Is it possible to go hiking with kids -- and actually enjoy it? Yes! The biggest key is to understand this: you are not going for a regular hike and simply bringing toddlers along. Hiking with kids (especially hiking with toddlers!) is a completely different experience, and it warrants completely different expectations. If you can embrace this reality, you’re off to a promising start. Read on for 14 more tips for hiking with kids:
Do your research ahead of time, and be sure the trail will be manageable for your child’s age/size/stamina. This is especially important for hiking with older toddlers who won’t be satisfied with being carried in a pack the entire time. Choose a trail they can enjoy exploring on their feet.
Kids will be motivated by hiking toward a specific destination. It can be a waterfall or a rock pile but aim for something tangible. Adults can appreciate a hike to see “a beautiful view,” but something that intangible will be lost on most kids.
Start talking about the hike a day or two before your adventure. If you have multiple trails that would be good options, let the kids choose. Ask them to describe what they think they’ll see on the hike, what it will feel like to hike, and what they’re most excited about.
By “check the weather,” we mean check that hour-by-hour forecast! You’ll want to know if there is blazing sunshine or a popup rain shower coming your way. Depending on the time of year and where you are, weather can change drastically on a hike. Whether it’s a popup rain shower or simply the change in temperature, appropriate layers will go a long, long way toward your kids enjoying a hike.
It’s usually best to go hiking with kids in the morning. Trails will likely be less crowded earlier in the day, and the kids’ energy levels are likely to be better in the morning as well. It also gives you a chance to get home in time for a toddler’s afternoon nap!
If you’re hiking with an infant, a child carrier is a no-brainer because you’re going to carry her the whole time. But if you’re hiking with toddlers who can walk but will tire more quickly, be sure to anticipate frequent stretches of carrying them, and plan accordingly! Are you hiking with kids old enough to walk the whole time? Then carry a comfortable, compact backpack like this commuter backpack or canvas rucksack.
If your child wants to stomp through some puddles, let him! It won’t be a big deal if you’ve packed extra socks to keep his feet dry and ward off blisters.
Pack (lots of) healthy snacks and plenty of water. Nuts, bars, fruit, and sandwiches are all great options. Keep them somewhere extra accessible in your pack. If you’re hiking with kids who are old enough, have them carry their own small packs with their snack supply inside.
You don’t want to carry a lot of extras when hiking with kids (since you’ll also be carrying at least one of those kids at some point), but there are a few extras you should definitely bring along. Wet wipes, band-aids, diaper change for those young enough, sunscreen, and kid-friendly bug spray are at the top of our list.
Don’t wait until your kids are already tired and cranky to take a break. Make frequent, short stops to rest for a moment and have a drink or small snack. You may want to stop every 15 minutes for a drink break and every 30 minutes for a snack break.
Declare a child “Chief Encourager.” Assign someone the job of “Hiking Stick Picker.” Choose a group leader and take turns leading the family throughout hike. Have fun making up different roles that your kids can own and get excited about.
Games are always a fun distraction while hiking with kids. Ward off boredom by playing “I Spy” (this one is especially great for toddlers in a carrier) or having a nature scavenger hunt. Bring along a kid-size pair of binoculars or a magnifying glass, and let your kids investigate what catches their eye.
If your toddler wants to walk instead of riding in the carrier, try your best to let him set the pace, take little breaks when he needs to, and pause to explore things more closely when he gets curious. (On the flip side, if you have an older school-age child who wants to run ahead, let her! If navigation is a concern, tell her to stop a certain distance ahead to wait or double back to get you.)
Hiking with kids is not a competition. If it’s just an off day for everyone and the wheels are coming off, there’s no shame in bailing early. Either find a shorter turn-off or simply backtrack if needed. Better to turn back early than force a bad experience and make everyone miserable.
As we mentioned before, hiking with kids is a whole different experience than hiking without kids. But that’s a good thing! It has its own challenges -- and its own thrills. So slow down, stay flexible, and enjoy the journey. (And be sure to check out our collection of waxed canvas and leather bags for folks who appreciate the spirit of adventure.)