other small toy, such as a mini Spiderman action figure.
Kids will also repeat the same question they do in your car on long trips:
When will we get there?
Point out benchmarks along the trail the indicate you are getting closer: an outlet stream from the lake of destination, the last hill or valley before reaching your destination point and even show them the map while explaining the distance as it appears on the map.
Keep chatting with your kids as well. Tell them jokes or stories along the way—perhaps some of your silliest escapades while hiking or camping. Bring a song book or store a few songs in your head to sing while hiking.
Keep them Warm and Dry
Make sure you buy the right stuff for keeping the kids comfy on the trail. The makers of good adult hiking gear usually make just as durable and dependable children‘s gear.
Don‘t skimp just because they are kids. (We will go into more depth later in this article.) Nothing will put your grand outing in reverse more quickly than a wet, cold child.
Do Your Trail Homework
Because kids are fickle by nature, you need to choose a trail without mountains of challenges. Keep elevation gain at a minium (coastal hikes are ideal). Make sure stream crossings will not be too deep or swift for the little hikers.
More importantly, know where you are going. Don‘t get sloppy with your navigation. Keep checking your bearings as they relate to your destination. Explain to your kids how important a GPS receiver, map and compass are to a successful, enjoyable hike. No one wants to get lost on a hike, especially with children in tow.
Choose a hike that features edibles long the way: blueberries, huckleberries, salmon berries, thimble berries, goose berries or similar. Read your guidebook details in this regard.
If you and your young ones like fishing, bring some fishing gear—lures and artificial baits preferably because you don‘t want to trash lakeshores or introduce invasive species into wilderness waters. The torpedo-shaped bobbers followed by a lightweight leader and a fly can be perfect.
That said, if you don‘t mind hooking them, grasshoppers can be caught and used as bait if they can be found along the trail. Catching them will also delight the youngsters and keep them interested in the hike.
In short, know the ups and downs of the route—literally and figuratively—and the type of terrain or topography it offers.
Be willing to take on an extra Load
Kids won‘t be able to pack everything they need. The tent is one obvious piece of gear, as are sleeping bags in most instances and other bulky gear. Strap on a pack big enough to pick up the slack for your little hikers in the group.
Kids can easily handle a few extra clothing items and if one wants to feel more important than another, assign that one the first aid kit (light ones specific for hiking can be found at almost any outdoor retailer).
They can certainly handle a headlamp if camping overnight on the trail, a water bottle in a side-pocket of their pack and their own treats for energy stops along the route.
Give the Gear a Test Run near Home
Kids need the same types of protection for feet and limbs as you do. If you buy a solid pair of hiking boots for them, be sure the kids break them in. Running around the house in them or going on long walks in the park or along a bike/hiking trail near home will acclimate them to otherwise stiff, clunky boots.
If you choose an extremely easy and level trail, you may not need to worry about protective, waterproof boots with lugs on the soles. Give them their favorite tennis runners and bring some plastic bags or rubbers to wrap around their shoes should it rain.
Make them wear their hiking caps or hats and raingear around the neighborhood as well. This prevents unforeseeable rubbing or misfit clothing that scratches or annoys.
Know the Forecast
Speaking of rain, always be sure to check the forecast for the hiking region of your ultimate choice. If you can choose a weekend or period when rain, squalls, thunder, lightning or even snow are not expected, all the better.
Remember that the higher you go, the more volatile the atmosphere; another reason to avoid extremely high elevations with kids the first time out.
Also interesting: Hiking in the Rain – Tips & Tricks How To Enjoy a Rainy Day Hike
Always pack the Ten Essentials
As with any hike, safety reigns first and foremost—whether with kids or not. Make sure you include all of them and verse your young ones on them. They will surely find them fascinating if nothing else—another boredom killer.
Need a refresher?
Hiking with Kids: The Packing List
1. Navigation tools (map, compass or optional GPS)
2. Sun protection (sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses)
3. Insulation (jacket, vest, pants, gloves, hat)
4. Headlamp or flashlight (and extra batteries)
5. First aid supplies
6. Fire starter (waterproof lighter or matches in waterproof container)
7. Tools (knife or multi-tool, duct tape or other gear repair devices)
8. Extra food (nutritional sources in case the trip becomes longer than expected)
9. Water (always make sure you are carrying enough water in bottles for everyone; if necessary bring a water filter to draw clean water from trail-side streams).
10. Emergency shelter (a tent, tarp, bivvy or other ground cover)
Carry along a Plan B
As stated at the beginning of this article, kids will greatly influence your hiking plans. If things go sour fast, resort to a prepared Plan B (one you devised while at home). Try driving to a lakeside or streamside camping ground—a car camp in essence.
Make sure it includes water spigots nearby, fire pits or fire rings and a cooking shelter in case of rain. Being a couple miles or fewer to an ice cream shop or drive-in restaurant doesn‘t hurt.
Depending on where your live, your children will need gear specific to the terrain and climate.
If you are endeavoring on a desert hike, Keen, Columbia and Teva are among a host of shoemakers that make solid but light, ventilated hiking shoes for kids. As mentioned earlier, tennis shoes can be adequate as long as you carry something of plastic or rubber to fit around them.
If you live in an area where rain falls more than sun rays do, make sure your kids‘ shoes keep water from entering. A combination leather and Gore-Tex type of boot works just dandy while allowing some flexibility.
Some famous down and filament parka makers craft the same kind of quality into kids‘ gear as they do for adults. However, your first hike with kids should not bring them to extremely cold altitudes. A good windbreaker or rain jacket by North Face, Outdoor Research (OR), Columbia, Patagonia, Eddie Bauer or Helly Hansen will surely last and remain effective over the long term when coupled with liners or insulation.
Liners and insulation
Keep it light. Polypro underwear that wicks sweat away works well if you know temperatures will fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit or thereabouts. Fleece also works well when it is protected from rain.
Get a fun one for the kids. Some come in multiple colors, gester style or reversible patterns. Just make sure it is one that won‘t allow water to drain down their backs or over their noses.
Hiking with Kids in Summary
Always be conscious of the premier objective of hiking with kids: Fun.
Kids will not be happy without a periodic dose of it. Perhaps after a few hikes they will gain a competitive spirit and try to outpace dad or mom, but on the first hike, they will want to reap all the fun they can get out of it.
While having fun, you can sneak in some education from a guidebook or your self-learned knowledge about the outdoors. Provide colorful information about some animals you might see on the trek, what kinds of trees you encounter along the hike and even the names of some fungi or ground cover. Just don‘t ask them to pass a test on these.
As you climb the scale of hike frequency and difficulty with your little partners, you will find the nagging question—when will we get there?—greatly reduced.
Also read: Hiking Tips for Beginners
Sources: The Wilderness Society