Hiking with Kids? Tips and Tricks from an Outdoor Mom
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Hiking with kids is a rewarding activity and there are lots of reasons to get kids outside! It aids in their development, is a great bonding experience for you, and it’s healthy for you too! RyAnn (mountain_mama4), a mountaineer and mama from the PNW, recently joined us for a Facebook Live to discuss her tricks of the trade when it comes to taking her littles on adventures.
Read on to see why you should go on family adventures, what you’ll need to get outside, and any other extra considerations you should take into account!
Why Go Hiking With Kids
“The time we get to spend with them [our children] away from all the other pressures is special. They hear ‘no’ a lot less on a hike, and it’s direct 1-1 time. Those are the times when we have some of our deepest conversations.” - RyAnn
Kids are growing up, fast, and playing outside can help them develop into strong children and adults. Sunshine and exercise are known for improving mood, sleep, and immune system development. Not to mention the muscles and coordination they’ll start to develop! So while it can present a challenge to go hiking with kids, it’s also incredibly rewarding, both physically and emotionally.
Beyond their physical development, hiking with kids and being outdoors with your children helps with their social and emotional development. As parents we don’t like it when our kids take risks, but risks help develop confidence, and lessons from failure can be more valuable than lessons from success. Hiking with kids can also help build an appreciation and respect for nature. They’ll learn important lessons like how to clean up after themselves, how to identify safe places to recreate, and why preservation is important.
Plus, spending time outdoors or hiking as a family creates a great bonding experience for you. It helps give you undivided attention (you’re not competing with the TV or video games), and gives you an activity to do together! You can even develop a shared hobby or interest to do together such as birding, photography, trail running, identifying flora, or anything else you can find to do outdoors!
How to Plan Family Adventures
“Getting your kids involved in the planning helps them build excitement for it. Give them a job, like helping make lunch in the morning, or if you can, find another family to go with. Having a friend always makes it more fun for them.” - RyAnn
Next you might be wondering how you can get them outside. Maybe you want to build their excitement for it, or maybe you’re more concerned with the logistics of a single or multi-day outing, or maybe you’re wondering what you might need (hint, it’s flexibility).
First off, excited kids are happy kids. You want to keep them excited about the outdoors and family hiking by:
Picking a hike or adventure within their ability
Getting them involved in research or planning
Picking an activity or hike that interests them
Giving them a job or some responsibility on your outing
Planning a game you can play while hiking such as I-spy, singing with them, or having one adult walk ahead to hide treats (like gummies) or toys for the kids to find (RyAnn calls this the gummy fairy)
To pick a hike you’ll want to know their limitations and not push them too hard. You’ll also want to pick an adventure with an interesting destination, not just a scenic route. Hiking to an old crashed plane in the mountains is a bit more interesting than a trail with consistent mountain views. Or you can choose to hike to a body of water for some fun play and splash time! All Trails is a great resource to find hikes for you and the family. The app has “kid-friendly” filters for you to use when searching hikes to help you find ones that’ll be great for your family adventures!
“Year round, I always have a rain jacket in their packs. It can be used for rain, wind, sun protection, a place to sit.” - RyAnn
Then, you’ve got your own gear and The Ten Hiking Gear Essentials You Need In Your Pack, but there’s some extra stuff you’ll need for your smaller hiking buddy. First off, they’ll need their own layers to take on or off depending on the weather. They may need boots, gloves, a hat, or a rain jacket. They’ll need lots of snacks (and they’ll be happier if you bring whatever their current favorite is. (Or has that been their favorite forever and you’d give anything to have them eat something else?)
You may also need to pack some toys and activities for them. Maybe that’s their favorite bear, or a race car, a ball, some crayons and paper, or something else! Hiking with them may not look like how hikes used to look, but keeping them entertained ensures that they’re happy and you can spend more time outside.
For a multi-day adventure, you’ll definitely want to have activities for them while at camp. That may be the above things, or it could be different toys, puzzles, or whatever else they enjoy at home. They’ll also need a sleeping bag, mattress pad, toiletries, and pjs.
What to Keep in Mind When Hiking With Kids
There are just a few more things you’ll want to take into consideration. You’re going to need to take it slow. Even at their fastest they won’t be as fast as you and pushing them is just going to frustrate them. Keep a slow pace and enjoy the scenery. If they want to look at the fiftieth rock that mile, let them, and gaze in awe at the latest piece of moss they’ve found. You’ll need a large supply of flexibility so you don’t rush them or get impatient. Patience and just a happiness to be out there with them is key. They’ll be able to pick up on any negative emotions and may not want to go hiking again with negative memories.
You can also bring along a friend for them. It can make things more fun plus they’ll enjoy being able to spend time with their friend as you all adventure outdoors! Or, you can give them a job or purpose to keep them busy. It can be as simple as making sure no one leaves any trace out in the woods, or you can have them lead to give them a sense of responsibility. Finally, be sure to reward them at the end of the hike with a special treat to make it fun for them and something they look forward to!
With some preparation, planning, and flexibility, you can take your littles out on memorable and fantastic family adventures. Be sure to take lots of photos and enjoy your time together! It’ll go faster than you know and (as much as it is a cliche) you won’t believe how quickly they grow up!