Michelle's top tips for hiking with kids
My husband and I first took our two children, Maisie, now 11 years old and, Angus, 10 years old, on an overnight hike when they were 5 and 4. The Pinchgut Hut, Mt Thomas Forest Conservation Area was the destination. Only a short drive away from our home in Ashley so if things turned to custard, we were only a stone’s throw away.
We remember it vividly – the wasp stings, the really hot hut, the tears and the stories of “Michelle, don’t carry him, he has to walk the whole way,” received with cries from me, “but he’s only 4.” However, what I remember the most is the satisfaction and enormous sense of achievement we felt doing this as a family. Being able to get out and experience a hike in the wilderness together was and, still is, truly amazing and has given us many more memorable times, stories to tell and valuable family experiences.
1. Get the kids involved at the planning stage
Getting the kids involved from the beginning gives them a feeling of ownership of the adventure. We find they are more inclined to push on when the going gets tough if they have had input with the destination and planning. We discuss the walking hours and distance to the hut so there are not too many surprises. Together we research to find out what is at the hut and gather some interesting facts about the area.
2. Invite another family with children
Having other children to share the experience with is a real winner for the kids. As much as we parents think multiple days hiking as a family is the pinnacle of enjoyment, the truth is sometimes it is just more fun with a friend. This way, Mum and Dad get to have their mates come too! Listening to the kids natter away with each other is priceless. The stories get bigger and more dramatic when the children tell their friends at school.
3. Take plenty of snacks/treats
This might seem obvious, but it really is important to keep energy levels up with children. Take lots of appealing energy-laden snacks that you know they like. And stop regularly for short breaks. We also make sure the dinner at the hut is something special and food we know they will enjoy. Letting them have some control over when they get to eat the snacks is also a good tip so pop a bag of snacks in their pack too. It pays to keep the real “motivator” snacks in your pack though, so they are not gobbled up on Day 1 before morning tea!
4. Think about choosing an adventurous route over a well-formed trail on flat terrain
Some people may disagree with me here, but I find the more technical, and I’m not meaning dangerous, the more the kids are kept engaged. When they have to concentrate to scramble over the rocks or find hand-holds to assist with their steps they have less time to think about being physically tired. You do need to think about adding on an hour or two to the recommended walking times of the trail.
5. Start walking early
Children typically have more get up and go in the morning than the afternoon. In my experience an hour in the morning is the equivalent to two hours in the afternoon. Kids can’t help themselves and they run here, there and everywhere and have no idea about pacing themselves. Capitilise on these golden hours and start each day at a reasonably early hour.
6. Considerate hut users
Lastly, raising children to be respectful hut companions is important. Huts are often shared with other hikers and I have seen the “internal eye roll” when we have arrived at the hut door. We have always proved to be pleasant companions by taking heed of the following advice. Getting the children to help collect and bring in firewood, ensure they keep the noise level reasonable and encourage them to make conversation with fellow hut users.
Most of all have fun, take plenty of photos and keep safe!