If hiking is an important part of your life - and you probably wouldn’t be reading this if it wasn’t! - then you’ll be keen to get your kids out there and introduce them to everything you love about the great outdoors. And so you should! You can go hiking with kids of any age as long as you modify your expectations and do things a little differently than you used to Before Kids. With a little planning and the right approach, you and the kids will enjoy hiking as much as you ever have. Here are some top tips to getting out there and stretching your legs and horizons as a family!
Pack for your hike as you usually would - the tried and true Ten Essentials - with a few extras for the kids. Kids don’t have as many physical reserves as adults do, so they’ll need lots of snacks. And you’ll need to pack food that they’ll like - go for variety and favourites. Err on the side of too much - the easiest way to ruin a hike with kids is by running out of food and having to endure the resulting meltdowns! Clothing is important, too. When hiking with kids, go for layers and take spares - but don’t be too worried about them getting dirty - that’s all part of the fun. If they get filthy, think about changing them into clean clothes when you have finished rather than stressing out about it on the trail. As with any hike, you should check the weather forecast before you go, and pack accordingly. Take raincoats for everyone. And, depending on the ages of the kids, spread the load around - kids often like to have their own pack, so consider giving even little kids their own backpack with a coat and a water bottle in it.
Choosing a trail
Involve the kids in your planning. Give them some choices and let them choose which hike you do. The more they feel they are participating in the preparations, the less they’ll feel like they’re getting dragged along on your adventure. Make it everyone’s adventure! Don’t be too ambitious for your early hikes with kids. Go for short hikes, remembering that it will take you much longer than if you were hiking kid-free. Favour mostly flat hikes and routes with interesting features--lakes, rivers, swing bridges, waterfalls. If the weather is warm, hiking to a swimming hole can be a great motivator! Finally, even if you’re a hiking hero when it’s adults-only, going faster and further than anyone else, with kids you need to be prepared to turn back before you get to the end. Sometimes resources run low and the best approach is to beat a hasty retreat back to the trailhead and then home. You don’t want to drag a hungry/tired/unwilling kid along the last half-mile if it’s going to put them off hiking for life! Each hike is just one step in a lifelong journey.
Make it fun!
Kids might need a little convincing that walking in nature is fun. One sure way to cut down on the complaining is to have them invite a friend. Everything's more fun with a pal! For littler kids, especially, don’t be a slave to speed. Let them stop and explore when they find something that interests them. You may have to remind yourself that it really is all about the journey and not the destination! Once you get going again, let the kids lead if they want to. Much better for them to have the joy of discovery that comes from being in front than to feel like they’re being dragged along. Snack early and often! Use snacks as a motivational tool and don’t skimp. When energy seems like it is flagging, have another snack! Once you have done a few hikes and the kids are familiar with the routine, you’ll be able to judge what they’re capable of and start increasing distances and difficulties. Before you know it, they’ll be off and hiking their way towards a lifetime of wilderness adventure!