Tips for hiking with kids

I have never been a hiker.  In fact, if I told my sister that I was writing an article with hiking tips she would, without a doubt, spit out whatever she was drinking and laugh out loud. After I posted some photos of our family’s recent 11 kilometre hike through Carnarvon Gorge on Facebook, praising how well the kids did, she actually commented: “I’m proud of you for hiking that long!!”  I had to agree. I actually surprised myself!

I was the type of teenager who preferred to spend time indoors, writing or listening to music. I did not like to get dirty. I definitely did not like to extend myself. A morning spent outdoors getting to the perfect picnic spot was simply not my idea of fun. Luckily my parents took me on lots of hikes as a child so I had a good deal of experience with the outdoors in general, but I did not appreciate all that until recently.  

So why am I dishing out tips about hiking now? It is all because of the big P word. Parenting. Becoming a parent pushes you out of your comfort zone and makes you look at things differently, spiders and dangerous rock climbs included.  It gets you to appreciate life from a new angle and this is how I have become a hiking advocate.

Kids will find the most interesting things on your hikes together

You see, last year when I started to plan our year of travel around Australia, I noticed that we would be visiting a lot of places that featured beautiful spots for hiking. This realisation was the motivator for getting me to decide if I would put bushwalking trips into our itinerary.

When I put my perceived preferences aside, I knew that hiking was great for kids. And I wondered if I hadn’t given it a proper try myself. A bit reluctantly, I scheduled a few hikes into our plans. Please note: when I say “hike” I actually just mean a 20+ minute walk through the wilderness, not anything particularly strenuous.  

Sure enough, once our family went bushwalking a few times and I learned some lessons from our experiences, I actually started to enjoy it. Like, truly, really enjoy it. Deciding on a course and finishing it is a confidence booster for the kids, not to mention a team building exercise for our family. We have all gained a much bigger appreciation of the outdoors as well.

If you are a little shy of the idea of hiking with kids, like I was, I hope these simple hacks inspire you to get out and give it a go. Or at least consider it. I bet your kids (and future self) will thank you.

And you might just see some incredible things along the way…

Amazing wildlife you will find while hiking around Australia

Take a carrier.  Or plan to wear a small child on your shoulders.

Little legs have to take twice as many steps as adults to cover the same distance, so it is no wonder they get tired. If you gear yourself up for carrying a child, whether that is in a carrier or on your shoulders, then it will not come as a surprise when the request comes. Embrace the love! It is better than a trip to the gym! Or just plan a short walk which you know your kids can handle without too much drama.

Pack snacks in light containers.

When you are walking for a few hours at a time it is a good idea to lighten the load. Washable food wraps, lightweight water bottles and snacks that don’t require you to carry much garbage (for example, grapes versus bananas) are great. Don’t forget that hiking increases your appetite, so pack plenty of food!

Take extra socks.  And a plastic bag.

If there is any chance your child will need to cross a stream or go anywhere near water, pack some extra socks. There is nothing very enjoyable about walking for hours in soggy shoes  Pack them in a plastic bag so you can contain any wet gear inside as well. Your camera (and sandwiches) will stay safe this way too.

Allow children plenty of time to explore while hiking together

Consider the weather ahead of time.

If it is going to be scorchingly hot, either prepare for inevitable exhaustion or simply decide to go another time. Popping some ice cubes in water bottles can help a lot, as can wetting hats or shirts every once in a while to try to keep cool. If you pass a stream, take advantage of the opportunity to cool down with a few splashes. Hats, sunscreen and water bottles are musts. If you are going at dawn, dusk, or are in a rainforest type of environment, be sure to use insect repellant.

We have not done much hiking in cold weather yet, but when we do I plan to dress everyone in layers and maybe take a thermos of cocoa along as a treat halfway.

Hike with friends.

Kids seem to have much more energy when there are other kids around to chat and play with. They tend to complain less, too!  Planning a bushwalking trip with another family or hanging out with new friends you meet along the path can make the hike much more enjoyable for everyone. Companionship makes everything better, right?

Slow down to appreciate what your kids enjoy.

Whether it’s running ahead to hide from the rest of the group in order to jump out and scare everyone, or looking at all the birds and bugs they can find, children often find pleasure in many different things while hiking. Be sure to slow down and give them your full attention. Hiking together can be a special bonding experience that will live in on in the family memory bank forever.

Does your family enjoy hiking together?  What other tips do you have for making it a fun experience for everyone?

More fun in the great outdoors:

Images: Chelsea Lee Smith