Hiking with kids is a unique experience. It can be tiring, challenging, and rewarding all at the same time. One of the great things about hiking with your kids is that it’s an activity you can do together to strengthen your relationship while getting some fresh air and exercise in nature!
I won’t lie; hiking with kids can be exhausting. But it’s worth it when you get to the top of a mountain and see your kiddo’s eyes light up as they take in their surroundings. It doesn’t have to be hard or boring either – here are some tips for making sure that everyone has fun on their next hike!
Bring a map
When hiking in an unfamiliar area, it’s a good idea to bring a map along. A map will help you keep your bearings and navigate the trails. Your map should always be in a ziplock bag, which will protect it from moisture if it starts to rain or if you find yourself in some water.
Bring a compass, just in case you get lost
A map is handy, but knowing which direction is north (or south or east or west) is really important when you’re lost. Bring an analog compass with a dial to help figure out which way is best for getting back home or to the trailhead.
Choose a trail with cool features
Make sure you choose a trail with cool scenery and features like waterfalls, caves, or mountain peaks. We’ve been on some with tunnels and awesome bridges, too, which kids will enjoy running through or running across.
The worst hike is the one with nothing cool to see! It’s boring for both kids and parents, so find a place with things that will interest everyone.
Tip: Bring a camera–kids love posing in front of something scenic!
Pack snacks and water
Kids are constantly hungry, and hiking seems to make them even hungrier. Bring a few snacks and plenty of water to keep everyone happy on your hike.
Some ideas for kid-friendly trail snacks include:
- granola bars
- trail mix
- crackers and cheese
- celery with peanut butter dipping cups
A favorite water bottle is the Klean Kanteen Kids Insulated Bottle with Built-in Straw (affiliate link). Bring along enough water for yourself and the kids to last a few hours. Bring along more than you think you’ll need; kids love stopping for water breaks on the trail.
Remember to bring along some wet wipes for cleaning hands before and after eating.
Make sure they have the right clothes for the weather
It’s important to make sure kids are dressed properly for hiking. For instance, during a summer hike, it’s best to dress children in cotton clothes that are lightweight and cool. In the wintertime, kids need wool sweaters or jackets with down insulation on top of their clothing for extra warmth.
No matter the season, layers are a good idea. If kids get too hot, it’s easy to peel layers off. However, if you don’t dress in layers and get too cold, you’re out of luck, and the kids will be miserable.
Wear comfortable shoes
I can’t emphasize this enough: properly fitted shoes are a must for hiking. That doesn’t mean that you need to buy your kid a pair of expensive trail shoes, but make sure whatever they wear isn’t too small or too big; feet sliding around in shoes will result in painful blisters.
Obviously, flip flops, sandals, and the like are not great choices for hiking. Choose a comfortable sneaker or hiking shoe.
It’s also important to have a good pair of socks that are the appropriate thickness for your climate. Cotton is typically better in warm weather, whereas wool or polyester can be great during winter months and colder climates.
Bring sunscreen and bug spray
Apply sunscreen and bug spray about 15 minutes before you start your hike, and bring it along with you on the trail to reapply as needed. You’ll want to keep the kids protected from sunburns, as well as bugs that may bite them while they’re hiking. Bring a hat for each kid so they can shield their noses, ears, necks, and scalps from sunburn. Sunglasses can be helpful on a bright, sunny day, too.
Hike with friends or family members who have kids too
One of the best ways to get your kids looking forward to hiking is to have them hike with people they know and like. You can do this by inviting a friend or family member with children. You might want to ask around at school or church or see if there’s someone in your neighborhood who likes hiking too. Friends make everything more fun!
Bring a first-aid kit, just in case
Let’s face it, kids get scrapes and bruises all the time, so it’s even more likely your first time on the hiking trail. Bring a little first aid kit along with you with the following supplies:
- Antibiotic ointment for cuts and scrapes
- Gauze pads
- Tape (for securing gauze)
- Benadryl for any stings or potential allergic reactions
Let them carry their own backpack
Part of the fun of hiking (in a child’s mind, anyway) is carrying a backpack. Keep it light, of course, but kids can help carry their own water and snacks, which will lighten your load.
Take breaks when needed to keep everyone happy and healthy
The last thing you want is a grumpy kid on the trail. Allow for enough time to take plenty of breaks and to walk slowly. Stopping for a quick snack now and then helps break up the walk. On longer hikes, you may want to take a lunch break around midday. Don’t forget to stop and enjoy the scenery, too. The beautiful views and family time together are what it’s all about!
Hiking with kids doesn’t have to be a chore. We’ve outlined some basic tips for the first-time hiking dad and shown you how to make it enjoyable for everyone in your family! With a little preparation and a lot of patience, your first hiking trip should be a success.