10 Tips for Hiking with Kids
I am a firm believer that getting kids out into nature helps kids become better human beings. It’s not easy to take them outside but it’s worth the effort. Here are some tips for hiking with kids to make it a little easier to manage. Kids aren’t really easy in any situation but use a few of these ten tips for hiking with kids and you’ll probably have a better experience.
1. Keep it Slow/Smell the Roses
I’m guilty of not following my own advice here. But things go much more smoothly when you allow plenty of time to get from A to B. Kids just do not function at the same pace as adults and everyone will be happier if you set a realistic pace that includes plenty of time. If they are getting fussy stop and look at the bark of a tree, a beetle crossing the path, or a flower. Show them where the spores are on the bottom of a fern. Kids tend to forget how tired they are if they are exploring nature. Distract them with everything around them so they aren’t hyper focused on walking.
2. Let them Carry a Backpack
Not all kids will want to carry a backpack so this is not a must. But some will think it is the coolest thing in the world to pack around their own stuff. Make it a small backpack that fits their body and don’t put too much stuff in there. Even a water bottle might be too heavy for a toddler. A few light snacks should be enough. Check the backpack before you leave the car to make sure they haven’t stashed some heavy toys in there while you weren’t looking.
If it is a fun backpack like these animal backpacks on amazon it’s even better! Use the backpack exclusively for hiking to make it special.
3. Check Out a Book From the Library
One year my boys became obsessed with beetles. We checked out books from the library about beetles and learned all about them. When we went hiking my boys were on a beetle treasure hunt and we’d always find a beetle to take a picture of. Another time my daughter came home with a book about wildflowers from her school library. We would take pictures of the flowers on our hikes and try to identify them when we got home using her book. Use your kids interests, the science lab of nature, and your local library to enhance your hiking experience.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of food bribery when hiking with little children. Always have snacks with you and always always withhold them until you are at a destination. I know I am in trouble if I give away all of the snacks and we have only made it halfway to the destination. Always keep the most desirable snack to use as a carrot to get them to keep walking.
5. You Win Some. You Lose Some
Kids are unpredictable undersized human beings. Some days it is just going to go well and others it is going to tank. The same breakdowns that happen at home are bound to happen on the trail sometimes. Roll with it. You can follow all the right tips for hiking with kids and they are still difficult. That’s life. It is still worth it to get them outside and in nature. Some days are just better than others. Keep getting them outside.
6. Hiking Bingo
Try printing out Hiking Bingo here and taking it along for the hike. Make it a group effort or make it a competition. Sometimes a small distraction can go a long way.
Download a geocaching app on your phone and go find a geocache. This turns the hike into more of a treasure hunt. Just like with Hiking Bingo, a little distraction can be a game changer. I admit that this is one of the tips for hiking with kids that I haven’t used yet but I just downloaded the app on my phone and can’t wait to give it a try.
8. Compliment Their Efforts
Kids thrive on positive attention. Point out when they are being good hikers. Tell them how awesome it is that they just got to the top of those stairs. Race them and be so disappointed when they are just too fast for you to catch up to.
9. Bring a Friend
My kids hike a million times better when they are with their friends. If I go hiking with just my kids they might complain and whine the whole way but if their friends are there I am racing to catch up with them the whole time. I once took my four kids and two of my friend’s kids hiking by myself. She treated me like a saint for taking them all but really it was so much easier with them there.
10. When All Else Fails, Look for Bigfoot
I don’t know why kids love looking for Bigfoot but they do. Pretend you see a Bigfoot track and follow it around the corner. Pretend there was a Bigfoot sighting in the area recently. This can even help them to quiet down so you can sneak up on Bigfoot.
Carrying a Baby/Toddler?
I’ve been carrying my kids in carriers while hiking for 9 years now and have some serious opinions on what works best. Here are my recommendations.
Ergo carriers are by far the most popular for babies up to 33 lbs, not only for hiking but for everyday use. I’ve heard rave reviews of these being much more comfortable than any other carrier. They also hold their value well so you can sell it on craigslist when you are done with it and get a decent amount back.
Carrier wraps are nice if you don’t mind doing some oragami every time you want to use it. There are a bunch of different ways to wrap them for different ways to carry your baby.
For toddlers you sometimes want something a little sturdier. Kelty is by far the most popular brand for child carriers for hiking. I like this Kelty Junction 2.0 because the child sits a little lower on your back. A lot of carriers have the child sitting up higher and it makes it harder to duck under branches as you hike. This also brings your center of gravity lower giving you better balance.
If you are carrying a larger toddler, I highly recommend you use trekking poles. This isn’t completely necessary but it will help save your knees and joints by taking some of the weight off. Trekking poles will also help you keep your balance while on the trail. I was able to hike with a knee problem thanks to my trekking poles.
Looking for a good hike near Portland? Check out our post 5 Best Portland Area Hikes with Kids.
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