Hiking With Kids

This may seem like a strange article to write by many people out there.  They use to hike all the time before they had children.  When their children came along, they thought that their hiking days were over.  But, I am here to tell you, with a bit of planning and foresight, you can create a lot of long lasting memories hiking with kids.

Change of Plans:

The main idea behind hiking with your kids is that you must change your goals.  The twelve mile hikes up a 4000 foot rise to a 13,000 foot elevation is completely out of the question for a 5 year old.  Just by modifying your idea of accomplishment, you can have a wonderful time.

Time, Distance and Speed:

When hiking with kids, these three items are relative.  You need to let the child set the pace.  They do have shorter legs and are taking two or three steps to your one.  They may want to dawdle and look at every bug, mushroom, rock and stick.  Understand that that is okay.  That is the ultimate goal, to get your children interested in the outdoors and wanting them to explore.  Children don’t care how long they have hiked or how far they have gone.  At the end of the hike, they are talking about the orange and black beetle they saw on the trail and how fast it moved.  And this could be true on a hike that was only one half mile.

Age Groups:

  • Babies and Toddlers:

The name of the game is to start them off as soon as possible.  The younger they are, the more they get used to the outdoor experience.

o   Carrying: Be aware that one of the two parents will be carrying the child and the other will have most of the gear.  There are a lot of great hiking baby carriers out there.  One thing a parent must be aware of is that the child is behind you.  This can pose a problem with sun/wind burn, hypothermia or other possible ailments.  A child loses body heat very quickly.  Make sure that both parents are keeping an eye on the child’s condition.

o   Diapers: Make sure to pack-it-in, pack-it-out.  Don’t leave any dirty diapers on the trail.  You can bury the poo in a properly dug cathole and then put the diaper in plastic bags for carry out.  This brings up the idea of hygiene.  Make sure to have plenty of anti-bacterial wipes and liquid.  Another item to think about is that the baby, when carried will be sitting on their diaper all day.  Make sure to check and take care of changing the diaper regularly.

o   Sleeping: A lot of parents use a two person sleeping bag and place the baby between them.  The other alternative is to have a separate bag for the baby.  If the latter is the case, make sure that the baby is dressed accordingly, because they have a tendency to wiggle out of the bag during the night.

o   Food: Follow your normal routine of what you do at home.  Keeping them on the same feeding schedule will help.

  • Toddlers: Five Words- Keep an Eye on Them.  Hiking with kids of this age is very challenging.  They love to explore EVERYTHING.  They want to put things in their mouths, touch all that they can get their hands on.  Probably the best advice is to have one parent that is in charge of the child and the other in charge of everything else.  Above all, the parents must communicate the fact of who is watching the kid at all times.
  • Young Children: At this age, they are old enough to have their own backpacks and sleeping bags.  Giving them their own backpack with a few things to carry makes them feel like they are helping and growing up.  When hiking, let the child set the pace.  If they want to stay in one location and explore, so be it.  You must accept the fact that the destination may not be reached.  Also, be prepared to carry your child when they get tired.  Our one goal is to keep the child hydrated and fed.  Let them find the beauty and awe of nature.
  • Older Children: With older children, your hikes can get longer and more tactical.  It is good to let them get involved in the planning of the hike.  Another great idea is to let them bring a friend.  After a certain age, the parents are boring.  Teach them how to set up camp and break it down.  This helps you out and gives them something constructive to do.

Hydration: One item to keep in mind when hiking with kids is keeping hydrated.  Many parents have found that the child will drink more if you give them hiking hydration packs.

Snacks: Keep plenty of snacks on hand.  Hiking, just like for you, takes a lot out of a kids body.  Keeping up their energy and taking a lot of breaks keeps them more interested.  You might also use them as an incentive, “we will stop and have a snack when we reach the waterfall.”

Planning: Make sure to plan hikes that have many interesting features.  A five mile hike through a forest may be very relaxing and Zen like for you, but for a child there is nothing there to hold their interest.  Another word on planning, remember that plans will change.  Weather, small aches, pains and other items may crop up to end your hike early.

Teaching: Make sure to teach your child, minimum impact on the environment, safety, cleaning up (pack-it-in, pack-it-out).  Raise a responsible hiker.  Also, teach them all about the outdoors, everything you know.

Kid’s Packs: When packing your child’s backpack don’t put in more than 20% of their weight.  If the child is overweight, then that number should be even less.

Safety: make sure, even at the youngest age, that each child has their own whistle and how to use it in case they get lost.  Develop a system with your child.  Make sure that they understand not to use the whistle except in an emergency situation.

First Aid: Hiking with kids means boo boos.  Make sure to have:

  • For Baby: Baby Tylenol, Teething Gel, Diaper rash ointment, Benedryl
  • For All Children: Child or hypo-allergenic sunscreen, Tylenol or Ibuprofen, band aids, Calamine lotion, Benedryl ( or other antihistamine)

This is by no means all of the information about hiking with your children, but it is a good start.  Nothing can take the place of common sense on the trail.  You, as the parent, know your child best.  Paying attention to your child’s condition while hiking can keep them safe.

Hiking with kids can be a fantastic experience.  Watching them explore and become adventurers may take you back to when you were younger and looked at the world with more inquisitive eyes.  It can help you bond with your child.  And most importantly, it can show your child how much you love the outdoors and instill the same desire in them.

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