Below are my tips for hiking with and toddlers and young children. They are divided into two categories: things to make hiking more enjoyable and things to keep you and your kid safe. I hope that these tips help you plan for your next adventure!
KEEP IT FUN
Start Small and Start Early
Getting kids outside early and often makes outdoor activities a part of your family’s lifestyle. Young children are excited to spend time with you and curious about nature, so take advantage of these early years.
Start small when introducing kids to hikes. This allows for time to play and sightsee without the stress of getting to a destination. You’ll also be close to the trailhead should you need to turn back.
Go Slow and Take Breaks
Let kids stop, observe, and play. Breaks should include lots of water and snacks. If you reach a milestone, like a halfway point, celebrate with a favourite candy or food. You could even bring a small tent, hammock, or tarp for your kid to play in or take a nap.
Let Kids Trip Plan
When kids have a say in where they are going it can create a sense of anticipation. Pull out a map and talk about the different features on it. Help them pick a route and let them make some decisions about the day’s events.
You can also get kids to help out with packing for the trip. What items are needed? What snacks should you bring?
Time will pass more quickly if you and your kid are having fun. There are a number of games that you can play on the trail. I’ve seen some parents design scavenger hunts for their children. Check out these ones I’ve created:
For older kids, choose a trail where there are geocaches. Geocaching is an outdoor activity where you search for items using a GPS (global positioning system). There are geocaches located all over the world. To find them, you can create a free geocache account. Don’t have a GPS? Look for trails with reception and use your phone to navigate.
A game that my family used to play on car drives is “I Spy.” In this game, one person (the spy) chooses an object and provides clues for the others to guess what it is. The spy begins by saying, “I spy with my little eye something that is (insert clue).” Wikipedia has a full list of instructions.
Give Them Their Own Backpack
Let children carry their own backpack. Smaller kids won’t be able to carry much, but older kids can carry their own water, rain coat, and snacks. Just don’t be surprised if you end up carrying the extra weight.
Make sure to pack some things that could make the trip more fun for them: binoculars, a magnifying glass, a disposable camera, crayons, a notebook, nature guide, and their own map. You could even make a small “first aid kit” with some colourful band-aids inside.
Walking Sticks and Pocket Knifes
Younger children love having their own walking stick. You could have them decorate one with paint before the hike. When your child is a little older, gift them a small pocket knife and teach them knife safety.
Make a Nature Journal
Make a nature journal with your kid or download the one I created for you. Journals give kids the opportunity to observe and reflect on nature. They can also be a place to record their hikes and favourite places to visit.
Give them Leadership Tasks
Encouraging kids to take on leadership roles can help instill confidence and teach problem solving skills. Leadership activities can include planning the hike, leading the hike, or helping get a fire started.
Pick Interesting Trails
Trails with covered bridges, large boulders, waterfalls, rivers, caves, beaches, old growth trees, and boardwalks are all cool places to explore. These features will help keep your child interested.
Read Books and Listen to Podcasts that Show Other Kids Enjoying Nature
Bring a Sled, Wagon, or Carrier
What kid doesn’t love being pulled around? Bring a sled or wagon with you and you’ll be able to go longer distances with small children. Plus, you’ll get a great workout! You can also get carriers for babies and toddlers.
Bring a Friend
Bring a friend for both you and your child. You’ll have a support buddy and your kid will have someone to play with. If you don’t know any parents who hike, you may be able to find some at Hike it Baby. Hike it Baby is a non-profit organization connecting hiking parents.
Be Positive and Remain Calm
Perhaps most import, be positive and remain calm. Expect there to be trouble along the way. Maybe your kid has gotten tired, impatient, or isn’t enjoying themselves. Acknowledge your kid’s feelings, fears, and challenges and help them work through them.
KEEP IT SAFE
Check the weather
Always check the forecast before heading out. While you might be fine hiking in rough weather, it will be much harder for a kid. Remember to bring appropriate clothes for the season and any potential weather events.
Teach Kids What to do When Lost
Teach your child what to do in the unlikely event that they get lost. You can learn more about this from Adventure Smart’s Hug a Tree & Survive program. Follow the link and you’ll find a video about a boy who gets lost in the wilderness overnight. Watch it together with your kid and discuss what they would do in a similar situation. There’s even a free downloadable colouring book, cootie catcher, and word search.
Pack the Ten Essentials
Carry the ten essentials: a navigation device, flashlight, sun protection, knife, fire kit, first aid, emergency shelter, extra food, extra water, and extra clothing. Learn more about each of these items here.
Leave a Trip Plan
Leave a trip plan with someone you trust. Trip plans tell someone where you are going and when you are expected to be home. If you don’t turn up, they can contact 911 and Search and Rescue will be sent to find you.
The signal for SOS is 3 short blasts on a whistle. Give your child a whistle to carry and teach them the SOS signal and when to use it.
When choosing a jacket for your child, look for bright colours over dark ones. Reds, yellows, and oranges are easier to spot in the wilderness.
Dress your child in layers so they can easily remove and add clothes if they are too hot or cold. Always carry a rainproof shell and make sure hiking footwear is broken in.
Do you have any tips for hiking with kids?
If you have any tips for hiking with kids, I’d love to hear them! Drop me a line in the comments below. Happy adventuring 🙂
Other Posts You Might Enjoy:
Nature Field Notes for Kids – Nature Journal
Note: The easiest way to print the “Field Notes Journal” is by using Adobe Acrobat. In Acrobat, go to file, print, and select booklet. I sewed the pages in place, but you could also use a stapler.