Last Updated on October 8, 2020 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
The idea of hiking with kids may invoke thoughts of birds chirping, plenty of laughter, and a smiling summit photo so beautiful it doesn’t even need an instagram filter. However, the reality of hiking with your kids is that factors such as, but not limited to: weather, blood sugar levels, snake sightings, and “last one to the top is a rotten egg” status, can make or break your adventure. But preparation is half the battle, so I present to you “8 tips for hiking with your kids”, a survival guide based on a true story.
You can thank me later.
Top 8 Tips for Hiking with Kids
In absolutely no particular order, here’s what you need to know in order to get the whole family to the summit, tear free. While originally written with utter sarcasm after a 3 mile hike that went awry with my then preschoolers, I hope some of these tips might actually be helpful.
1. Acquire the patience of a Saint.
Digging deep to find patience when you really want to scream or run away is a gift bestowed upon any parent of a young child. I don’t need to tell you to be patient. I’m just telling you to bring extra.
You are going to need it when hiking with kids.
And brace yourself, there will, undoubtedly be whining. Whether it comes from you or your kids is still yet to be determined.
2. Block off the entire day.
Do not make any other plans for the day. Because your normal 1 hour round trip hike may take three, four, or even ten times that duration with kids in tow. The length of your hike will depend on factors such as (but not limited to) effort, focus and / or distraction level, how many ponds, puddles, or streams you come across where rocks can be thrown in, and of course, goldfish cracker consumption.
It’s best to simply not rush the experience.
3. Accept your new role as a pack mule.
The sooner you accept the reality that you’ll be the one carrying everything, the easier your hike will be. You can buy your kids the cutest, toddler sized versions of daypacks or hydration packs, but it doesn’t matter. Ten minutes in to your hike, they’ll likely be on your back (and you look ADORABLE in that pink camelbak, fyi.)
If your kids don’t have their own packs, leave room in your bag for absolutely everything your child brings with them: water bottles, sweatshirts, handfuls of goldfish, because chances are you’ll be the one carrying all of it before the day is over.
4. But don’t carry your kid.
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT cave in and carry anyone unless it is an utter emergency. *
If you get suckered by that cute puppy dog face and carry a kid early on, it is almost assured that their legs will mysteriously “stop working”, thus requiring you to carry them for the duration of the hike. Kids are manipulative, so stay strong.
*Exception to this rule, of course, is if you are training for any sort of event that requires heavy, awkward carrying, such as an obstacle course race or a wife carrying contest. Or if your kid is still too little to walk down the trail on their own
5. Accept the fact that there will be blood.
The child who simply couldn’t get his or her legs to work on the uphill portion will decide to sprint at full speed back down the trail on the return trip. Despite hundreds of “please slow down!” and “please be careful!” warnings out of your mouth, said child will undoubtedly not just fall, but trip in an epic fashion and then body surf on their stomach face first downhill across all of the sharpest rocks.
The result will likely only be scraped knees and palms, but said child will most definitely be convinced that they will not survive this ordeal. Further, between the tears you will be informed that you are a horrible parent for taking them on this dangerous trail, and they really should have just stayed home inside all day, as the Super Mario Brothers are MUCH safer than hiking.
5a. Bring Band-aids.
See point #5.
6. Bring toilet paper.
Despite numerous “potty” visits minutes before leaving, someone is going to have to poop in the woods. Just go with it. Pack toilet paper, a ziplock bag to put it in after (pack out everything!), and hand sanitizer.
Not sure of the proper etiquette of using “natures restroom”? Check out THIS POST to learn everything you need to know about properly heeding to the call of nature in the woods. There are a number of steps you can take to ensure your kids (or your) outdoor bathroom habits are environmentally sound.
7. Apply skillful distraction methods.
You know, the kind of skills you acquire the second you become a parent.
Little legs tired? Check out that toad!
Cries of “I’m boooreeed!”? Create a scavenger hunt!
Sing songs, play “I spy”, whatever it takes. Just don’t scream “BEAR” and take off running in order to lighten the mood. Turns out, little kids don’t respond well to life-or-death jokes.
And most importantly:
8. Encourage, encourage, encourage.
When hiking with kids, resist the urge to tell your fully capable 7 year old that he is moving slower than a 90 year old with a walker.
Even if it feels that way (refer to point #1: patience!) .
On a serious note, tell your kids how impressed you are that they are tackling such a big adventure. Positive reinforcement works far better than the alternative…especially when you have made it past the halfway point. Play along when you reach the summit and they believe they are now on top of the world, because in their little minds, they truly are.
Encourage the adventure…one day they will thank you.
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.