Saturday, July 18, 2009

Take Your Kids Hiking! -10 Practical Tips for a Great Experience

I've been thinking of some great practical tips for hiking with kids. I touched on them in my post about our Blood Mountain adventure, but here I'll break my ideas down into a basic list. Hopefully you will find them to be helpful!

(photo by Billy)

1) Keep it simple. Especially at first, be sure to choose a hike that will be fun for everyone involved. There's no need to hike long distances or attempt anything too strenuous- just spending time outdoors is wonderful. As you and your children become more experienced, you will be able to select more challenging hikes, keeping in mind the skill and temperament of your kids. Remember though, that hiking with kids is ALL about the experience- not about impressive accomplishments.

(photo by Billy)

2) Make sure someone knows where you're going, and be sure to check in with them when you get back. This is common sense for any hiking or camping excursion.

3) Think like a boy scout- be prepared. You don't want to be stuck with a bunch of unnecessary weight to carry, but there are a few things you should always bring:

- plenty of water
- snacks
- map
- sunscreen
- wet wipes or tissues, & bandannas or handkerchiefs
- small first aid kit (especially disinfecting wipes, band aids, tweezers and a needle, instant cold pack, benadryl or similar, sting-eze or similar, something [hydrocortisone, Ivarest, calamine, etc] to relieve itching, and any specific medications you or your children may need.)
- whistle(s) (a child can use it to call for help if he or she is lost)
- bag for trash
- your ID
- camera (don't want to miss those great kodak moments!)

We also like to have lip balm, binoculars, a field guide (check out the great Pocket Naturalist guides from Waterford Press), flashlight (even if you expect to be back before dark), compass, pocket knife, natural bug repellent, rain jackets, hiking sticks, notebook and pencil, magnifying glass, dry socks, backpack carrier (for smaller children) and cell phone.

(photo by Billy)

4) Teach your kids what to do in case they get lost. The main thing is to STOP- a child can easily wander farther and farther from the trail when they think they're retracing their steps. Tell them to look around carefully and call for you- you might be closer than they realize. If you don't answer, they should blow on a whistle- the whistle will be louder and carry farther than their voice. The whistle should be reserved for emergencies only- of course that's a hard rule for kids to follow, but do try. Tell them to be sure and WAIT THERE for someone to find them. Chances are you're not far away.

5) Dress appropriately. In winter, always have a jacket and dress in layers- you might be surprised how warm you get while hiking along, but you will want warmer clothes when you're stopped or as evening falls. Don't forget hats and gloves or mittens for everyone! In summer, wear lightweight clothing but again, have layers. Always wear appropriate shoes. Be vigilant about using sunscreen and if necessary, bug repellent (preferably natural). Also, it's a good idea to bring a change of clothes for each child. Leave those in the car, so they'll be ready after the hike- you never know how wet or muddy the kids will get!

(photo by Billy)

6) Give yourself plenty of time, and remember to chill out. No outing with children goes exactly as planned, and hikes are no exception. Just follow their lead, and enjoy the ride! This is SO important when hiking with kids.

7) Stop frequently to sip water and offer snacks. A hungry child is a cranky child, and a cranky child isn't likely to enjoy the hike- not to mention being difficult to get along with! Kids need frequent fueling and rehydration, especially when they're active. Don't forget the adults, either- it's much easier to be patient, relaxed and clear-headed when your blood sugar is stable.

(photo by Billy)

8) Leave no trace. Be sure to put all your trash in proper receptacles- which usually means packing it out with you. On the way back, a great activity is to collect all the litter you can find in a garbage bag, so you can dispose of it properly. Be considerate of other hikers. Try not to damage the plants or terrain too much. Oh, and be sure everyone uses the bathroom before you set out. ;) Even so, you might need to help a child relieve her or himself outdoors. If they need to poop and there is no privy, then it's best to use a small trowel to dig a hole first, and bury the poop. Camping stores sell lightweight plastic shovels for this purpose. Kids can pick the darnedest times to suddenly need to use the potty- don't let the prospect discourage you though; it's really no big deal.

9) Be aware of your surroundings. This is the number one safety rule, but it also enhances any experience outdoors. Teach your kids how to be aware, too. Notice the interesting and beautiful details around you, and point them out to the kids. Stop and listen when they point things out to you. Oh, and watch out for poison ivy!

10) Have fun! Relax, and enjoy this time with your kids. Be silly, have wonder, sing songs, examine nature, count things, pretend, talk, hike and love each other. Do some fun activities, if you wish- one fun list by Environmental Dad inspired me to create this list! Here, we like to combine our hikes with letterboxing. But whatever you do, be sure to relax, be flexible and ENJOY yourself!

So, quick recap:
- Keep it simple.
- Check in.
- Be prepared.
- Teach your kids what to do in case they get lost.
- Dress appropriately.
- Give yourself plenty of time.
- Practice frequent fueling and rehydration.
- Leave no trace.
- Be aware.
- Have fun!
Got it? Great! Now go plan a hike today!


Robin said...

Great list - we're heading to New Hampshire next month and hope to do a fair amount of hiking now that the kids are finally enjoying it!

George said...

These are great tips for hikers of any age. The pictures make it obvious that your children enjoy hiking. What a wonderful gift for them.

ProdigalWife said...

Great post--and charming photos! We live right by a fabulous park but it's quite difficult to get the little one off the couch and into the park for a walk, much less a hike!

Geezees Custom Canvas Art said...

awesome list, we are off to hike for a few hours today with the kids...and this is a great reminder of the important stuff...thanks!

Kit said...

@ Robin: Hi! Thanks for stopping by- ooh, enjoy your hiking! Sounds fabulous. :)

@ George: Hello, and thanks for visiting. Yes, luckily the boys LOVE hiking, and have friends and cousins who like it too. We have a blast at it.

@ ProdigalWife: Thank you, and welcome! You know, it seems to me that with kids and the outdoors, practice helps a lot- the more you get outside with them to play and enjoy, the more they will come to appreciate and enjoy it. Try having a scavenger hunt, or make a naturalist notebook, or act out an explorer story. . . whatever! (My kids like to do "commando training" or pretend to be Indiana Jones.) Good luck, and have fun!

@ Geezees: Wonderful, and thank you for stopping by! I hope you had a great hike, and many more to come! :)

A Magical Childhood said...

Oh, this is fabulous! I'd love to link it on the Magical Childhood blog. May I use one of your gorgeous pictures in the post to direct them here?

I was thinking we needed to go hiking at the local state park this week and now I really want to go again! :)

Kit said...

@ Alicia: Thank you! I'd love it if you linked, and certainly you may use any of my pictures that you wish. Thanks so much for asking!

Enjoy your hike! :)

Bird said...

This is soooo informative and helpful Kit, and *whisper* many of your hints are pretty useful for the kind of grownup who likes an unhurried hike without too much macho summit bagging and plenty of stopping to smell the flowers/dabble in the stream/look up at the forest canopy. Looks like you have the perfect balance of adventurousness and challenge while seeing and enjoying the small but important and fun stuff along the way. Gorgeous pictures as always, to illustrate that by your own experience these hints are tried and tested. Oh, and I'm stumbling you again :)

Kakie said...

Hi Bill, what a great post. I think talking about "Nature Deficit Disorder" is important. As parents, one of the most important things we do with our kids is to create memories and hiking is a great way to do that.

I wanted to share another educational resource for young children about hiking. I write a series of children's books that uses a cast of multicultural characters who educate kids about self esteem, sports and outdoor exploration. I wanted to share a resource for you and your readers called: Award winning "Anna Goes Hiking" teaches kids about nature and outdoors. I would really like to know your thoughts about it. best to you!

Kit said...

@ Bird: Yes of course! Unless we are talking goats, then the term "kid" is really quite relative, don't you think? ;) And THANK YOU for the stumble! You rock.

@ Kakie: I checked out your link- that looks like a really cute book! Well done! Thanks for stopping by. :)

Chris S said...

Thanks for a great post. Here's another one I found called Happier Trails. It's filled with good tips to keep your kiddos smiling on the trail. Checkit out here:

Melynda said...

Great post. I think the most important thing you mentioned is be flexible and have fun.

I hope it isn't bad etiquette to mention this, but I've written several posts on hiking with kids and trail games at YourWildChild

Kit said...

@ Chris: Thank you! And thanks for that link- I love that post! Absolutely accurate and helpful advice.

@ Melynda: I don't really know the etiquette, but I don't mind. :) Those are great posts! It makes sense to divide the recommendations up by age.

Mike said...

Great post. If only I could convince my wife. She is not much of a outdoors person. I plan on taking my daughter soon. This will help me remember: "hiking with kids is ALL about the experience- not about impressive accomplishments." so I don't go overboard.

Here is a tip I would like to include: When hiking with kids make sure to have an adult at the front and the rear with the kids in between. This will all but ensure no one gets lost or in trouble.

equipment trailer said...

wow, i do love the pictures of the kids having fun in this places. This is such a great experience for them. thanks for sharing.

Lia Keller said...

I have a blog for my outdoor playgroup and I have a series on adventuring parents. Just a few questions! If you are game, let me know! Great tips!,