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Does anyone even read the intro when reading a list post? I know I skip straight to the meat so I totally won’t judge if you skipped right over this and headed right for the tips for hiking with kids.
If you are here for the long haul though, hey! What’s up?! Chances are you landed on my page because are into hiking, you have kids, and you want the 411 on how to seamlessly introduce the two. If so, you are in the right spot. We go hiking quite a bit so I wanted to share our personal 15 tips for hiking with kids to make the experience enjoyable. Let’s dive in!
1. Know Your Child’s Limits
This is at the top of the list of tips for hiking with kids for a reason. It is the single most important factor in having an enjoyable experience. Tiny legs mean your children have to work extra hard to walk up hills and travel great distances. If you are baby wearing then by all means, go for the 7-mile journey to the top of a mountain! If, however, you have a toddler that you want to encourage to walk alone, it’s very unrealistic to think they are going to survive that distance.
You want your child to enjoy this activity and keep going back so you don’t want to overwhelm them straight out of the gate. If your child is hiking for the first time, I would recommend sticking to a trail that is 1 mile or less and relatively flat. Once they can conquer that, slowly work up to 2 miles or an increase in elevation. Continue this gradual increase in distance and difficulty until you know your child can handle something more difficult.
2. Research The Terrain
Notice how in the point above I said, “[find] a trail that is 1 mile or less AND relatively flat?” That’s because not all 1-mile hikes are easy (cue memories of our Koko Head experience). While distance is an important thing to consider, you want to make sure the elevation gain isn’t too great when hiking with kids. If you know their limits and they can push a straight shot up the mountain then go for it, but make sure you build up to that.
Another reason it is important to research the terrain is so you know what to pack. You want to know if the trail is covered, how deep in the woods you are going, how hot or cold the trail gets at the time of year you plan on going, if it’s super muddy or paved. All of this will play into how you prep for your journey.
3. Have Bug Spray And Sunscreen Handy
This goes hand-in-hand with the last tip. Not every hiking trail is through the woods so sometimes you might find yourselves in a direct view of the sun. Sunburn is not fun for anyone, but especially not fun if you have to continue to walk while you have it. Likewise, if you are going into the deep woods, your kids will be less than willing to push forward with 1,000 mosquito bites.
Whether you are baby wearing or not, I recommend getting a pack that has lots of storage like this option from Kelty so you can bring these items along the trail. Most of the time, it is not enough to apply this stuff once and then get on with the rest of your day. You will want to have them with you so you can reapply as needed.
4. Wear Proper Foot Attire
This seems like one of the more obvious tips for hiking with kids, right?! Well I can’t tell you how many times we have seen people hiking through mud here on O’ahu in flip flops. While that might fly with adults, put some damn shoes on your children, please! The main reason footwear on children is important is to reduce injury. Especially if it’s a muddy hike, the chance of slipping and falling in some $5 Old Navy flops is a LOT higher than while wearing a pair of hiking boots such as this option from KEEN.
I get it, people are on vacation when they come to Hawaii. However, if you know you will be hiking on vacation be prepared to pack the essentials for hiking before you fly. This tip doesn’t just apply for hiking on vacation though. You want to make sure your kids always have proper footwear on. If their feet are happy, the chance of them having a meltdown because they are uncomfortable drops drastically.
5. Dress For Success
Ahh, you thought that only applied to the workplace, right? Wrong! Dressing for success is actually one of the more important tips for hiking with kids. Trust me when I say a cold and unhappy child makes for an exhausting and unsatisfying hike. Remember, one of the main goals in hiking with kids is to get everyone to the end as happy and enriched as possible. That’s going to be a tough feat if you or the kids aren’t wearing proper clothing.
Be sure to check the weather for the area you are hiking before you head out. While it is sunshine and rainbows at your house, it could be raining up in the mountain that the trail is on. The reverse scenario could also be true. Either way, that is two totally different climates to pack for and it could become uncomfortable if you are only prepared for one and not the other.
6. Don’t Set A Time Limit.
Sure a 2-mile hike might take an adult less than an hour to accomplish, but that is not the case when hiking with kids. Be it to explore off trail, take breaks, or *lord give you the strength* throw a temper tantrum, children are inevitably going to need more time to complete a hike. That being said, it would be wise to not make other plans for a specific time following the hike.
Do not. I repeat, DO NOT rush your child. One, you are more than likely going to fluster them and give them a negative connotation to the word hiking. Two, your child is going to miss out on a ton of learning experiences and cool things along the way. Three, you are increasing the chance of someone falling and getting hurt. Just chill and take your time. Hiking is meant for relaxation and exploration, not to blow through as quickly as possible.
7. Take Frequent Breaks
As adults, we tend to only think of the destination and not focus on all of the other juicy stuff in between. When hiking with kids, you want to switch that up and take breaks often. Take some time to check out the cool flowers. Try to find a bunch of different leaves. Let your child touch the trees and feel the different textures. All of these things are excellent learning experiences for your children that you do not want to miss out on.
Another reason breaks are important is because children lose interest much more easily than adults. Walking for a mile might feel more like walking the entire Great Wall of China to a 2 year old. Break up the walking time with down time so your child doesn’t become discouraged. This will result in less meltdowns and more willingness to push forward.
8. Pack ALL. OF. THE. SNACKS.
No seriously, ALL OF THEM! I really wanted to leave it at that, but I’ll expand. My kids could eat an entire 3 course meal before leaving the house then as soon as they are in a new location suddenly they are starved and can’t move another step without eating. Please tell me that’s not just me!
Snacks can be a great motivator to get a stubborn toddler to keep moving forward. Since you will already be taking frequent breaks, you might as well have a snack while you’re at it. Do be mindful if you bring snacks in plastic wrappers that you collect your trash and dispose of it properly. It’s crucial to teach our kids from a young age that littering is not appropriate in any circumstance.
9. Bring Enough Water For Each Person
This is arguably THE most important of the tips for hiking with kids. I want to point out that I specified “for each person” here on purpose. Even a child in carrier is going to get thirsty if you are on a long, uncovered trail. The general rule of thumb when packing water is to bring 20 oz per person per hour of hiking. So for a family of 4, you want to have 80 oz of water on hand.
We usually bring our 2-40 oz Hydroflask’s along in our hiking pack (another reason it is so important to have one). You could also opt to get a Camelbak to keep it hands free. If you have a smaller Camelbak, there is generally no extra room for storage so it might be less ideal to take that route if you also have to bring along a baby carrier and hiking pack.
10. Have A First Aid Kit Handy
In case you weren’t already aware, band-aids have magical healing powers (at least with my kids). If my son gets scraped up, he is all tears and screaming…until the band-aid goes on. Then he is fully healed and can resume his normal activities. If you have a first aid kid handy, you will have magic on the go to clean up any boo-boo’s that might come about on your hike. Be sure to have a complete kit, not just band-aids, in the event of a more serious injury.
11. Charge Up Your Camera (And Bring It, Too)
You know what’s even more beautiful than the views at the top? The first time your 2 year old climbs up a mountain by himself or the moment your 5 year old holds onto her brothers hand to guide him through a part of the woods that scares him. Trust me, you are going to want a camera to document all of these cute moments. Aaaand I guess you’ll want it for some pictures of the view too 😉
12. Play Games Along The Way
If taking frequent breaks along the way isn’t enough for your child to regain focus, another great option is to play games. Our favorite thing to do for entertainment while hiking is scavenger hunts. There are tons and tons of free downloadable versions on Pinterest. If you’re not sure where to find them, follow me on Pinterest and check out my board “Scavenger Hunts For All Occasions.” Yep, we love them so much that we take them with us everywhere!
13. Listen To Music (Or Make Your Own)
If music doesn’t make you want to move, are you even human? All jokes aside, music is another great motivator to keep everyone moving when hiking with kids. When your child is singing their favorite song, they are less likely to think about how many steps they are taking vs. how much fun they are having.
If you don’t have portable speakers, or maybe you’re just not a fan of bringing music along, then make your own. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You could literally just try to imitate a bird song that you hear in the distance. Anything that keeps those little minds moving will keep their feet moving too.
14. Rotate Line Leaders/Hiking Partners
Kids have an innate sense to be the leader of the group. If you are hiking with multiple kids, it’s important to let each child have a chance to be the trailblazer. This point is especially true if the trail you are on branches off multiple times. It is really exciting for your child to pick which direction to go and see where it leads so it’s not fair to only let one do it over the other.
It’s also important to rotate hiking partners because it keeps things new and exciting. Sometimes my son will get really grumpy mid hike while walking with me, but as soon as my husband takes over he’s ready to go explore some more. Mixing up partners seems like a small strategy compared to the rest of the tips for hiking with kids, but it keeps things fresh for their young minds.
15. Make Hiking With Kids Fun!
Hiking is so much more than great exercise. It is an excellent way to bond as a family and make new memories. When you go hiking with kids, make it fun and exciting so they want to continue going and learning.
That’s All My Tips For Hiking With Kids
That wraps up my list of tips for hiking with kids. If you have any tips for hiking with kids that I didn’t mention, I would love to hear about about it in the comments below. As always, share this post if you love what you’ve read and follow me on social to get in on some fun behind the scenes action. Thank you so much for taking the time to read about our adventures out in Our Happy Place 🙂