Hikes don’t have to mean “YIKES”! I’ll admit it. It wasn’t my finest mommy moment. During a hike, our 6-year old sat down in the middle of the trail and refused to budge. He said he was done. He went on strike. A hike strike. He was too big to carry and too young to understand reason. He meant business. What finally uprooted my child? A bribe. We’ve all done it, right?? I’m not proud we promised him a trip to Dairy Queen if he got up and finished, but I swear he would still be on that trail today, sprouting roots in that very spot, if it were not for the lure of the Blizzard. While I have no doubt my child is stubborn, I learned with a few tips and tricks the hike strike didn’t have to happen. Hopefully, our suggestions help your family have a meltdown-free, fun-filled day outdoors. A little planning goes a long way so here are some tips & tricks for hiking with kids. Because hiking requires almost no special equipment, it’s easy to wake up one beautiful morning and decide that today is the day you’re going on a family hike. Let me be honest with you. Today is not that day unless you’ve already done some planning.
- Consider the trail and the season. Hiking can be a great thing to do in the winter but will the trails be snow-covered or mucky? Will there be enough shade in the summer?
- Think about the length of the hike. While you may like hiking for miles, you have to lower your expectations with kids. It’s best to plan a hike that matches the skills and limits of your youngest hiker. Sometimes it's better to take your time and allow kids to explore You won’t regret that decision. I promise.
- Choose a trail with something at the end. Kids like a goal. And by “goal,” I don’t mean a mile marker at the end of a trail. Maybe it’s a water feature for skipping rocks or looking for frogs or a cave (animal-free, of course) for exploring, or a view that’s awesome. Find something exciting!
- Bring a friend. If your kids are older, have them bring a friend. It’s amazing how kids won’t cry or whine in front of their friends. Plus, it’s always more fun when you have a buddy!
Hope for the best . . . well, you know the rest! Think that extra pair of sneakers attached to your backpack, bumping against your back while you hike is annoying? That’s nothing compared to the complaints from a child who fell in a stream and now has wet feet. Be prepared. Be very prepared.
- Wear layers and pack for the weather. I’m all about wearing natural fibers, but that’s not the best choice for hiking. Cotton doesn’t dry quickly when you sweat or when your kiddo gets wet. Choose synthetic, moisture-wicking clothes. Pack socks, rain jackets, hats, and gloves, depending on the season. These items can be the difference between comfort and misery for everyone!
- Bring plenty of water and snacks. Keep away from crumbly or melty-type snacks. Instead, pack things like trail mix, apples, carrots and nutrition bars – maybe include a treat you wouldn’t normally give your kids. Make sure to have plenty of water for everyone!
- Pack essentials. Be sure to put a map, sunscreen, a first aid kit, a GPS (or compass), toilet paper/wipes, resealable bags and bug repellant into your backpack.
You’re hiking . . . now what? You’ve planned, prepped and made it to the trail, so how can you make the day memorable?
- Remember the day is about having fun. Let the youngest hiker set the pace. Even if they’re slower than you’d like, don’t rush – especially if they stop to admire leaves and bugs. Catch up and hear about what’s going on in their lives. Don’t forget to take plenty of breaks, too. Nothing says you have to make it to the end of the trail for the day to be a success!
- Take the opportunity to teach (not preach to) your kids. Hikes are a fantastic opportunity to explain Leave No Trace and how to respect nature. Talk about how it’s our responsibility to enjoy the outdoors and make good decisions to protect the environment now and for future generations. Kids will understand! Consider brining a book about local plants and animals to see if you can identify any! (Visit the Leave No Trace site for fun ideas and more information.)
- Let older kids take the lead. Kid’s confidence grows when they take healthy risks and become responsible for their actions. Why not let them take the lead? Watching your kids make the right choices also increases your confidence in them.
- Play games. Fend off moans and groans with games. Play I Spy or 20 Questions. Start a story and have everyone add a line. Create a scavenger hunt or try your hand at geocaching. Have fun while taking your kid’s mind off of complaining. Before they know it, they’ll be back at the car with smiles! At camp, kids love to explore their surroundings by building "gnome homes" or tiny homes made from materials in nature. See how creative they can get! But make sure to put any materials back when you're done.
Hiking is about having fun and spending time together outdoors. One last tip, if your child is like mine, maybe you shouldn’t call it a hike. Try calling it an adventure or a trek – anything but a hike, which sometimes sounds like just plain walking to him, but we know it’s anything but ordinary! Avid4 Adventure offers hiking as part of our day and overnight camps.