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Hiking is a favorite pastime for people of all ages. It is a wonderful way to absorb some natural vitamin D and get tons of fresh air. Added bonuses are getting exercise while enjoying the beauty of the natural world around us.
Going hiking with kids however can be somewhat challenging if you have never done so or are not properly prepared! We have compiled a list of some of the most important things to do in preparation. Also, there are some ideas for keeping the hike fun and engaging for everyone no matter their age!
Length of Your Hike
When planning out your hike with kids, one of the first things to determine is the length of the hike. While young kids always seem to have a limitless supply of energy, hiking may use different muscles than they are used to. A good way to decide how long your hike should be is to consider the youngest child who will be on the hike.
Think about how long it takes to walk around the block with them and how long you want your hike to last. This may mean your hike is only a half mile each way yet it takes almost an hour. Short hikes are quite okay. Also, consider the weather you will be out in, heat and cold will limit your child’s ability and willingness to go further.
The more your family hikes, the more they’ll get used to it and you can gradually increase to longer hikes over time. After all, as much as we love our little ones, giving them long-distance piggy back rides is probably not how you want to end your first hikes as a family!
Have a Destination in Mind
Once you have determined the length of your hike, it is time to choose a destination! Take a walking trail or go to a nature reserve that has more level ground. Perhaps you know of a great place to hike in the woods with hills and valleys. Whichever you choose, be sure to take the terrain into consideration when you are hiking with kids.
As much as they may want to see the view from the top of that big hill, if they aren’t conditioned to steep inclines and declines it might be better to take a more level hiking trail with smaller changes in the terrain to get their little legs used to using their muscles for steadily walking up or downhill.
A good destination might be picnic areas where you can stop for a snack or lunch and take a rest or play before your return trip. You might even pack a special treat!
Your Little One’s Hiking Gear
For Young Kids
Now that you know where and how far you will be hiking, it is time to gear up your kids with their own hiking equipment! Whether you are hiking through the woods or on a paved trail, having the proper footwear is extremely important. Your kids should have comfortable shoes with good tread and ankle support especially if your hiking destination has uneven terrain!
Get each kid their own pack that is lightweight with a sternum strap. As we all know, even if you are hiking in cooler weather, once you get moving and your blood gets pumping you are likely to shed that jacket!
Having a lightweight hiking backpack means you won’t become a pack mule for everyone’s jackets as they decide to take them off! This also enables them to have their hands free for exploring yet carry their own water and snacks as well as providing a place to store all of the “treasures” they may find!
You will also want to have a pack of your own with things they don’t need to carry themselves like extra water. Also, a first aid kit is a good idea in case of a skinned knee or a bee sting, a safety whistle, and a sun hat for everyone. Depending on the weather rain gear or a small towel might be needed as well.
For Infants and Babies
If you are trying to get out and about in nature with very young ones, infants or toddlers, you will need to consider what carrying device is appropriate. There is a baby carrier or wrap that is front wearing or back wearing or both. One of these worn in the front is likely the best option for infants and babies.
Then there are sturdy hiking backpacks for toddlers and small children who can’t make the long hikes. You will need to determine the size you will need and who will carry. This will ensure it fits you and the baby correctly. These are a great way for little ones that can walk some but then need to ‘ride’. They might need to take a nap on a day hike. Most come with some sort of sun shade, foot rests and padding. They can be an investment. If you are an outdoorsy type family and may potentially have more than one child, you will get the value out of it!
We lived in Australia when my son was young and we got one of these. We used it ALL the time. He loved riding in it on my husband’s back because he was up high and could see all around. The first time small kids are placed in one of these might be a bit of an adjustment so try it out slowly for short periods of time. Take them for brief walks at local parks or to walk the dog a few times before you set out on a fun hike.
Water and Snacks
Staying hydrated is super important when hiking especially during the warmer times of year. Many hiking backpacks come with a water bladder which has a bite valve. The valve is connected to bladder that feeds directly from inside the backpack over the shoulder strap. This means you don’t have to worry about dropped or spilled water bottles. It helps balance out the weight of their pack too!
When packing snacks, keep in mind that you will want something healthy and not too messy. Trail mix with dry fruit, dry cereal, or granola bars are great choices. Make sure that the kids are getting natural sugars and proteins. These will keep their energy up while hiking. These are also lightweight and won’t take up much room or weigh down their packs!
Young children can easily get tired of walking after a while. To keep them entertained, plan a scavenger hunt during your hike! There are tons of free nature scavenger hunt printables or you can make up your own. Give each kid a quick rundown of the items they are looking for before you head out on your hike, and maybe a small magnifying glass.
If there is a substantial variety in ages between the kids, give the younger ones simple lists. The older ones can have a list that is a bit more challenging. Activities can range from finding specific shaped or colored leaves to collect, to finding or identifying animal tracks. The scavenger hunt possibilities are endless! Also have them help spot the trail marker and even read the map if you have one.
Rewards for Reaching Hiking Goals
Another way to keep the kids entertained and also help them learn to see the benefits of going on hikes. Try to create “hiking goals” they can get rewards for once reached. For the younger kids, this could be something simple such as a small bottle of bubbles. Kids can then blow them as they walk the last little bit of the way back to the starting point. (The bubbles might even be a fun incentive for your older kids too!)
Some other incentives could be using leaves, rocks, feathers, or any other items they collect on your hike to make an art craft or starting a “treasure collection”. Whether your family gets to go on hikes often or rarely, there are many ways to make it engaging and fun!
Whether your family plans to start hiking regularly or just when you can fit it into your schedule. Being properly prepared will make the hike enjoyable for everyone. Having a plan of where, how long, and what to bring will make getting started easier and faster.
Before you know it, your whole family will be looking forward to the next hike when you’ve barely reached the end of the trail! You will figure out what works for your kids and your family and be heading out on your outdoor adventures in no time.