Since we are so passionate about Raising Kids Who Love The Outdoors, the big, happy milestones for our children have always included their first hike. Though we have never gone hiking with the family on what I would call a hike far into the wilderness, yet, it is always important to make sure that safety is the first priority. I may always bring “too much” on our hikes, but when you have four kids six and under with you, it really can be hard to judge what you may need. While everyone may not bring as much as we do, every hiker does at least need a first aid kit and emergency items, even if you are hiking by yourself, or with kids in tow. Again, safety first.
Keep in mind too, that no matter how fun the kids will think an activity is, whining WILL happen. There is always some whining on our hikes — they key is to keep it fun and the rewards flowing. Our favourite reward of choice is Skittles. They are small pieces, so you can ration them and really spread out the bribes when the whining starts. Plus, the sugar will keep their energy flowing with some more pep in their steps! We also love MadeGood snacks and food pouches (I call them “smoothies”) for easy food when they get hungry. Keep that energy high!
It also helps for them to know of an end reward — have you found a hike where they can go for a swim? Will they get to stop for a treat after on the way “home”? With as many hikes as we have been on, it does get easier (especially as they get older), but remember that they are KIDS. Let them stop when they need to rest and encourage them to get “distracted” and explore the nature they see around them. There is so much to learn in nature!
Perhaps the first during-the-hike things to consider are garbage and bathroom breaks. We believe in not leaving anything behind on the trail; always pack out what you pack in. There’s nothing worse than seeing garbage when you are trying to enjoy beautiful nature.
It is inevitable that during your hike you will have to use the washroom. If you’re on a trail that doesn’t have any place for a bathroom break, you’ll have to find one. Make sure you have a bag that seals so you aren’t leaving any toilet paper behind. Our kids think it is hilarious to pee in nature, but when you gotta go, you gotta go. And, when it is more than just pee, you don’t want to be carrying stink around, am I right? This goes for soiled diapers too, of course, double bag that!
Hiking with children obviously changes a lot as they grow. With babies, it is a good idea to get them comfortable in their carrier before going on a long hike. Also, keep in mind that the child will fall asleep from all of the motion, so ensure you start your hike at a time that won’t have you up all night afterwards. We have hiked with Baby Bjorn and Onya baby carriers. Take a look at all that are available and find what works best for you.
Our toddlers have all really embraced the dirt; only change to the spare clothes when you absolutely have to. On our Quarry Rock hike last summer, all our toddler wanted to do for a good thirty minutes was sit in the dirt on the path and get as dirty as he could. It was a warm day, so we just let him be as he was and he loved it. As the kids get older, some of the rules start to change. It begins with always staying close to us, and then graduates to within our sight. This rule, of course, varies to where we are hiking as well. They know that if they find themselves lost, to stay where they are and to blow their whistle three times until we find them.
You will not always know what you are getting into on a hike, but it also helps to pick places where it is not always about hiking through trees to get to a view. It is helpful if there are some fun things to discover along the way, like climbing rocks, or a lake to skip rocks, or if the weather is nice enough, going for a swim. If there is not much in that way of entertainment, it never hurts to point out animals, neat nature sights around you (scavenger hunts can be great). Or heck, sing a song! Anything that will keep those little legs moving! We also gave our kids one of our old little point-and-shoot cameras and they love taking photos and looking at the photos when we get home. It is also a wonderful way to remember some sights you saw that you did not quite know what they were because we can help them look up information about them when we get home. The next activity we are going to try to add in is to teach our oldest to follow a simple map.
The older kids appreciate being a part of the planning process and that includes packing their own bag. We still have the kids share a bag. The fun of wearing the bag does wear off during the hike and then the pack can switch to the next kid — and it is all of a sudden fun again. Only make their bag light and they will last longer wearing it.
Since water is the heaviest item you will have to lug around with you, I find it helpful to bring along the hydration pack that I wear on my long runs. I cannot wait until they will each wear their own. It is so simple to add hydration tablets to the water to help replenish the good stuff you lose as your body works hard.
And, of course, there are the basics: a First Aid kit, sunscreen all over (backs of their necks, too!), we learned fast with our first kid that babies need a hat that they cannot easily take off (even now our kids will not keep hats on for long), proper running shoes (or you’ll stop SO much to remove pebbles), water sandals if there is water nearby, and a change of clothes. Also, in case you get caught in the dark, it is always a good idea to bring a flashlight (with fully charged batteries).
We love hiking with our kids and it will only get more fun as they grow and are able to take on longer and more challenging hikes with us.
What tips do you have from hiking with kids at different ages?