We are a hiking family. We love camping and kayaking and just being outdoors together. We’ve often said that our family is happiest when we’re outside. Our kids bicker less and we parents are more in tune and patient. We’ve been going on adventures with kids for over 12 years now, and we’ve learned a few things along the way. If you’re just starting to get outside with your family, here are my top tips for making it happen successfully.
Keep it simple.
You don’t need to drive for hours unless you want to. Especially for young kids, the idea is just to get outside. Short hikes, where little ones can do a lot of the hiking themselves, are a great way to build confidence and happy memories related to hiking. Don’t dive right into a 10 miler. Keep it simple and gradually increase your mileage.
Make sure you allow time to enjoy treasures along the trail and to explore.
Timing will never be perfect. Kids will bicker and whine. We often have whiny kids when we start. One child in particular usually complains the entire time we’re packing up about how they never enjoy hikes. Once we get started, that child remembers how much fun we actually have when we’re hiking.
Be consistent and just get out the door. We’ve recently set the goal to leave early one day a week (usually Saturdays work best for us) for an adventure. We leave chores undone and head out together to enjoy the beautiful area we live in without the stress and frustration that comes with trying to check off the to-do list before we head out the door. This has revolutionized our family adventures. It’s tough for a list-maker like me, but even I’ve loved it.
Start them early and go often.
Pack snacks and water. (And hard candy for emergencies).
It doesn’t have to be a gourmet meal; even simple snacks make for happy kids. We like to bring apples, nuts and maybe a little chocolate. Happy tummies and proper hydration go a long way toward making happy hikers. Take a large water bottle to share, or have each person carry his or her own. (We like to take a Camelback backpack
or Nalgene bottle.
I grew up in a hiking family and my dad always packed his pockets full of hard candy to dole out to kids along the way. Not only is it a fun hiking treat, but looking back I can see that sucking away on a candy also made it so our little mouths were full and less likely to whine. Smart man.
We do the same in our family now and it works wonders.
Proper Gear Makes a Huge Difference.
You don’t need to spend big bucks on hiking shoes, but having the proper fit will make a big difference. Hiking is miserable in ill-fitting shoes, so take some time before you head out to make sure everyone will have happy feet along the trail.
We love our Bjorn for carrying little ones and the Ergo for slightly bigger kids.
Sunscreen and sunhats are a must (especially if you’ve got a baldy baby like we do!).
Take a small first aid kit. We don’t need it every time we go out, but I’m always grateful to have one on hand when our little explorers get a cut, blister, or splinter.
Make it fun.
Sing silly songs, ask silly questions. Hold hands. Tell stories from your childhood (our kids LOVE when we do that!). Talk and be fully present and engaged.
Enjoy the Experience
There’s no doubt about it, hiking with kids takes much longer than without. (That’s true for pretty much anything, though, right?) They like to point out every single insect and pick up every single stick/rock and smell every flower. Use their enthusiasm for the wonders of creation as a reminder to slow down and really experience your hike with them. While it is important to keep moving, continually pushing them along will stress you both out and lead to frustration on both sides. Find a middle ground where you’re still hiking but you also have time to pause and watch a spider in its’ web or a trail of ants or speculate about what lives in that hole.
Pointing out the beauty you see will make the trip that much more memorable and will train your children to look for the amazing things around them every day.
Ultimately hiking with kids is about training. You’re training them to love the outdoors, to find and make happy memories as a family. As you continue just getting out there, you’ll realize one day that your little one completed the hike all on his own without needing to be carried once. When that happens, make a big deal of it.
Just a warning: your heart might hurt a little as you leave behind one stage of family adventures (short trails and kids in packs) and head off into new uncharted territory (big kids who hike the whole way and carry heavy packs).
I can guarantee you’ll be so glad you spent time outdoors with your people. In my opinion, there’s nothing better.