How To Hike With Your Children
Updated: February 21, 2020
Hiking with kids can be a rewarding experience, and exposing them to the beauty of nature can have a lasting impact on their lives. Plus, walking provides light cardiovascular exercise, and the variety of terrain can help build agility and balance. Hiking trails are also typically home to an array of exciting wildlife; even trails in the city house insects and a variety of birds.
Bringing your kids along on a trail is certainly no easy feat, however. Here are some ways to make your hike with the tikes a little easier.
Plan The Hike
Research the trail online to check out terrain conditions and required skill levels. Young children can only handle so much, so look for paths that are geared toward beginners with little elevation changes. Map out a tentative route, and pencil in a few breaks and rest stops.
How To Dress Your Kids
Be sure to pack an ample amount of water for each hiker. A general rule of thumb is ½ a liter (about two cups) per person for each hour on the trail.
A variety of easy to eat snacks should keep hungry tummies at bay. Some kid-approved options include:
- Trail mix (with chocolate for a treat)
- Granola bars
- Frozen grapes
- Apple slices with peanut butter (stored in a small food storage container)
- Celery sticks
- Roasted chickpeas
- Mini peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
When To Use A Baby Carrier
Even if your youngster can walk, a baby carrier or all-terrain stroller will help tremendously if your child gets too tired or the walking conditions become rough.
Keeping The Hike Fun
Making a hike enjoyable can mean the difference between finishing the trail and going home early. Play various games with your children, including:
- Sing camp songs
- Pretend to be on a magical journey
- Call out different shapes in the clouds
- Count how many types of flowers you can find
- I Spy
- 20 Questions. Try to keep answers hike-related for bonus points
- Kick a soccer ball ahead of the pack
- Bring a checklist and mark off the plants, animals, and insects you see native to the area
- Skip stones in a lake
- Tell stories
- Paint rocks with inspiring messages at home ahead of time, and leave them along your path for others to find. Some examples are “You Are Loved,” “Keep Going,” “You Got This.”
Designating a leader of the pack can also help build confidence and leadership skills. Have the leader stand in front to guide the pack while the others follow. Be sure to rotate roles if there is more than one child.
Educating Your Kids
Make learning lessons out of the experience. For example, use the hike to teach your children about local wildlife. Perhaps research the animal tracks you come across, or try to figure out what species of birds are tweeting in the area.
You can also use the hike to teach your children the “Leave No Trace” principle of picking up after yourself. Explain why it’s essential to hold onto your trash when you’re outdoors, and include the children by having them hold onto their wrappers until you come across a trash can.
Consider Meditation/Breathing Exercises
Some of my best hiking memories began with a breathing exercise that connected me to the scenery around me. While meditation is understandably not for everyone, designating a “quiet time” to sit, listen, and experience the surroundings is a great way to start (or end!) a hike. If kids have an abundance of energy, or conversely are dragging along, encouraging a three-, five- or ten-minute break might help them regroup.
There are several breathing techniques; some kid-friendly ones include:
- Pay attention to your regular breathing. There is nothing special here except the fact that focusing on your breaths may trigger deep breathing, leading to a calmer mind.
- Ocean breath. Keep your shoulders down and relaxed. Inhale deeply through the nose, describing it to your children as “filling the lungs with air like a balloon.” With your mouth closed, exhale slowly while creating an “ocean,” “hissing,” or “Darth Vader” noise from the back of your throat. Repeat up to five times.
- Shoulder rolls. On each inhale, bring your shoulders to your ears. Hold for a second or two. On the exhale, bring the shoulders down. Repeat up to five times.
- Hot air balloon breath. Either sitting or standing, cup your hands around your nose and mouth. Take an inhale through the nose, and slowly exhale out of the mouth or nose into your hands, raising them high into the air like a hot air balloon. Bring the hands back to the face and repeat. Admire your kids’ hot air balloon efforts.
- Dandelion breath. If you come across dandelions, use them to encourage some fun competition. Have everyone inhale and exhale together, and see who can blow off the most petals in one breath. Repeat until everyone’s dandelions are free of petals. Bonus: have the kids make a wish with each exhale.
Keeping Your Kids Safe
Hiking trails can be a great way to educate kids on the importance of safety. Before you begin the walk, establish a meeting point, such as the trail entrance, in the case of an emergency or if someone gets lost.
If the kids are carrying a backpack, give each a small water bottle and snack. A whistle will also be vital if someone is separated from the pack. If the kids are not carrying a backpack, tie the whistle to their jacket strings or belt loop. Let them know what to do if they can’t find you: blow three short, loud bursts. It might be fun to have the kids practice their whistle techniques before beginning the trail.
If they are old enough, give the children an overview of the trail or show them your planned route on a map.
Hiking with children may be challenging, but it is undoubtedly manageable (and enjoyable!) with the right tools and tips. Keeping your kids safe should be your top priority, but don’t forget to take a moment for yourself to take in the beautiful scenery. Taking care of yourself is one of the best ways to take care of your kids. Safe travels!