If you are anything like I was when I first started thinking about taking my kids on the Trail you are probably a little overwhelmed and wondering, "how am I going to make this work?" Have no Fear!
A family hike does not have to be the overwhelming experience you are playing out in your head. It just takes a little bit of planning, practice, determination, and a whole lot of rolling with the punches.
Here are some of my best tips for hiking with your littles.
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What on earth do I pack?!
The absolute best advice I could give you in order to having an enjoyable hike with your kids is to be prepared.
Was anyone else thinking this in their head when they read that or was it just me?
So what I am sure most of you are thinking is, “What on earth do I pack?!”
The first thing to remember is that less is more. If there is one thing that I have learned from traveling and hiking with kids is that no one wants to carry a 40lbs pack along with a 40lbs kid. So find gear that is comfortable, lightweight, and minimal.
Each persons pack is going to look different depending on the length of their trip. What I have here is for a day trip so note that this will look different if you’re doing an overnight hike. Some items I have purchased have been great and some have not worked out so well, this is a list of those items.
When I took my son on his first trip I bought him what I though was going to be this perfect REI Co-op Tarn 18 Pack - Kids'. He loves it, but when I put it on him it is a little big since it's meant for someone 8 to 12 years old (You can see the size difference below). So what I do during the hikes is have him wear the Osprey Moki 1.5 Hydration Pack. It's the perfect size for him and allows him to feel like a big kid while he's hiking.
Getting a Hydration pack makes a world of a difference for my littles for multiple reasons! It gives them a little more endurance to make it through the hikes plus allows them to carry their own water and not have to stop as much to ask you for water. Not to mention they feel important because they get to carry their own snacks and feel like mommy and daddy.
Of course you can't forget about a pack for yourself. For me I am typically hiking with my little by myself which means they switch off and on who is in the Osprey Poco, but for those longer hikes where I know I might need to double up on carrying the littles, I have my son in the Osprey and I front load my daughter with the Ergo carrier.
Not ideal but the best I have been able to come up with.
Although you can always simply hike in tennis shoes, I tend to lean towards a hiking shoe with a hard sole so that the kids don't feel all the sticks and rocks. A couple of things that I have looked for in a good shoe is having a pair with a good grip so it's harder for them to slide. Another thing to consider is even though a toddler doesn't really need a hiking boot this young, a good sturdy shoe with a hard toe or a pair good for water play is always perfect for them.
Merrell is such a great brand for adults or kids and the Child Hydro H2O Hiker sandal is great because even though it is a water shoe it does not have the same slots on the side so sticks and pebble don't get stuck in their shoes as easily. I originally had gone with keens but I found my kids were constantly getting poked or having a toe slip out. This can slow things down when you have to stop and fix it. My son loves his Merrell’s and honestly wears them even when he isn't hiking. For water hikes in St. Marys Wilderness this was the perfect shoe.
For a non water shoe I often will dress them in their Merrell Hiking Shoes. These are lightweight and have a mesh so extremely breathable and if they get slightly wet it will not be uncomfortable for them.
This won't always be a must, but I like hats and sunglasses for multiple reasons. These plus sunblock is going to be a must to keep from getting sunburns.
A hat is going to be good to keep the sun off your littles heads, but more important (and why I wear my own hat), keeping ticks out of their hair. I honestly like this hat that has an extra flap in the back to keep the sun off their neck as well as protect them from ticks. As an added bonus it is also detachable so if your kids don't like it you can take it off.
For sunscreen, I usually go with this one by greenways, because it doubles as an insect repellent too. I also will use this pack by babyganics when I need a spray instead of lotion. I usually start the hike off with the lotion and then reapply with the spray throughout the hike.
A way to keep cool and try to beat the heat on those long hikes is a cooling towel. These are great for any outdoor events whether or not it is hiking, soccer games or outdoor festivals.
I am always amazed how quickly it cools you down and it helps my kids not tire out so quickly on those hot summer days. All you need to do is get them wet before you leave and you are good to go.
As a bonus, my kids also love this little water fan! It doubles as a spray bottle which they love to bug each other with.
Now that you have the best gear for your littles, here are some tips on having the best time and enjoying your adventures.
First Aid Kit
This one is a bit of a no brainer when going on a hike, but I mentioned it mostly for the things that I ended up adding to my kit.
First thing that I added was kinesiology tape. This one is perfect because it is waterproof and comes in precut strips. The next thing I added was some children’s Benadryl and lastly, some fun band aids. Its amazing how many time I’ve had to put a Band-Aid on my little not necessarily because they needed it but because it is the magic that makes their boo boo all better.
I have this Adventure Medical Kit that is also water proof, I will typically pull out what I don't need when we do shorter hikes and then put it all back in for my longer hikes. This is one item that I would rather carry extra things and not need it rather than not have it. My husband sprained his ankle on one trip and I had taken out my ace bandage because we never have needed it in the 6 years of hiking on the AT, thank goodness for Kinesiology tape and high laced boots!
Snacks are one of those “obvious” musts that tend to slip our minds. Make sure that you pack snacks that are easy to carry as well as ones that won't melt.
Hangry kids are never fun so having snacks will help prevent this as well as giving them a boost of energy. Granola bars, trail mix, and beef sticks are some of my kids favorites. Other go to favorites are purée pouches, my kids will always go for applesauce if they see it in the pack.
When hiking, temperatures can vary a lot. Dressing in easy layers helps with this. Depending on the time of year, I usually have three layers for my kids and myself (t-shirt, long sleeve, and pack a sweatshirt/jacket). I also like to pack a rain layer in our packs as well.
My sons first big trip he soaked through his pants and we had zero extra layers (face palm moment). So I like to have at least one extra with me if I have room.
This is probably the hardest, but most important section. Flexibility when going on adventures with your littles is the number one thing to keep you from losing your mind. When you do not have any expectations it's a lot easier to be patient and it will make the trip a lot more enjoyable.
The best advice that I can provide is simply to roll with it.
Trust me when I say I know that this can be challenging. There are some hikes I am better at this than others, but I always find that it's easiest when I have made zero expectations. The best advice that I can provide is simply to roll with it. Just let it go and have fun.
Have fun with It
Find a hike/destination that will keep your littles interested. Mine absolutely love water, so I like to find hikes that have waterfalls, rivers, or lakes. This always makes them excited to get to the end and see the water.
I also like to bring along little "games" for them that keep them distracted from how long the hike is. Things like a scavenger hunt will keep your littles focused on something other than how far they have been walking.
You can grab your free printable Nature Hunt Activity here.
Download your free PDF version here.
Creating fun little games always makes the time go faster, but at the end of the day you have to remember that they will be slower and you have to let them experience nature. Don’t be so quick to rush them through it.
Sometimes it isn't always about how quickly you get to your destination, but your experience along the way.
You will learn so much when you adventure with kids. Before I had kids it was about getting to the summit as quickly as possible so that I could get a "good workout" in. Now things are different, I enjoy my hikes more because I get to experience the slowness of the hike. Sometimes it isn't always about how quickly you get to your destination, but your experience along the way.
I hope that these tips help you when you go on your next adventure with your littles!