Follow these simple tips for hiking with kids that will make walking a family experience you can all enjoy.
Hiking is a great activity for children of any age and has both physical and wellbeing benefits. It can also be a lot of family fun and a chance to make some lasting family memories. This guide will share simple tips for hiking with kids that will help you motivate your children to enjoy walking in the great outdoors.
Quite honestly, the more hiking with kids you do, the more fun it will be become!
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What are the benefits of hiking for kids?
Obviously, hiking offers many health benefits for kids. It is a good physical activity, which builds up muscle and bone density and can contribute to general fitness levels. Hiking also provides children with fresh air and much-needed vitamin D.
However, just as importantly, there are also many mental benefits of walking. Hiking can help children get in touch with nature and provide valuable time away from electronic devices and screens. This in itself is great for the mind and wellbeing.
What are the simple tips for hiking with kids?
Plan your route carefully
When you are choosing where to hike, pick a family-friendly route that is appropriate for the age and stamina of your children. Firstly, you need to consider the distance and terrain and decide whether or not your children will cope.
They will be able to travel further if you allow more time. Allow for is a significant rest period or change of activity half-way. The more walking you do, the more proficient walkers your children will become. However, don’t put them off hiking on your first hiking trip, by going too far.
Choose a hiking route with an interest factor
Children will far prefer a hike if there are points of interest along the way, or at the end. It could be natural features such as a lake, waterfall or a historical monument. Children (and adults) will prefer a hike with a purpose, rather than a dull trail with no interest factor.
You could also make the hike more interesting by playing a game or making it an adventure. You could also consider leaving the main path and hiking away from the main trail. Obviously, only do this if it is safe to do so.
Think about timing
When you are planning your hike with kids, allow plenty of time. It’s often best to go in the morning, whilst the children’s energy levels are higher. Also, try to avoid the midday sun, especially if you’re in a hot country.
If we’re at home, I always give the kids plenty of warning about the hike and a time of departure, so they know what to expect. They will object loudly if I drag them away from doing something important (such as Lego!!).
If you are hiking with younger children, you could rename the hike to give it an element of excitement. Say you are going exploring, on a nature trail or an adventure walk. This will sound far more appealing to little ears.
Get your hiking equipment right
One of the most important tips for hiking with kids is to ensure that they have got the correct equipment. Before you go, check the weather and the terrain.
If you are hiking with toddlers, it can be fun to take toy binoculars and a magnifying glass, to pretend they are real explorers. Factor in some time to stop and look at nature and bugs.
Footwear for hiking
There is nothing worse for children than being told to be careful with shoes. If you hiking somewhere muddy, provide the kids with waterproof hiking shoes or old trainers that you don’t mind getting dirty. For a short walk, little children could wear wellies, but these are not ideal for any great distance.
It’s worth investing in quality hiking gear if you’re going to do lots of walking. You will reap the benefits in the long-term..
Kids walking shoes should be supportive, waterproof and breathable. If you do decide to buy new hiking boots for kids, make sure they wear them in on short trips in advance.
Clothing for hiking
Ensure children have the appropriate clothing for hiking. Bring enough warm clothing and a waterproof jacket if required. Children will moan a lot if they are wet or cold.
Lots of thin breathable layers are best for hiking with kids. However, realistically I find that my children feel the cold far less than me, as they are more active on the way.
First aid kit
If you are going off the beaten track, a basic first aid kit is a good idea. Antiseptic wipes, plasters and insect bite cream are always useful. And, don’t forget the sun cream if you are going somewhere warm.
Factor in food
If you plan to be out at midday, pack a picnic or factor in where you will stop for food.
Probably one of the best tips for hiking with kids is to ensure you take plenty of water and snacks. Healthy, low-sugar high-energy snacks, such as nuts, raisins and protein bars are ideal. However, a packet of sweets can also act as a great motivator.
Train them to be independent travellers
Another of the best hiking skills for kids is to let them carry their own mini rucksack or day pack when they are hiking. Children can carry their own layers and snacks and have access to them, as required. This will help prepare kids to be more independent travellers.
Enjoy the great outdoors
One of the most fun things to do when walking with kids is to look our for wildlife. Hiking provides a great opportunity to see the great outdoors and enjoy nature and wildlife along the way. Children love seeing animals, so these can be one of the best reasons to go on a family hike.
Our boys were very happy to do a long hike in Point Reyes, as they knew there was a chance to see leopard sharks. Their patience paid off and we saw three. They were also excited to hike the coastal trails on our visit to Point Lobos, as they wanted the opportunity to see sea otters in their natural habitat.
Closer to home I always check which family-friendly walks are near me. We’ve had some great walks in Surrey.
Holidays also provide a great opportunity for family-friendly walks. Children love coastal hikes like the ones we’ve done in Pembrokeshire, especially if they can go onto the beach at the end.
Do a scavenger hunt
Another fun thing to do while hiking with kids is to plan a nature scavenger hunt. You can adapt your treasure hunt for the season or environment, ie. beach, countryside. They are easily available to print off the internet.
Another hiking game for children is nature trail bingo. This fun game will really test the family’s observational skills.
Do some geocaching
One of the best things to do whilst hiking with kids is geocaching. This adds a lot of fun to your walk and can be a great motivator.
If you are not familiar with this international treasure hunt, have a look here at our beginners’ guide to geocaching.
Make it a game
One of our other simple tips for hiking with kids is to introduce a walking game into the journey.
If we’re out locally, we often play hide and seek. This only works well if you play in the direction of your route!
Depending on the season, you could make it up a simple challenge on the spot. You could see who can be the first to catch a falling leaf (which is far harder than it sounds). A competition always works too, such as who can find the biggest leaf or the prettiest pebble.
It’s best to save your games for later in the hike, when the children are flagging.
Don’t forget the art of conversation
Hiking provides a great opportunity to actually chat with your children, without the everyday distractions. You will get to find out loads. Though I have learnt the hard way not to ask Jacob what he is reading. He gave me more information than I could ever possibly need about Greek Gods – thank you Percy Jackson!
Arrange to hike with friends
Another good way to get your children to walk with you is to arrange to meet with friends. Once they get chatting, time will soon fly by.
My children would be even keener if they thought a dog was coming too!
Allow time for breaks
A useful tip for hiking with kids is to remember that you are there for the experience and not a race. Allow plenty of time to complete the hike and don’t forget to stop.
Take time to enjoy the environment and stop to explore or look at interesting things. Children might want to climb a tree, build a den or make a rock stack.
If you can let the children take some photos too.
You will definitely need plenty of stops for drinks and snacks. We usually use these as targets to aim for. We will stop when we get to…..
Don’t do too much in one go. You want them to enjoy it and go again. Hike often, so that it becomes the norm.
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