Hiking with Kids: so they don’t hate it.

My husband and I love hiking.  Being outside, somewhere new, somewhere beautiful, packing all the necessary gear (my favorite part) and putting dirt under my shoes feels just plain good.   I want to go fast.  I want to go high.  I want to go far.

The kids are less enthusiastic.

I say, “We’re going on a hike!” They hear… “We’re going for a long, difficult walk. You’re going to see the same thing, it’s trees and rocks, over and over for most of the day without a real destination, but you might also see some mountains that you are not at all interested in.”

Don’t let their lack of interest stop you (we never do).  You can, in fact, manipulate a good hiking trip into something they’ll actually enjoy, or at least tolerate enough not to complain the whole time.  Here are a few tips Jeremy and I have discovered to create a tear-free, fun day on the trail:

Give them a camera hiking1 Depending on the age and price tag of the camera, this can actually work wonders with kids around 6 and up.  Chances are if your kiddos are used to seeing you do the clicking, they’ll love being a pseudo-grownup and do the photo taking for you. Bonus: you get to see the world through their close-ups and panoramas.

Un-bonus: you’re going to get pictures of your butt.

Pick a walking stick hiking2 My husband started this one.  It went over well with the kids, surprisingly.  At the start of the hike, the search would begin.  You have to find the right height, good structure, not covered in bugs.  Often throughout the day, one perfect walking stick would get swapped for another more perfect one.  Our 8 year old actually held on to his most of the trip, while the 3 year old enjoyed finding them more than actually walking with them.

Bonus: makes for a great souvenir.

Un-bonus: imaginations unbound, walking sticks quickly become samurai swords.  General hockey restrictions apply: high-stick and whatnot.

Rock Collections and Scavenger Hunts hiking4 There is no shortage of Pinteresty ideas for outdoor scavenger hunts for kids.  We are not those patient parents; these sorts of activities slow us down just a little too much.  However, we have done the paper sack for rocks, leaves and twigs before.  They work great and can be fun to sort through later on, but the bags fill up quickly (oh look, another leaf) and they tire of carrying them after long.  A good alternative: one rock for the rock collection.  Finding the one perfectly smooth, perfectly shiny, perfectly under-8-lbs rock can take a good part of the day.  And you’ll be surprised how well your kids can remember which rock they found where.

Even better: Geocaching makes the scavenger hunt fun for the whole family.

Packing Gear My oldest son takes after me; we share a love for gear.  Not that you need a lot of gear for hiking, but packing the backpack will build interest.  Sit down with the kids, or even take them shopping, and pick out the provisions together: water, snack, map, compass, rain cover, first-aid…check!

Bonus: Make them start carrying their own stuff (5 and up).  Don’t fill it up too much (no toys!) but let them build confidence and responsibility.

Mom-bonus: Picking out their backpack.  Don’t lie.  I know how much you love buying adorable, kid-size stuff.  You’re shopping already, aren’t you?

Extra tip:  Chest buckle and water bottle pocket are musts . (Osprey, Deuter, HABA, all great options)

Time/Distance/Reward That famous saying, “Life is a journey, not a destination” does not apply to kids.  Are we there yet?  Where are we going?  I’m bored. Sound familiar?  For many hikes, the trail is the destination.  In that case, don’t overwhelm them with distance.  Our rule of thumb with our kids is 8k or 5 miles total, which means if you’re on a straight trail, you need to take the return journey into consideration.  We keep our hikes under 5 hours total.

As for rewards, look into trails with an alternate, more interesting return.  Here in Europe, you find things like hiking up and taking a cable car down.  Or horse ride.  Or train.  You get the idea.  Always do the hike first.  It’s the ace up your sleeve, and if you do the fun ride up, you will have a very whiny walk back.

Also, look for hikes with castles, playgrounds, parks, lakes, rides at the end.  You get your hike; they get their fun.

Basically, hiking with kids can and should be fun.  I honestly think if Jeremy and I went hiking alone, we would get bored fast without passing out snacks and helping someone pee on a tree every 5 minutes.  Sure, our treks are a little slower and longer with the littles in tow, but seeing them breathe in all that sunshine and nature makes it so damn worth it.

Last little tips:

  • Give them a long leash.  They feel as free as you do in the outdoors, so let them enjoy it.
  • Send them way ahead.  They’re going to move slower than you so it’s better to give them a head start rather than make them lag behind.
  • Snacks, snacks, snacks.  Did I mention snacks?  Fruit, granola, jerky, crackers, water.
  • Everything you do is a distraction from the fact that you’re just walking.  Sing, tell stories, jokes, word games, etc.
  • Bring a pet.  Let them hold the leash (if manageable).
  • Have fun!
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