To nurture a lifelong appreciation of nature in a child, parents can plan for hiking and camping trips as a family or one on one with the child. If hiking was a favorite pass time for the parent before kids came along, assimilating them into the culture of outdoor activities should come naturally.
It’s essential to stoke a love for the outdoors in kids early on in life – and what better way than a fun hike?
Every year, tens of millions of Americans hit the trails and head out on hikes. Most people think of hiking as an adults-only activity. The truth, though, is that there are tons of kid-friendly trails out there that you can enjoy with your loved ones.
Of course, hiking with kids can be a bit of a challenge, especially if they’ve never done it before. There are some key steps you’ll need to take if you want to keep everyone safe and ensure they all have a great time.
If you’re never hiked with kids before and want to be prepared, keep reading. Listed below are some great tips for hiking with kids.
Benefits of Hiking with Kids
Before we dive into the specific strategies you ought to implement when hiking with kids, let’s first go over some of the reasons why you ought to take them out on hikes. The following are some of greatest benefits that come with hiking with kids:
These days, kids are more sedentary than ever before. In fact, the average child spends 6-8 hours every day engaged in sedentary behaviors (sitting at a desk at school, playing video games, etc.). For most kids, some extra exercise, especially outdoor exercise, is much-needed.
Hiking is a physical activity which helps children maintain a healthy weight. It’s a bit more vigorous than a simple walk, especially if the trail is steep, making it a great exercise. It’s also an excellent way to improve bone density, an increasing issue among young children in the West.
Terrain affects the the quality of the hike, so for children, choose a flat terrain to make it easier on their small limbs.
It Increases Flexibility and Coordination
Hiking helps children with coordination and flexibility in their daily activities. The uphill nature of many trails utilizes their body weight to improve their leg strength and balance. The turns and curves on the terrain as well as climbing over obstacles on the trail are great for developing body coordination.
Hiking is a great activity for kids who need help bolstering their confidence and feeling surer of themselves and their abilities.
Knowing that they’ve just conquered a hiking trail and achieved an impressive feat can help children to feel more confident and empowered. This sense of empowerment will often carry over into other aspects of their lives.
Take a Technology Break
It’s also good for kids (and adults) to take some time away from technology. These days, we’re connected to our phones and tablets almost constantly.
It helps to take a break from these devices, breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy some natural light to balance out the blue light constantly glaring at us from our screens.
It Fosters Care for the Environment
As your child walks along, they learn more about the plants and animals that they come across. They can begin to associate what they learn in school with what they see in their surroundings. They’ll also learn how to care for the environment by not littering or leaving plastics that do not decompose along the way.
Parents or adults accompanying the children can make it a teachable moment, with experiments like burying a plastic container in the ground and a biodegradable item like an apple core side by side. Give it two weeks and come back for another hike and check to see which one is rotten and which one is not (just remember to properly recycle the plastic bottle once you’re done!)
Hiking brings hikers closer together, and the child forms close trusting bonds with other members of the pack, whether parents or other children. It teaches teamwork and the importance of completing tasks as well as following rules.
Adding a child to an adventuring crew is both exhilarating and intimidating. One might be nervous about what to do with a child once on the trail. However, with a little preparation, it should be the first of many exciting family hiking adventures.
Preparing for a Hike
Preparing children for a hike may take some time, but it’s well worth the long-term effort.
At this point, you might be eager to take your kids out on a hike. Before you do, though, make sure you’re prepared and ready for the adventure. Here are some essential hiking preparation tips everyone ought to keep in mind before they hike with kids:
Choose the Right Trail
When you’re hiking with kids, you have to be a lot more diligent in your planning. Think about your kids’ ages and ability levels. Then, look for hiking trails in your area that correspond to them.
Remember, it’s best to err on the side of a trail being too easy rather than too hard, especially when you’re taking your kids out for the first time.
Take Note of the Weather
When planning your upcoming hike, be sure to take note of what the weather will be like on that particular day. Avoid taking your kids out on days when it’s going to be very hot or when rain or thunderstorms are likely.
Pack the Night Before
You need to pack a lot when you take your kids out hiking with you. To avoid a morning scramble, try to pack the night before. Make sure you bring the following essentials:
- First aid kit
- Whistles for each person
- Hats and sunglasses
- Jackets or ponchos
- Bug spray
This might seem like a lot, but you can never be too prepared, especially when there are kids involved.
Get Your Kids Excited
Some kids might be chomping at the bit to head out on a hiking trail, while others might be a bit more hesitant. If your kids fall into the latter category, make sure you get them pumped up for the event.
Spend time talking about what they’ll see while on the trail and what kind of sites they’ll encounter at the end of the hike (if possible, choose a trail with a waterfall, a pond, or a great view).
It helps to have some games or distractions in mind, too. For example, plan a scavenger hunt and bring a list of items for your kids to look for along the trail (a red leaf, a heart-shaped rock, etc.). It might help to play games like “I Spy” as well.
How to Keep Kids Safe While Hiking
Staying safe on the trail ought to be of the utmost importance whenever you head out on a hike. When hiking with kids, though, you need to be even more vigilant about making sure everyone is safe and accounted for.
Remember these safety tips to prevent accidents and ensure everyone makes it through the hike in one piece:
Bring a First Aid Kit
Make sure you have a fully stocked first aid kit on hand. At the very least, it should have plenty of bandages, antibacterial wipes, and moleskin for blisters.
Take Plenty of Breaks
Take plenty of breaks along the trail. You might be able to power through it with no problems, but your kids (likely) have shorter legs and less experience than you. Be patient with them and let them rest as much as they need.
Stay on the Trail
Never venture off the trail. Not only does this disrupt the natural wildlife along the way, but it increases the likelihood that you or one of your kids will get lost or hurt.
Avoid climbing on rocks, especially rocks located around waterfalls or bodies of water. This is a recipe for a fall and a nasty scar.
Encourage the “Buddy System”
Encourage everyone in your hiking group to have a buddy, and make sure everyone stays with their buddy at all times. This will help minimize the likelihood that someone will get lost and helps you to keep track of everyone.
Universal tips for Hiking with Kids
These are the must-dos for children of any age, from infants to teenagers.
- Keep them hydrated and fed
- Check their gear
- Dress them appropriately
- Have a baby carrier
- Pack plenty of baby supplies
- Hike during nap time
- Carry protective clothing
- Have a plan for carrying and hiking
- Choose a flat terrain
- Provide the hiking essentials
- Have rules
- Plan together
- Give them a camera
- Allow friends along
These are the basic needs of a child, whether they are hiking or not, and they certanily shouldn’t be neglected just because they are outdoors. Stick to the regular feeding times that they have on a regular day. If lunch is at noon at home, then it should be the same while out on the trail.
Also, make sure they have enough water at all times so that they are well hydrated – a child might not notice they’re dehydrated.
Keeping the child dry and warm eliminates chances of life-threatening issues like hypothermia. Children will function better during the hike when they are comfortable and energized.
Children are forgetful little things, so the adult must double-check that they have packed all their necessities. Most kids like to carry their own backpacks – so place their water bottle, snacks, some clothing and perhaps a favorite toy in there.
Teenagers may also need help with their gear so ensure they have carried the most essential items for their comfort and survival on the trail. Ensure they charge all their gadgets and use these devices sparingly while on the trail.
Adults must make sure the kids are adequately dressed for the weather. Choose cool clothing for warm weather and warm clothing for cold weather. However, always carry extra clothing just in case the weather turns. A bright blue sky morning may morph into a dark wet afternoon, and one must always be prepared for that especially with kids around.
Tips for hiking with infants (below 12 months)
The first priority for adults hiking with children in this age group is a baby carrier. A comfortable baby carrier is a must because this is the primary means of carrying the child around with you all day. Days or even weeks before the hike, get the child accustomed to the carrier by carrying them around in it frequently.
That doesn’t mean that one should go overboard; however, depending on the number of days on the trail, it is better to have more than less. From carrying hygienic waste bags and enough powdered formula to having a bottle exclusively for water, preparation while on a hike with a baby makes it easier on both the adults and baby.
Babies have a predictable sleeping schedule, so hit the trail while he or she is asleep. This ensures that the baby’s sleeping schedule is not disrupted and the walking motion rocks them to sleep.
This includes hats, long-sleeved shirts, and warm jackets. Make sure the hats are wide-brimmed and cover the child’s neck as well. However, keep an eye on them to make sure they’re comfortable because babies can’t regulate their own body temperature.
Tips for hiking with young kids
Toddlers may still need to be carried during the hike as they get tired. The adults can take turns carrying the child. Also, make stops to allow the child to explore their surroundings – these can double as convenient rest breaks.
Steep terrain is too strenuous for a young child and the adult carrying the child. Instead, opt for flat terrain with no hazards to allow the child to run along and even play together safely.
Young children prefer to carry their backpacks, so make sure to pack a brightly colored water bottle to encourage water drinking. Dress the child in comfortable shoes, preferably sneakers as opposed to boots.
Set the rules to set the tone for the hike. For younger kids (not toddlers) rules like keeping the adult within sight and carrying a safety whistle are crucial. These rules and others must be discussed before hitting the trail (and repeated often!)
Tips for hiking with teenagers
Whether it is choosing the route or the activities, making the teenager part of the planning process helps them grow in their organizational and survival skills. Make sure the route incorporates areas they would like to explore and allow them to explore on their own once there.
In the spirit of selfie culture, giving a teen a camera to capture memorable moments make the hiking experience more fun and something they can share with friends later on. Just remember to give them a friendly tap on the head when they’re spending more time buried in the camera than their surroundings.
Teenagers love to be in groups, so allowing a group of friends along makes the hiking experience more interested. Before taking anyone else along make sure there is parental consent and everyone is fit to be on the trail.
Keep kids safe while hiking with the above tips and have fun on the trail!
Start Planning Your Hike Today
Now that you know more about how to hike with children and make sure everyone stays safe and happy, it’s time to start planning your next big adventure.
The idea of taking your kids on a hike might seem intimidating at first. If you keep these tips in mind, though, you’ll find that it’s not as daunting as you initially thought.
Give them a try today and remember that practice makes perfect. The more you and your kids head out on the trails, the easier your hikes will become.