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6 Tips For Hiking With Young Kids

Start 'em young.

By: Jen Weir + Save to a List

Kids are awesome – they fill your heart with joy, keep your life interesting, and even wake you up in the middle of the night just to see how you’re doing. Despite these undeniable perks, kids also have the potential to put a damper on your outdoor pursuits. You’ve likely noticed, as your brood grows, your outings occur less frequently. Rather than using your kids as an excuse not to get out, load them up and show them a thing or two about the great outdoors. Before you hit the trails, do your kids and your sanity a favor and prepare yourself for what lies ahead.

Photo: Jennie Sprigings

1. Pre-approve Their Hiking Garb

Before you even leave the house, make sure your little minion is dressed appropriately -- good socks and properly fitting shoes are not only a big person necessity. Your kiddo has to take significantly more steps than you do to cover the same amount of ground. Make sure his feet are handling the load – you don’t want a heel blister to ruin hiking for him (or to ensure you pack him the rest of the way). If the weather permits, a hat, long pants and sleeves are best to protect that delicate skin from the sun, bugs and rogue branches; otherwise just remember the sun screen and bug spray.

2. Pack Food

Even if you’ve just fed them a five-course meal and only plan to hike for 30 minutes, pack food with you. The fresh air, sunshine and wilderness seem to have a fierce effect on appetite. Fruit snacks and granola bars are easy to pack and seem to do the trick for their “starving” little tummies. If you’re planning on an all-day hike, definitely plan on packing in more hearty items.

Photo: Jennie Sprigings

3. Have Ample Water on Hand

On an average day, your kids may normally consume less water than a small rodent but when you’re on the trail you may as well hook up an IV. All joking aside, keeping your little ones hydrated is your best bet to keep them going. Kids one to eight years old need four to five cups of water (or other beverage) per day. If you’re hiking in hot or humid weather, plan on a bit more. Make sure you always have a full bladder in your CamelBak – if your kids are big enough, they could even pack their own. Assigning each kid his or her own water bottle is another option, just make sure they don’t get left along the trail and keep in mind you may be the one carrying them back to the car.

4. Hiking Sticks Are a Must

They may not be an absolute necessity for getting up the trail, but kids love them and it makes the hike more fun. Aside from looking cool and making a great impromptu bow staff (you know, in case bad guys ambush you on the trail), hiking sticks can also help your kiddo make it up some of the rougher terrain. Rocks and roots poking out of the trail are always a tripping hazard for little feet, find a large stick (sans a pointy end) and turn your little person loose.

Photo: Jennie Sprigings

5. Have a Plan

Always plan your hike ahead of time, ideally choosing a trail you’ve trekked before. Knowing exactly how long the trail is and the type of terrain will make it easier for you to mentally prepare yourself and your kids for what the day will hold. In addition to knowing your trail, never trust your child’s judgement. Leaving the decision up to her of when to turn around is just asking for trouble. Kids have a difficult time gauging how much farther they can go. They say they’re doing fine then all of a sudden they can’t muster the strength to take one more step and you’re still two miles from the trail head. If you know you’re kid can walk for 40 minutes, make it a point to turn around at the 20-minute mark to make sure everyone makes it back to the car without the assistance of a pack mule.

6. Don’t Abuse the Backpack

The backpack is a great and essential tool when hiking with young kids; it’s much less demanding to pack them up than it is to carry them in your arms. While it may be tempting to take the easy route and just confine them to the pack the whole time, do your best to let them explore and hike on their own and avoid robbing them of the outdoor experience. It’s a lot more fun to go hiking with mom and dad when they can stop to look at bugs, plants and, of course, scat.

Photo: Jennie Sprigings

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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