Hiking With Kids, Toddlers and Infants

September 7, 2017

Quick Tips: Do’s & Don’ts

Enjoying the great outdoors is perfectly feasible even with several small kids in tow. Hiking with small children can be a wonderful experience for both parents and child, but to ensure a great outing, and as few temper tantrums as possible it is best to plan ahead and expect the unexpected.

Always start the younger ones out on relatively easy, flat trails and for short distances until they become acclimatized. Pick hikes that have plenty of child friendly features to keep them interested like waterfalls or playparks. Stop regularly, rest and refuel with snacks and water before they get noticeably tired.

Make sure the hike is fun. Play games like “I spy” or make a scavanger hunt. Keeping kids interested is key to everyone having a memorable day out, and reduces the risk of meltdowns.

Do

Pick an easy trail with features that’ll keep them interested

Head out early, when everyone has the most energy

Assign one child to “lead the hike”, then rotate the leader role around the group

Play games, tell stories and answer their questions about nature and wildlife

Don’t

Expect to always reach your destination – head home when your kids have had enough.

forget to check the weather forecast

Assume one set of clothes is fine, even if the weather says sun. Pack plenty of spare socks/pants/sweaters.

Introduction

Introducing a new member to your family is a wonderful experience and each new experience encountered brings a mixture of joy and pride to both parent and child: their first smile, first word, first step. If you are already an avid hiker, then you may also be looking forward to the day when you can enjoy their first hike together too.

How soon you get out on the trail, should be entirely based on how comfortable you are with the concept, although many people will advise you to get them out as early as possible. Certainly getting out into the fresh air and beauty of nature can do wondrous things for sleep deprived, stressed new parents. You just need to know how to prepare correctly.

Hiking with kids can be a tad intimidating at first, even if you are an experienced hiker yourself who has spent years preparing yourself. We’ve pulled together as much wisdom as possible and packed this page with a bounty of tips to help you get your little ones on the right trail, with as little stress (and as few tantrums) as possible. Whether you are new to hiking yourself or have reached the summit of every peak in your state, we have got you covered.

Planning

Choosing a Trail

When selecting a hike, our recommendation is that you consider these two things first and foremost;

1How easy a hike it is.

2How engaging it’ll be for your little ones.

When starting your little ones out, pick something easy with little, if any, incline. Essentially, nothing too long or strenuous for little legs. Hikes close to home with properly paved paths are a good starting point.

You never know at what point a meltdown may occur due to tiredness, injuries from falling over or just being plain uninterested in hiking (these things can also befall your kids). As such, do not expect to make it to your trail goal every time, so traveling for several hours may end up being a waste of time if you end up being back in the car faster than you can say “Billy stole my stick – I’m bored. I want to go home”.

Once your kids become more accustomed and capable, you can begin to venture further from home, or up the difficulty a little bit (but remember to go slow).

Hiking for kids is all about the experience, so choose a trail that has some impressive features along the way like a waterfall, lake or kids play park that will keep them occupied. It’s also a good idea to have an ultimate destination in mind that will give them some motivation to keep their little legs moving (although it may not necessarily reduce the occurrences of “are we there yet?”).

Destinations can be as simple as a beautiful view of a waterfall or arriving at a picnic area with fire pits for grilling. Alternatively, check to see if there are any restaurants, rope courses or play parks that you can finish the trek at.

Whenever hiking with kids, remember to work with time and not against it, so plan for lots of it. Kids are mini-scientists, adventurers and super-heroes rolled into one. They’ll want to get down on their hands and knees and explore, to chase that butterfly or skip stones across the lake. Let them explore the natural world and remember that the goal is not so much the destination but the experiences along the journey.

Finally, when it comes to planning, get your child involved and let them help plan your trip. Involving them in the decision making will make them more engaged and invested in the hike. Plus, am sure you can remember as well as I do those proud moments helping mom or dad to decide.

Plan Ahead & Be Prepared for Anything

In our view, successful parenting lives on the maxim – be prepared for anything. While preparation is essential for any hike (child involvement or not), when kids are involved be prepared to expect the unexpected.

There is a Norwegian saying “Ikke dårlig vær. Baer dårlig klær” – “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Check the forecast, and dress yourself, and your kids appropriately for the weather conditions. Learn how to layer clothing, and bring rain gear, gloves & hats for out on the trail even if the weather forecast is saying it’s going to be a beautiful day. It can be super chilly early in the morning, and the local geography may create micro climates.

Rain clothes also help to keep out the wind which is a much greater contributor to hypothermia than just being wet alone. Remember your kids get cold much more quickly than adults! Another life saver (hopefully, not literally), is bringing an extra set of warm clothes for each member of your brood and leave them in the car for your return from their adventure. I would wager that at least one will be wet or muddy (or both)!

Proper clothing for protection from elements is one part of the equation, protection for you kids feet is another. Depending on the terrain you will be walking on ensuring your children have adequate hiking shoes – if the path is paved, short and flat then let them wear what is comfortable be it sandals or wellington boots, for more “rugged” terrain you may want to invest in some hiking boots for kids.

What to Pack

It is a universally acknowledged law of physics that whatever is needed at that precise moment in time will be sitting at home, probably sitting out in plain view so that you wouldn’t forget it, be it the fruit boxes or your kid’s favorite hiking stick. Meanwhile, the five peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (sans crusts) make it home after a day out hiking. Your six-year-old coming to a unilateral (and unbinding) resolution that they’re “icky” (at least for today).

When hiking with kids, there is no getting around the fact that even if they have their own backpacks, you will at some point likely be carrying 99% of the gear. After loading up with the essentials, you’ll just need to pack smart to find the balance between what is good to have versus how much you can physically (and comfortably) bring with you. We’ve come up with a list of essential and good to have packing items below.

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