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How to go hiking with kids

From the moment you held the newest addition to your family, you began to celebrate all the beautiful milestones: first smile, first step, first word, and so on. For those parents who love the outdoors, another milestone beckons; the first hike.

Hiking with kids can be a stressful endeavor – with a baby, there are all the essentials you must bring with you; when they're a bit older and finding their feet, you can't go very far at all; when they get older still, you still can't cover the distance you used to, plus you have to constantly encourage them to carry on. Here are some suggestions on how to go hiking with kids.

Hiking with kids of any age

1. Make sure they’re dry, warm, and fed

    That seemingly kid-friendly hiking trail can become a nightmare when your little one’s basic needs aren’t met.

    2. Emergency shelter

      Always bring with you an emergency shelter to protect you from rain and wind in case the weather abruptly changes. Shelter options include a bivy sack, an ultra-light tarp, or an emergency space blanket.

      3. Extra food

        Even if you don’t plan on staying out for long, it’s always a good idea to pack some extra food in case your hiking trip takes longer than anticipated. Choose items that have a long shelf life such as dried fruits, energy bars, and nuts.

        4. Extra clothes

          Conditions can turn abruptly chilly, wet, or chilly, so always pack extra clothes for your little ones when preparing for your hiking trip. Common options include extra socks, a layer of underwear (tops and bottoms), extra gloves, an insulating hat, warm sweaters and jackets.

          5. Make sure they’re hydrated

            It’s crucial to carry plenty of fluids when out on a hiking trip with your kids. The ideal drinking bottle or container will vary with age; for cooling needs when it’s hot out, a spray bottle will come in handy.

            6. Double-check the gear list

              Some essentials you may need for a day of hiking with the kids include:

              • Sun protection – sunglasses, sunscreen, and sun-protective clothes
              • Navigation – GPS device, map, or compass
              • First aid kit – Band-Aids, antiseptic wipes, antibiotic ointment, antiseptic solution, etc.
              • Insect repellent
              7. Keep track of the weather

                Weather can change suddenly, so make sure the kids are layered up and ready to head for home if the skies are unexpectedly dark and stormy.

                8. Take lots of breaks

                  Use breaks to refuel, and take them often. Kids might come across as endless balls of energy, but that shouldn’t fool you – they tend to get tired more easily than adults. Stop as much as it’s necessary. Let your little ones know when to expect the next break by making landmarks in the distance – such as a distinct tree or a water body – an “energy stop”.

                  9. Do your research

                    Before the planned hike, do your research. Study the route and make sure that your chosen hiking trail is not only fun but also safe. When you're going on a hike with very young kids, avoid slippery surfaces or steep drop-offs. That'll be beneficial to you as well, especially if you're carrying a baby or might end up having to carry a tired toddler.

                    Hiking with an infant

                    Here are some tips for hiking with an infant:

                    • Choose a quality baby carrier. A well-made model will have a supportive design that allows for a comfortable and safe ride. Look for features like quality harnesses, suspension systems, padding, pockets, and sun and rain protection.
                    • The hiking motion lulls most kids to sleep, so you might want to hit the trail at naptime so that you don’t disrupt your little one’s sleep cycle.
                    • Pack plenty of diapers, and a good number of waste bags to dispose of them in.
                    • Limit the first couple of hikes to a couple of hours; be wary of wind, cold, and rain as well.
                    • Cover your little one with a wide-brimmed sun hat for added protection against UV rays from the sun.

                    Hiking with a toddler

                    These are the half carry/half hike years, so adaptability is important. Toddlers are naturally adventurous, so plan on taking lots of breaks to allow them to explore small areas in great detail.

                    • Choose brightly colored, animal-covered, kid-size water bottles to encourage drinking.
                    • You don’t need hiking boots for a toddler – sneakers should be fine. Make sure to pack extra socks in case they need a change.
                    • Toddlers love to explore, so don’t be afraid to let them get dirty. Let them play with leaves, sand, and pinecones. Let them feel the wind on their face and let them splash in puddles. Unless there’s a real concern don’t hinder your toddler’s natural inclination to explore and play.
                    • Kids love having hiking gear of their own, so why not get your toddler a small pack in which they carry something lightweight like a jacket?
                    • When you have a toddler tagging along, look for a relatively flat, hazard-free area where you can let them run free.
                    • Your little one can still ride in the carrier until he/she reaches about 40 pounds.

                    Hiking with a grade-schooler

                    You can retire the child carrier as you now have a full-fledged hiker. 

                    • Think about hiking trails that offer kid-size fun – where they can clamber onto boulders or skip rocks, for example.
                    • Involve your grade-schoolers in the planning and preparation, from picking the hiking trail to packing for the trip.
                    • Kids get bored quickly, even on hikes – have them sing songs, count squirrels, spot blazes on trees, and hold twig races in creeks.
                    • When kids first begin to hike on their two feet, the rule is to always keep them within your sight.
                    • Consider having your kids carry a safety whistle (many backpacks have them built into a strap buckle).

                    Final thoughts

                    If you enjoy hiking, you’ll want to introduce it to your little ones as soon as possible. You’ll want to take it easy when they’re very young, taking care not to go too far or spend too much time on the trail. If you keep it up, you’ll eventually be able to do “real” hikes again, but this time you’ll have a walking partner.

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