Were you an avid hiker before kids came along, but now you’re not sure how, or if, you can return to the hills with little ones in tow? Or maybe you’ve never hiked before but you’re looking for ways to explore the outdoors as a family?
If you yearn for the freedom of the great outdoors, guess what? Kids do too! Children are natural explorers – they thrive on adventure and discovering new things. If you feed their curiosity for the world from a young age, you’re setting them up for life with an appreciation of nature and healthy activity.
We’ve all suffered from the limitations of lockdown life during the Covid pandemic and whether you’re trying to combat an increase in screen time or simply escape the day-to-day, hiking with kids can be a brilliant family activity.
If you want to avoid the cries of ‘I’m tired!’ or ‘this is boring!’, here are our top tips for making sure your family hike is fun for everyone.
Set the right pace
First things first – be realistic with your expectations. How far do you think they can walk and how tough of a challenge could they face?
Don’t focus too much on speed or how much distance you’ve covered, even if you had an impressive record pre-kids. If it’s your first outing together, start with a shorter walk and build up to longer hikes with more challenging terrains and altitudes. Go at the right pace for them and take stops when they need them.
Equally, don’t underestimate their abilities – kids are often more resilient than we give them credit for, especially if it’s planned well and pitched to them with lots of positivity and encouragement. Try including them in choosing the trail and manage their expectations – be honest with them about how long you’ll be out and what to expect from the experience, as well as telling them about the amazing things they might see along the way and how proud they’ll feel at the end.
If you’ve got babies or toddlers, invest in a child carrier and test out the fit – and your endurance – before setting off.
Pick an interesting route
If there are things to do and see along the way, kids are more likely to be engaged and entertained, so pick an interesting route.
This doesn’t have to be epic discoveries – we’re not talking about stumbling upon dinosaur fossils or hidden treasure! Kids are often impressed with big rocks to climb, streams to hop over, or bridges to cross.
Do some research around the area you want to visit – are there any old ruins along the hike or interesting features to navigate around?
Fuel is key!
Even as adults, having some pick-me-ups and keeping hydrated is key to staying motivated – for children, snacks are king!
Make sure you pack plenty of water and good fuel to keep them going. It’s a good idea to break up the hike with designated pit stops and, if you communicate this in advance with your little ones, it gives them smaller goals that are easier to reach. Why not reward them with some hot chocolate at point A, and a picnic break at point B?
Choose a good rucksack or hiking backpack to make it easier to carry all those carrots on sticks! As they get a little older, encourage them to carry their own small bag – they’ll probably be quite excited about packing their own essentials into their bag for the trip.
Check the forecast
You may not have batted an eyelid at a wet walk or a windy hike in your previous life cycle, but throw kids into the mix and bad weather can be the breaking point for you all! The best advice we can give is: plan for good weather, but be prepared for the worst!
Check the long forecast before setting a date for your family hike and aim for fair weather. Kids can complain they’re too hot or too cold quite easily, so aim for a mild day. That being said, we all know the weather can be unpredictable and forecasts can change, so make sure you have all angles covered.
Your trip doesn’t need to be ruined by unexpected weather if you have the right hiking clothing and walking boots. Make sure you’ve got waterproofs, lots of layers, sun protection, and sturdy footwear. You know what they say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing!
Make it fun
Remember how much fun you had as a kid with just your imagination? Nurture their natural curiosity by telling each other stories along the way.
That bridge you just crossed – is there a family of friendly trolls living beneath it? Can you wake them up by jumping across, or should you tip-toe quietly so as not to wake them?!
Tie-in some fun activities or distractions along the way – play a game of how many things they can find beginning with S, or pack some crayons and paper and let them do leaf rubbings. It could be as simple as letting them take along a pair of binoculars, a magnifying glass, or a camera.
For older children, you could find a hiking trail with some Geocaching along the route. Teach them to map read too, and then let them lead the way!
Safety should also be a priority, so always make sure you’ve got everything you’ll need in an emergency.
Plan the route in advance and check for difficult bits so there are no surprises. Pack sunscreen and sun hats, even on cloudy days – if the sun breaks through, there’s often no escape when you’re hiking in the great outdoors.
Take a first aid kit and teach the kids how to use it too. If you’re letting your older children go on ahead, make sure they have a whistle so they can alert you if they get lost, have a stumble, or get into difficulty.
And, while part of the beauty of getting outside is escaping the trappings of the modern day, always make sure you have a phone in case you need to make emergency calls. Don’t forget to take a charged power bank too, in case you get carried away with taking photos or you’re using your mobile for navigation (we recommend always carrying a map and a compass as well) – the last thing you want is a drained battery in an emergency situation.
Most of all, give it a go! A family hike is the perfect opportunity to reconnect and, while you may be tired at the end, you’ll feel re-energised in spirit!