Hiking With Kids
Beginning with that day you first held the newest member of your family, you began to celebrate each miraculous moment: first smile, first word, first step. For those of us who love the outdoors, another milestone beckons: first hike.
Bringing you kids out on hikes gives you an opportunity to rediscover your inner child: For kids, it truly is the journey, not the destination. and it gives you an opportunity to explore with them, one step at a time.
There’s no one right answer as to when, though many would urge that you get out there “as early as possible.” If you’re a hiker, you already know how to prep yourself. This article contains tips that you can apply to the younger members of your adventure crew.
Trail Safety Rules for Kids:
• When kids first start to hike on their own two feet, the rule is "always stay within sight of Mom or Dad.
• After the kids have been hiking with you for a few years, the rule can change to "hike ahead for short stretches, then stop and wait until you see Mom and Dad again." Also: "Never hike past a trail sign."
• Kids must carry a safety whistle (many packs have them built into a strap buckle).
• Kids must know what to do when lost: Stop, stay put and blow the whistle in bursts of three.
Tips for Hiking with Grade-Schoolers
• Rather than peaks or views, think about destinations with kid-size fun: where they can skip rocks or clamber onto boulders, for example.
• Involve them in the planning and preparation: everything from picking their trail to packing their pack.
• This is a great age to let kids switch from a water bottle to a reservoir; your child is strong enough to carry one and most kids love to sip on the run.
• Kids bore quickly, so be creative to keep things fun: Spot blazes on trees, count animals, sing songs and make up verses. Geocaching is another great option for keeping kids engaged; or go low tech and incorporate a scavenger hunt into your hike.
• For slowpoke kids: Employ lots of mini destinations, like a giant tree or a mossy rock, where they get a snack break.
• Bring along a friend and get double the fun. Having non-sibling friends along keeps the energy up and cuts down on the complaining.
• Teach kids Leave No Trace rules early on; then see how long it takes for them to “catch you” messing up.
• Teach kids map reading early on: Start with something simple like a nature-trail map; when they’re older get them their own topo maps.
Hiking with Kids of Any Age
• Keep them dry, warm and fed: That seemingly kid-perfect spot becomes a miserable place when your child’s most basic needs aren’t met. Children simply aren’t as resilient as adults—even kids who never seem to whine. When they’re warm dry and full, though, kids possess explorer superpowers.
• Keep them hydrated and cool: This is really an extension of the tip above. The ideal drinking container, bottle or reservoir, varies with age; for cooling help when it’s hot out, a spray bottle is handy for ages kid through adult.
• Triple-check the gear list: Family essentials, like a favorite snack, are only part of the picture. Until your child is old enough to be self-sufficient, it falls squarely on you to ensure your group has all of the Ten Essentials.
• Watch the weather: Nasty conditions can make things uncomfortable, scary or even dangerous for kids, so layer up and be ready to head for home if skies turn dark and stormy.