10 Tips for Hiking with Young Kids
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, but all opinions are my own.
Our family loves being outside!
Biking, walking, swimming, camping, playing, and hiking are all regular things at our house. Many of our Family Vacations are to places outdoors and usually involve hiking. Even for many of our Couple Vacations we have gone camping and done lots of hiking!
Hiking is a great family activity, because it gets everybody involved and active, while being together! Also, it wears out those little legs on the kids and gives everyone a solid night sleep. Can I get a Whoot Whoot!
But we haven’t always been crazy about hiking with our kids. With our first kid, we barely ever went hiking! If the stroller couldn’t make it, we wouldn’t go. We never bought a cool carrier or anything like that, and looking back at it, I wish we would have! When Bubs got big enough to walk we started doing short, easy “hikes,” which were more like walks, but of course he loved it!
When the second, Little Miss, was born, everything changed. I don’t know if it was because we had an older child that needed the activity, my recovery with her was easier than the first, or we just got bit by the hiking bug (probably a little bit of all of those), but as soon as we could we were out and about.
We realized hiking with kids isn’t that hard, and the more you do it, the easier it becomes!
We’ve figured out what works for us (which may or may not work for everyone), and it has made it possible for our little family to experience more of what being outside and hiking has to offer.
So, here are our 10 Tips for Hiking with Young Kids!
1. Spend the money and get a good baby backpack carrier
When Little Miss was really small (too little to sit up on her own), we carried her around in our soft baby carrier that strapped on around the front. Until she was about 6 months old, we would tote her about facing forward or facing inward, depending on her mood usually. We found this one by Infantino on Amazon.com, and really enjoyed it! It was easy to use and was comfy to wear. Also nice about this carrier, you can wear in on your back and piggy back baby if you would like. So versatile!
But, once she got bigger, and more wiggly, we knew we needed to find something more heavy duty. I read lots of reviews and suggestions, and decided for our price range and how often we needed it, the Kelty Tour 1.0 was the one for us! I was able to find it on Amazon.com for less than on Kelty.com, plus free shipping with Prime!!
There are multiple things we love about this pack!
- Stand Alone Kickstand- you can set the pack down while baby is still in it and it won’t fall over!
- Adjustable Everything!- shoulder straps (5-point harness style) to keep baby in, shoulder straps for parent to wear it comfortably, waist strap to help distribute the pack’s weight, and baby’s seat height are all easily adjustable to customize to each wearer while it’s on or off
- Lightweight- the pack itself is only 4 pounds and the frame is made of aluminum, and it can hold up to 50 pounds
- Polyester Material- dries quickly and is super easy to wipe down and clean
- Pockets and Storage!- with two large pockets on the back and multiple smaller pockets underneath and in the front, there are plenty of places for water bottles, snacks, change of clothes, sunscreen, and diapers!
Technically, Little Miss still fits in this pack, and we use it occasionally, but she likes to walk by herself now, so unless we are doing a really long hike, it just sits in the car more often than naught. But, we have been very happy with our Kelty and highly recommend it!
2. Find some good water bottles
Hiking with kids= lots of stops and water breaks!
Come prepared and bring enough water for everyone. When we go out, we usually have one bottle for each person, plus one of our CamelBak backpacks for back up (whew that was a lot of backs!). I want to get each kid their own CamelBak, but right now they refuse to carry their own stuff… such is life!
But, I recently stumbled upon these awesome little stainless steel Thermos bottles, and they have been a game changer! They keep the water cold for a long time, have hassle-free, button press lids that prevent spills, straws for easy drinking, and kid-friendly designs like Ninja Turtles and Disney Princesses.
I found ours at Walmart for less than $10, and they luckily had a girl and boy option, but online at thermos.com you can find a variety of characters and colors, along with other cool products that could come in handy on your hiking adventures!
3. Plan out your hike beforehand and know what to expect
I like to plan and map things out so I know what to expect while we are hiking. No one wants to start a hike and half way through come to find it’s longer than you thought, or it’s harder for the kids than they can handle, OR it’s just not fun. Reading reviews or descriptions about the hike you plan on doing is always helpful! I like to find posts from other moms and families that have done the hike to get an idea of what to expect.
Check the weather so you can be prepared for changes if need be. Having to run the rest of the hike back to the car because it started down pouring and the baby is crying is never as fun as taking your time and enjoying the trail.
Also, know what kind of terrain you will be hiking- dirt, gravel, pavement, inclines, declines, climbing over things etc. Being mentally prepared will help, and it is less stressful than being surprised to find that you have to scramble over fallen logs and tree roots while carrying a toddler on your shoulders!
4. Keep your child(ren)’s strengths and weaknesses in mind
Our 5 year old is, and always has been, a bundle of energy! He loves hiking, climbing, running, and jumping off things. Even with his abundance of energy and love for exploring, he only has legs of a 5 year old, and they get tired even if the rest of him doesn’t! He might think he could hike forever, but we know that after about 2-3 miles at once, he’s going to give out. We try to keep each hike under 3 miles round trip, unless we know we can spend the entire day hiking, and it works for us!
Know what your child, or children, can and can’t do and plan accordingly.
How far can they walk by themselves before they need to be carried? (This is after taking a sufficient amount of breaks and pit stops)
Are you willing to carry them if they need to be carried? (5 year olds can be heavy!)
Can they climb over things if they need to, like logs, rocks, and roots?
Do they enjoy being outside?
Will they understand that sometimes they have to keep going even if they are tired?
Do they have injuries or medical issues that could affect how well they can hike?
We recently took a hike that we were told was very family friendly and great for kids. It was a lot of fun and everyone enjoyed it, but it was farther than we had been told and at a steady incline (which we hadn’t been told about at all). Bubs got tired and we had to stop A LOT, but he made it and said it was “a pretty awesome and cool hike.” So it was a win in the end!
5. Choose destination hikes
Kids can get bored very easily, amiright!? Sometimes entertaining kids can be exhausting, so why not let nature do the entertaining for you and get out on a destination hike!
They are plenty of beautiful hikes that involve walking in a loop or just hiking along a trail through the trees. These can be rejuvenating, enjoyable and great for exercising, but when it comes to hiking with kids we have found that having a destination to hike to is a must! Not only do you usually get to see something awesome at the end of all the walking, but you have something to use as motivational purposes. Hiking to a waterfall, an arch, a tunnel or a cave gives them something to think about as they walk, and something to look forward to. It gives the group something to talk about as we hike along, and we can talk about it on our way back afterwards.
We also use the destination as a motivation for a snack break once we reach it. The kids now know that we can stop for water whenever they need it along the trail, but snacks don’t come out until we reach the waterfall or the cave, etc. It helps prevent complaining or lolly-gagging, and it gives us time at our destination to enjoy it while everyone eats.
6. Pack ALL the snacks!
Or even a picnic!!
Depending on the time of day or the length of our hike, we may just need snacks or we may want a full meal. I usually plan ahead of time what we will need/want so I can prepare it before we leave, but it’s always a good idea to have food with you while you hike with kids.
Some of our favorites, that are easy and quick for eating on the trail, include; fruit snacks, granola bars, applesauce squeeze pouches, trail mix, little bags of chips or crackers, pb&j sandwiches, apple or pear slices precut, and jerky.
Really, whatever you want! Stick it in a baggie or container and put it in the pack! Kids need the fuel, and motivation, that food gives, and it’s always a great pick me up!
7. Let them set the pace…. to a point
Now that Little Miss likes to walk rather than be carried, often she is the one setting the pace of our hikes. We are all for letting the kids explore and be little trail blazers, but when I say let them set the pace… to a point, I mean sometimes their pace can become quite slow and they need some help! Usually she’ll walk until she needs a break, we’ll carry her, and when she’s ready to walk some more, we’ll let her. But some days, if we let her walk the whole thing, like she thinks she can, and let her set the hike at her pace, we would be hiking all day and into the night!!
When the kids get tired and start slowing down, a little encouragement and motivation can go a long way. Letting them lead the group or giving them the opportunity of accomplishing a big task, like hiking the trail to the destination, helps make the journey more enjoyable, and they remember that trip so much more! Memories in the making right there!
This is also why #4 is so important, too! You don’t want to head out on a hike that will be too hard for the kids and discourage them from feeling like they can not accomplish or enjoy it.
8. Make it educational
Another way to make hiking more interesting to young kids, or keeping them involved, can be by making it educational!
There are plenty of hikes that include historical information, whether in a brochure or on signs posted along the trail. Reading the signs or info. makes the area you are hiking more alive for the kids. We like to learn about what happened in that area, who lived there, or what the story is behind the destination we are hiking to. The kids soak it up, and it gives us spots for water breaks. We also use the signs as motivation to keep going sometimes. Example, reach the next sign and we can take a break… etc.
9. Don’t forget to pack the back up items
With kids I think this is just an everyday rule, but I’m throwing it in here, too!
I consider back up items to be things like; extra clothing, extra socks, sunscreen, wet wipes, jackets, a first aid kit, and a towel. There are plenty of other things that could make this list, but I find these are usually the ones we need.
You never know when someone may fall into the river, a diaper leaks, a skinned knee occurs, or the weather changes all of sudden, no matter how well you planned ahead. The back up items can save the day!
In the picture above, about 2 minutes after I took it, Bubs slid down the rock while climbing back across to shore, and landed in a shallow section of river next to the bank. He was soaked, and we still had more hiking to do! Back up items to the rescue!
10. Be patient
Kids are kids, and hiking can be hard. Having patience and remembering hiking is about enjoying your surroundings and company, will help everything run a lot more smoothly.
In the above picture, the sun was in our eyes and our children were crying about having to walk along a paved path. It happens. But by staying patient and keeping on, we made it to our destination and everyone ended up having a lot of fun.
11. Have Fun!!
Hiking is a great activity for free/cheap, outdoor, family fun! Find a place you’ve never been before, find a trail, and take off. Don’t expect your young child to love hiking as much as you do. They may or they may not, and they may grow into it! The more you hike the more they will be able to do. Remember all kids are different, but most like being outside and exploring, so have fun and make some family memories!