We make some of our best memories together when we go hiking as a family. My husband and I have been hiking with our kids since they were wee babes. Some trips are more memorable than others and some trips are just plain disastrous. We’ve had about 9 years of experience trudging up the trails with theses little people and through the years we’ve learned a thing or two.
Here are 10 tips from my family to yours to make your hiking trips go a little more smoothly.
1. Pick your hike wisely.
When starting out, you’ll want to start small. Or short. Or flat. You’re obviously not going to summit a gigantic mountain peak your first time out. If you’re just starting out you’ll want to make sure the first experience your kids have is a positive one. If it’s too hard they’ll remember how miserable they were and wont be excited to go again. Kids love to have a destination, in fact, so do parents. Look up family friendly hikes in your area and pick ones that end with a waterfall or lake or go along a river. As you gain experience and your kids gain better hiking skills you can start doing harder and longer hikes.
2. Don’t set your heart on making it to your destination.
Think of your hike as more an exploration trip instead of a hike. It helps to change your mind frame and enjoy the whole adventure. Realize that more than a mile or two might be to much for your little ones. Kids have a limited supply of hiking juice. You might never see that lake or waterfall so enjoy what you do see. Realize that just being out in nature is what your kids need and it’s not always about you making it to the end. When your kids (or even you) have had enough of the hike you can always turn around and head back to the car. Don’t worry, it’s not a failure. You want to make sure you and your kids have enough energy to make it back to the car.
3. Dress appropriately.
Obviously you’ll need good walking shoes for everyone but for the type of hikes young families go on, you wont be needing to get completely outfitted with the latest and greatest gear. Tennis shoes work great. In fact, plan on them getting dirty and wet because kids often slip into rivers or step in mud puddles. Pay attention to the weather and dress accordingly. Pants are great for protecting scrapped knees but if it’s a hot summer day, you don’t want your kids to get overheated. Kids don’t hike well when they are too hot. Grab light jackets if it might be chilly. Higher elevations can be 10 or more degrees cooler than at home. If you and the kids are comfortable, you’ll be able to last longer outdoors.
4. Pack light but efficiently.
A small back pack for one adult should be plenty for a small family hike. Water is obviously a must. Kids love to drink along the trail especially if it’s hot. Your big kids will love carrying their own Camelbak if you have something like that but I recommend only filling it up half way. If it’s too heavy you’ll be the one carrying it after the first hill. Grab enough water for everyone but be careful- it can add a lot of weight to your pack too. Have everyone take a good long drink before leaving the car. It’s easier to carry water in your belly then on your back. Pack a small snack for along the way or to enjoy at your destination. Food will help everyone recharge. A small first aid kit can always come in handy and a small flashlight if you’re hiking in the evening. Don’t forget diapers and small pack of wipes if you have a baby.
5. Get creative.
It doesn’t take long for the kids to start getting tired. Use some creativity to make the hike fun and not a chore. Sing songs along the way, make up stories to tell, use your surroundings for inspiration. Pretend you’re entering fairy land or looking for some dragons to slay. Try to find the best wizard wand or pretend you’re on an African safari. Have a rock hunting contest or play animal guessing games. If the kids are having fun on the journey, they’ll make it a lot further. Perhaps you can provide a little baggie for each kid to collect pretty rocks, leaves or flowers. Have a contest at the end and award the prettiest, most unique and craziest colors so that everyone wins. Limit the size of the rock collection or else you’ll end up hauling the mountain back with you.
6. Acquire a comfortable carrier for baby or toddler.
You will obviously have to pack a baby and occasionally your toddler. You and the baby will be able to hike better with a comfortable carrier. If you’re hoping to enjoy hiking often with your family, it will be worth it to buy a nice carrier. Shop around, read reviews and try carriers out for long periods of time. The more weight on your waist and off your shoulders is the best for hiking. I have never liked hiking with a baby in a Baby Bijorn (ouch on the shoulders!) but my husband doesn’t mind them. I prefer a baby wrap for a real little one. When they get bigger you can carry them on your back. Yea! I love my Ergo for big babies. I don’t recommend a frame type carrier. I personally think they are bulky, uncomfortable and top heavy. We carried our first child in a Kelty carrier and we were all miserable. Each to their own though, but that’s what I recommend. Also, encourage your older toddler to walk as much as they can but realize that you could be carrying them for most of the hike. More exercise for you.
7. Take turns.
Grown ups get tired too. Take turns with the other parent to give yourself a break. If you’re carrying a child or dealing with a whinny, tired walking aged soul, switch and help each other out and everyone will be a little bit happier.
8. Hold hands with the little ones.
Maybe this is an obvious tip, but when the trail allows, hold hands with your small child. They will walk faster and be able to keep up with that extra support. Little ones can stumble a lot. Expect some trips and falls and be willing to steady them by holding their hands especially on a rock trail.
9. Stop and smell the Pine trees.
The whole point of going hiking with your family is to enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors. Point out the beauty around you. Show the kids what you see. Talk about the colors of the leaves or the amazing rock formations. Point out wildflowers and count their petals. Crush some pine needles or sage leaves in your hand and let your child smell the sweet goodness. Throw rocks in the river and watch a beetle cross the trial. Poke at some bugs with a stick and watch their little legs work. Watch a squirrel run up a tree and listen to it’s chatter. Point out birds and deer and mimic a chipmunk. Take a break at a pretty spot and let the kids dig in the dirt and explore the area. Let go about making it to your destination and everyone will be so much happier.
10. Take along a friend.
As your kids get older they may loose some of their motivation for hiking. If you allow them to bring along a friend, you’ll be amazed at the new spring in their step with their friend along. Of course, check with the parent and make sure they are comfortable with you taking them for a hike. You could also invite the whole family along and make the memories together. How fun!
If you’re just starting out or a seasoned hiker, I hope my tips help you along your way. Just make sure to enjoy the journey and allow the kids to be kids. The time spent outdoors will give your kids a love for nature and an appreciation for God’s creations.