Hiking in nature is good for the mind, body, and soul. Most of the time it’s free, plus it encourages conversation, builds memories, strengthens your connection with nature, and during this pandemic era, is one of the safer activities you can do with other people.
All of these factors make hiking a wonderful bonding activity for families, but a lot of parents of younger children are nervous that their kids won’t be able to complete long trails with steep peaks and rough terrain, especially if they’re already complaining about walking to school. Fortunately, experienced family hiker and writer for Treehugger Katherine Martinko has published a list of helpful suggestions for families who want to try their hand at hiking together:
Eat before you leave and carry food
To avoid having to listen to your kids whining about being hungry in the first few minutes of the hike, make sure they eat a quick, energy-boosting snack beforehand. Martinko says that “it’s not uncommon for [her family] to have a quick bite in the parking lot before [they] strike out on a trail.” She also ensures that she has snacks like nuts, fruit, jerky, chocolate, and homemade cookies or granola bars—but she also emphasizes that it’s best to serve them at official stops instead of handing them out freely.
Pack lots of water
Water bottles can add quite a load to your backpack, but the extra weight is worth it. Hiking while thirsty is not a pleasant experience, and hiking with thirsty children is even worse. Martinko says that she lets her kids drink as much as they want because it’s easy to let them relieve themselves in a bush. However, if you do find yourself in a situation where you have to ration water, then try to make a game of it by challenging your kids to climb another 50 or 100 steps before stopping for a sip.
Show them a route map
Kids tend to be quite curious and visual, so helping them understand where they are and where you’re headed will keep them engaged and keep the dreaded question “are we there yet?” out of their minds (and your ears). Point out landmarks that they can keep an eye out for and tell them roughly how long the journey will take.
Invest in good gear
Good footwear will help your kids feel more secure on the trail and are important for safety. Make sure their shoes have tread, ankle support, and won’t give them blisters. If you don’t want to break the bank then check out local thrift stores for secondhand hiking boots. What you find will likely not have been worn for long anyway, as kids quickly outgrow them.
Build in some rewards
Incentivize and excite your kids for the hike by letting them know that a special treat awaits them when they’re done. Whether it’s the promise of an ice cream cone or a box of their favorite cookies, kids (and adults) certainly perform better when they know they’re going to earn a reward.
If you’re hiking in colder weather, consider bringing along a lightweight camp stove to make a hot chocolate for the kids and coffee for yourself and other adults at the halfway point to refuel and boost the mood.
Learn some trail tricks
Make the experience an educational one for the kids by teaching them how to look for trail markers and interpret them. Perhaps invite another family to join, especially if you know a family with kids who are a bit more experienced in hiking. The company will encourage all the kids to push forward and remain engaged.
Letting kids take the lead for a bit will also naturally make them pick up the speed, and you can also encourage them to look out for birds, animals, plants, and trees that you can try to identify together.
Remember to have fun yourself, and openly express wonder and amazement at the beauty of the natural world. Your enthusiasm and positivity will be absorbed by your kids and help them grow their own appreciation for hiking and convening with nature.