I’m gonna be real honest here, our kids have not always liked hiking. Even when they were babies, it was a battle some days. There will be some whining in the beginning. However, if you are prepared and persistent, the whining will go away, and your kids will start to love hiking. Our kids beg us to take them on regular hikes now. They beam with pride when they conquer new trails and new mountains, but it was a journey.
Hiking with kids does get easier with the right prep and practice. Listed below are my best suggestions for making hiking with kids a fun family activity, with minimal to no whining.
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Have the Right Gear
Having the right gear when hiking with kids is essential to your comfort and the comfort of your kiddos. You do not have to have the most expensive gear on the market, but if you are going to hike regularly with your children, you may wish to invest in gear that will last and make everyone more comfortable and happy.
We are huge Osprey fans. We had the Osprey Poco AG Plus Child Carrier. They really fit your body well and are adjustable so you and your significant other can wear the same pack. They also come with a cool shade, foot stirrups, and a daypack. Super cool packs.
Now that our kids are a little older, we all have our own Osprey daypacks for hiking. The adults have the Osprey Talon 22. They are not mean to carry a ton of weight, but they are sufficient for a family lunch and a few long sleeve t-shirts. They also have a cool mesh pocket on the back for quick stuffing items into it. It was our go-to backpack while at Disney World for a week.
Each of the kids has an Osprey Hydrajet daypack. These packs are fantastic! They have a 1.5 L water reservoir. My five-year-old hikes with it without issue. They also double as awesome carry-ons for kids.
It doesn’t matter if you are on a half-mile hike or on a six-mile hike, you need to bring some form of water with you. The amount of water will vary on distance, terrain and walking levels.
When our children were toddlers and we were hiking only very short and easy hikes, we would bring only a water bottle or two, depending on the terrain and weather. We would either carry them or throw them in a daypack.
As our hikes increased in length, we started bringing our day packs with full water reservoirs. If you are dehydrated, you will feel tired. Tired, dehydrated kids = whining kids.
Pack Food and Snacks
Packing snacks and food is crucial when hiking with kids. Our family tradition is to make it to the top of a mountain or halfway point, sit down, and enjoy a snack with a view. We like to pack Clif Kid Organic Zbars or a homemade trail mix. After making our trail mix, we put them in little baggies and write our names on our own creations. This is a such a fun treat when getting to the top of a mountain!
Pack something that is a high protein with some carbs mixed in. This will keep your little ones fueled. A hungry child will not have fun hiking, guaranteed.
If your family is going on a longer hike, I recommend packing a lunch. You can pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They do not require refrigeration, and they make kids happy. Throw in apple slices, cheese sticks, and some chocolate infused trail mix for sides and a dessert.
Dress Appropriately and Bring Sunscreen
When spending any amount of time outdoors, the weather can change at the drop of a hat, especially in Colorado where we do most of our hiking! Dress in layers. Even in the summertime, we like to pack a long sleeve sweatshirt or t-shirt. It can help protect against the cold, sunburn, or wet conditions.
Wear a hat. A hat can be multi-functional. It can keep the sun out of your eyes, especially for kids who do not usually like to wear sunglasses. It can also keep out any ticks when hiking through dense trees.
Put on sunscreen before heading out on the trail. Carry a bottle with you so you can reapply if your hike goes longer than planned.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
We first started hiking with kids when our children were babies. Even though they were not hiking yet, it fueled their appreciation for being outside and enjoying the joys of a long hike.
As our children grew into toddlers, they were too heavy to carry but too small to do anything strenuous. When your children are this age, this does not mean you cannot go on a hike! Your hikes will change for a couple of years. They will be short, and they will often involve some complaints. Do not let this stop you from going! We did hikes as short as half a mile many times before increasing our distances.
Increase your distance and time as your child grows and becomes more practiced. Even if you have a bigger kid, if they are new to hiking, start off slow. We want our children to love the outdoors, so we need to build them up slowly so they do not hate it before they even get started.
Follow the Leader!
Kids love to be the leader. If you are hiking with kids, it also gives the child the opportunity to set the pace so they do not wear out as quickly. In the beginning, it will be slow. However, taking the lead will build a child’s confidence. It also gives a child the ability to learn how to follow a trail and pay attention to their surroundings when hiking.
Teach Trail Etiquette
Start teaching your children young about trail etiquette. Teach them to stay on the trail and how leaving the trail can cause erosion.
Teach them to enjoy flowers but not to pick them. We explain to our kids that by picking flowers, no one else can ever enjoy that same beautiful flower.
Teach your children that hikers going uphill have the right of way, and show them how to stop and stand to the side.
Follow the “Leave No Trace” rules. Make sure any snack wrappers are packed in and packed out. We often pack doggie bags and a small roll of toilet paper. Even if you do not have the family dog with you, doggie bags are great for packing out toilet paper if you have to stop and take a bathroom break.
When Hiking with Kids Gets Tough
As you push your kids into doing longer hikes, you will have to work smart to keep the whining at bay. If your kids start to get bored or tired, help them find new and interesting things in nature around them. We once found ourselves in the middle of a butterfly migration, and my four-year-old was done. So, we started counting the different colors of butterflies. She became so engaged in the activity that she made it the last mile with minimal whining.
You can be on the lookout for anything. Create your own nature scavenger hunt. Look for birds or evidence of animals. You can look for burrows, holes in trees or even animal tracks. If crossing a creek, take the time to take off your shoes and play a while.
If the landscape is not especially exciting, then create short goals. Look for a tree or bend in the trail that you can work towards. These short goals are usually enough to distract their minds from the aches in their feet or fatigue in their short legs.
Go on a hike!
Hiking with kids can lead to amazing adventures and help your kids learn to love nature. It is never too late to start hiking if the sport is new to your family. Be prepared and practice. You will be amazed at how quickly your children build their endurance, and the work early on will make it worthwhile years later.
What are your favorite tips for hiking with kids? Please share in the comments below.