Hiking is a great way to introduce kids to nature and the outdoors. For many, it is the ideal family adventure. Whether you depart on a walking holiday or take a day hike as part of a cultural tour, hiking doesn't require much in the way of specialist gear. You can walk with children at any age; hiking with babies and toddlers is not as overwhelming as it sounds. And you can hike anywhere. Hiking with kids requires nothing more than planning, patience and flexibility.
There is much to be said for hiking with infants and tots. With an appropriate front or back child carrier, young children won't slow you down. And the vantage point from the kid carrier is about more than the view, it creates a unique opportunity for rider and walker to connect. But when hiking with small kids you will need to give forethought to the destination as well as the trail. Curious toddlers may need to get down and run every hour or two. Trails that require balance, such as loose rock or steep climbs, are inappropriate when carrying a child in a pack; their movement affects your stability. Weather conditions that ok for an adult may not be ideal for babies or even toddlers. Yet the biggest challenge to hiking with tykes is gear. You will be carrying significantly more than when you last hiked solo. What's more, 'hike it in hike it out' takes on a whole new meaning with diapers.
For many parents, the most challenging age to hike with kids is from 3 to 6. They are too heavy to carry and too small to walk long distances. But there are a few things you can do to make hiking at this age fun and extend the walk a little bit each time. Start slow. Select a trail you know they can complete and be sure it has lots of entertaining features - playground, picnic area, river, waterfall, wildlife - both along and at the end of the route. Get them excited about your hike. Talk to them about the trip the day or night before. Let them look on as you pack. Point out interesting things along the way (insects, animals, flowers and even rocks) and show them where you are walking on the map.
Hiking with school aged children and tweens is about purpose and reason. Get them involved in the trip and they will be engaged in the adventure. Scavenger hunts and cameras are a start but after a hike or two children this age are likely to require more. Teach them to read a map and use a compass and let them take turns leading the group. Seek their opinions on trip objectives, such as where and how far to hike each day. Assign each child a task from filling water bottles to researching wildlife on the trail. End each segment of your hike at a destination that is of interest to them and praise the kids on a hike well done.
The biggest challenge to hiking with teens may be you. Are you as fit as your 16 year old son?
In addition to establishing a budget and determining the length of the trip, you will need to consider the age of the kids, their interest in walking and their capacity to hike. Hiking for a day or even an hour with children that don't like to walk can quickly turn a family walking holiday into a trip to forget. Outline your trip priorities before you book a hiking vacation. Do you want hiking to be a small component or an integral part of your holiday? How far do you want to hike in a single day? Are gourmet food and luxury lodging important to you or is hiking about a tent and campfire? Do you want to spot wildlife or take in dramatic scenery? What type of hike suits you? Hill walking, inn-to-inn hikes and backcountry climbs are but a few. Review the options with your partner as well as the kids. Be sure they know what to expect! And don't forget to introduce the kids to hiking before you depart. Take one or more similar walks, both in terms of length and difficulty, before you depart on a walking holiday with kids.
Do-it-yourself or organized hiking vacation? Hiking trips are easy to plan and do-it-yourself walking holidays can cost significantly less. What's more, when you plan your own hiking vacation you choose the group your family hikes with. Yet there are a few reasons to consider an organized walking tour: the outfitter is responsible for on the ground travel planning from booking hotels to plotting your route and, oftentimes, will move your gear while you hike with the kids.
Select a hiking trail that matches the interest and ability of the kids and pace the outing to the slowest walker or youngest child in your group. Kids can't walk as far as adults in a day or an afternoon. Trail ratings, where available, will help you determine the difficulty of the route. But don't stop your research there. Determine the conditions and accessibility of the trail at the time of the year you plan to walk. Research the weather and accommodation along the route, both will impact your hike as well as the weight and size of your pack. If your hiking destination is noted for its flora or fauna, be sure your trip coincides with the peak viewing season.
Guided and self-guided walking holidays are organized by outfitters worldwide yet not all hiking trips are the same. Selecting the right adventure travel company is essential for a successful organized hiking vacation. Once you have established the type of adventure you wish to experience, determine the outfitter's knowledge of the area as well as the hiking trails. If the outfitter is not located in your walking destination, find out who will sort out any issues on the ground. In addition, find out what is included in the cost; determine the size of the group, length and difficulty of the walk and whether other families have registered for the tour. And before you book, seek advice from other family travelers. Ask friends and pose questions on travel forums.
Hiking doesn't require much in the way of specialist walking gear but there are a few things to keep in mind when hiking with kids. Little feet grow quickly. Have children try on their hiking boots and break in new walking shoes before you depart on a walking holiday. Not all child carriers are the same. Select a model with adequate suspension as well as padded shoulder straps and waist belt. A rain / sun hood, an option on short walks around town, is essential on hikes and backcountry treks. If you are carrying a child in a kid carrier for the first time, try it out before you hit the trail. Families departing on a multi-day trip should consider comfortable and well-made hiking boots as well as properly fitting and sufficient capacity backpacks. Trekking poles are both fashionable and fun but are hardly a necessity on short hikes with kids.
The walking gear you need depends on the type of walk you take. The basics for any walk include: map, compass, food, water, extra clothes and socks, sun protection (sunglasses, hat, sunscreen), whistle for each child, rain poncho, first aid kit, waterproof matches, pocketknife and garbage bag. Particular attention should be paid to extra clothes and socks. Not only are children attracted to water and dirt, they are likely to get cold first. Layered clothing - cloths that can easily be put on and peeled off - works best. Families hiking with young children should also include the items they need for a day on the town (diapers, wipes, etc). Distribute the content according to age and ideal weight; kids can't carry as much as adults!
Walking is a great way to introduce children to the outdoors. Yet it is important not to exaggerate. Select a trail that matches the interest and ability of the kids and pace the outing to the slowest walker or youngest child. Don't wait until you are tired to take a break; short legs will be fatigued first. Stop frequently for water and snacks. Check on children regularly. A sleeping child may be peaceful but can still be hot, cold, or uncomfortable. Apply sunscreen to all exposed areas before you take your first step. Check your first aid kit as part of your pre-trip planning. Teach the kids to walk safely and responsibly and make sure they know what to do if lost before you depart on a hiking trip.