As a parent of three young kids, I know how difficult it is to get out the door to go anywhere. Over the years I have learned how to make my family hiking adventures go more smoothly whether I’m hiking alone with my children or with other people.
I’ve learned I can do small things on a daily basis that will help motivate my children on the trail and I have learned how to plan ahead when hiking with kids. Nevertheless, I always learn something new from every trip we make and there’s always a meltdown or two.
Hiking is a great way to bond as family, see children in their natural environment, and have a healthy family activity, so with that said I’m happy to impart a little bit of my wisdom I have gained over the years of hiking with my little ones.
TIP #1: WALK EVERY DAY
I don't know how I could emphasize this anymore, but leave the car keys and strollers behind and take a walk everyday. One mile doesn't seem like a long distance but if you child isn't used to just going for a neighborhood stroll then going for a hike will seem very foreign to them. By walking every day, kids get used to being active outside and the only difference between hiking and walking is the location.
Walking Tips: Start short - walk around your block, to the grocery store, school, to a friends house and even walking the dog. Also make sure to have kids point out the "nature" they see in their around them.
TIP #2: FUEL UP
Hiking burns lots of calories so make sure your kids are not hungry before starting on your hiking adventure. Even if your family had a giant meal before hiking, always bring snacks. Kids need the energy levels up to keep a good hiking pace. Trust me you don't want to have hungry, angry, cranky kids (i.e. HANGRY child) when you have half a mile left to get back because that half a mile will feel like an eternity.
Snack Tips: Bring high calorie foods like cheese, salami, kid energy bars, etc. If you are camping make sure to have calorie intense breakfast so the kids have long lasting energy through out the day. Sugary snacks are good but they can backfire with after the sugar high has worn off.
TIP #3: MUSIC AND ART
Some kids can hike all day for the fun of it but other kids need a little extra motivation, so tap into their music & artsy side by singing songs, finding nature items that could make music, bringing a journal and allowing them to journal or draw their adventure. You know that annoying song that you kids love? Well belt out at the top of your lungs to get them happy and hiking.
Music & Art Tip: Don't want to sing? Download your children's favorite songs and play them on your phone. Don't rely on having internet service so buy the song so you can play them offline while hiking. Bring small journals dedicated only to outdoor adventures.
TIP #4: BRING FRIENDS & EXTENDED FAMILY
Friends make hiking seem less tedious for kids. Hiking with Grandparents, cousins, aunt or uncles changes things up for the kids and provides "new people" for kids to show off their hiking skills. Plus if things go awry you have extra people to help!
If friends or family members are the same age as your children, make sure to bring an extra adult just to have more eyes on the little ones. If your extra friends and family are a little reluctant to "hiking" then invite them on a "Nature Walk" instead and find a flat trail.
TIP #5: WEAR APPROPRIATE CLOTHING
I honestly believe that you don't need the most expensive pieces of gear to go hiking with kids but kids should be wearing appropriate clothing. This is a short list of what children should be wearing in different weather. I also like to keep and extra set of clothing in the car for after the hike in case someone fell in puddle or is just too dirty to sit in the car. When in doubt, please layer clothing and take a backpack to carry any extra clothing your child might or not need. The day you forget their extra sweater is the day they will need it!
- Hot Days: Hats, Sunglasses, Sunscreen, light loose clothing that can dry quickly (shirt & shorts), lightweight close toed-shoes.
- Cool/Cloudy Days: Light long sleeve & and sweater, pants, sunscreen, close-toed shoes, beanie or a hat.
- Cold Days: Long sleeves, sweaters, thick jacket, base layer pants underneath hiking pants, warm socks, warmer shoes or boots.
- Rainy Day: Same as cool/cloudy day plus a rain poncho or rain coats/pants and waterproof boots.
TIP #6: STORYTELLING & GAMES
Distraction is a great motivator to get the kids moving! To adults hiking can be fun in itself but kids might not see it that way. Storytelling is a great way to distract kids from the monotony of hiking. Pick a favorite bedtime story and have each child tell a section of the story.
Pretend to be characters of your child's favorite movie and act out the movie while hiking. Playing tag or hide seek among the trees and run along the trail to find the next best hiding spot. They will be having so much fun that they won't even think that they are hiking!
TIP #7: BRING THE DOG
Dogs can provide a lot of motivation for kids to get moving, for some reason walking the dog on the trail makes kids forget how "tired" the might be and they just keep hiking. The kids are so distracted by the dog they don't notice how far they've gone.
Just remember to bring doggie bags and to pack it out. Also, remember to check if dogs are allowed at the park where and if they need to be on leash.
TIP #8: HIKE TO A WATER DESTINATION
Kids love water. Water makes kids really happy. Finding a hiking location with a creek, waterfall, ocean, lake or pond give the kids something to look forward too. Whether they can throw rocks, jump in for a swim or just watch the fish swim by these places are interesting to children. Climbing to a peak is fun for adults but kids love going to any water sometimes even a puddle!
TIP #9: REWARDS
Rewards = Candy, Ice Cream, or a Toy. Candy is something you shouldn't hold back while hiking but his is almost a last resort keep your kids moving. This is when you want your get hyped up on candy to get them running! Just remember the sugar high the kids get also includes a sugar crash that's coming, hopefully in the car when it's nap time. I know you can't take ice cream hiking but you can motivate them to finish the last half mile by promising a delicious dessert after the hike is over. On longer hikes or backpacking trips, I like to tell my kids that I will reward them with a small toy of their choice. Some might think its bribery but I don't care, my kids did a good job hiking and I want to reward them. You hike hard you get a reward!
TIP #10: LAST RESORT: NATURE SCARE TACTICS
Once you have tried to be nice, hauled out all your candy, sang the last tune and nothing is getting your kid up and moving, I like to use some "scare tactics". I'm not terribly proud of this one but using nature scare tactics sometime what need to be done in order to get to the car. Be careful with this one because I don't want them to be scared outdoors because but to BE AWARE of the outdoors and the scary nature truths, for example:
"There are mountains lions in these hills."
"The snakes and/or coyotes are coming out."
"Hurry up, we need to get to the car before the sun goes down"
"If we don't get moving, all the animals are coming out to eat."
"There are bears here."
"You don't want to walk anymore? Did you bring a tent because I think we will need to sleep outside."
Sometimes nature just scares everyone in general like actually hearing coyotes howl, owls hooting, rustling in the bushes or actually seeing snakes and bears. Those generally get the adrenaline flowing and makes everyone hurry back to the car.
Congratulations, you finally made it to the trail and are hiking with your kids!
I hope you can remember a few of these tips in preparation for your next family hiking adventure. Remember a hiking adventure isn’t about how miles your family can hike but about spending quality time with your family so make it an enjoyable experience for everyone!
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