If you’re anything like me, before you had kids hiking was something you enjoyed. The challenge was key, either distance of altitude (or both). Nothing would put me off. Wind. Love it. Rain. No problem.
However, once little people enter your family, things change.
First off, with a baby, there’s all the stuff you need: nappies, wipes, bottles, feeds, dummies, etc., etc., etc.
When they do grow older and find their feet, you can’t go very far at all. Speed is slow. Very slow.
Then when they get older still, you still can’t cover the ground you used to, but the game changes to encouraging them to carry on. “I’m tired” “Are we there yet?”
Then when they are teenagers, the job turns to get them to come out and not hang out with their mates.
We’ve been there, and currently have kids from relatively young (though he’s just started school this month), through to pre-teen and a teenager. I can’t promise any answers here, but here are some of our suggestions and what we’ve found to work.
Well, if you used to do outdoor activities and now had kids, this needs no answer. But a lot of families are turning to outdoor activities once they have kids as concerned parents get worried about the growing childhood obesity crisis, not helped of course with the cutting of physical education in schools and the selling off of school playing fields for housing.
Getting your kids outside is good for them: the exercise, the fresh air, and even the daylight is all beneficial.
Start them young, and they’ll want to continue. If you have a baby that has difficulty sleeping, going on a hike may be just the thing (they may sleep through the hike, but then be restless when you’re tired later of course!).
Depending on where you go helps your kids get an appreciation for the environment and history. Yes, history. The British Isles is an ancient set of islands, and you can’t go far without signs of Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman, Saxon, Viking, Norman, Medieval, or even more recent WW2 items. A walk with an ancient ruined castle is great for their imagination.
Hiking with Babies
Despite all the gear that you appear to need these days with babies, this is one of the easiest stages to take your kids hiking.
If you are a new parent, that statement may come as a bit of a shock.
We certainly recommend getting a Child Carrier. We found the LittleLife brand very good. Here’s the one you may wish to consider: Cross Country S2 Child Carrier.
With a child carrier backpack, you can set off pretty much as before, except of course for weather conditions. Not too hot. Not too cold. And of course, make sure your little one is dressed appropriately.
Hiking with Toddlers
Now the fun really begins….and the pace stops.
For small toddlers, you can still use the Child Carrier, but as they grow, the weight will become noticeable.
Hiking now becomes about carrying them in manageable chunks between locations, and then stopping in places for them to ‘explore’.
The exploring is essential and gets them used to being outside, as well as getting some exercise.
Clothing – It’s Important
Just as the right gear can make a difference to adults, it can make it even more so with children, who can get cold quite easily (and too hot also).
You can pick up items from the high street, but just as with adult gear, you get what you pay for. Some brands, such as North Face, create child versions. If you are planning on doing a number of outdoor activities, it is worth investing in the right gear for them.
Hiking with Young Children
As your child grows out of toddlerhood, they should be doing a lot further walks, and start to tackle some gentle climbs easily.
Time of day and how tired they are can play a big factor here. Some walks we’ve been on they’ve walked miles without the “I’m tired”; other days it’s not far before the “I need a carry”.
While they do get tired easily, a lot of it is psychological, and they haven’t yet learnt how to push on as adults do.
- Make sure you go at their pace. If they want to explore something, make time to do so.
- Have plenty of stops – if required. If they are happy carrying on, don’t force a stop – they may not get started again so easily.
- Pick a route with interesting things in it. Some challenges, such as crossing a small stream, make it fun.
- Take snacks to keep their energy up…but avoid ‘junk’, just as in adults, you need the right fuel.
- Use distraction techniques. Point things out to them and make it interesting.
One thing we have found immensely useful is Geocaching. This is a global treasure hunt game where you can find treasure, known as ‘caches’, using a GPS. Kids can take small swaps to exchange with items in each treasure cache. You can read more about that in our What is Geocaching?
Avoid carrying them unless necessary. If you carry them often, they will soon learn to expect it all the time, and not build the skills and stamina for them to hike themselves.
Hiking with Older Children
As children get older, then you can start to expose them to ‘proper’ hiking. You may still need to use some of the techniques used with younger children.
Now you can make challenges bigger. In summertime a climb up Mount Snowdon via the Pyg and Miners track is a good challenge.
This is a hard climb, and you need to have some common sense (steep falls, changeable weather), but is quite achievable, and you’ll see many other families making the trek up and down.
When they get older, they get more independent. Make sure they carry their gear, such as additional clothing, food, and an emergency kit, and teach them how to use it.
It is also a good time to teach them map reading skills and navigation techniques.
Even if they have learnt to ‘read’ a map in school, you’ll find that school would not have helped them relay what they see with their eyes to the map. A great way to learn what contour lines mean is when climbing that steep slope on the route they decided to pick!
Whatever the age, enjoy it
It’s a cliche but very true – before you know it that little baby you carried over the hills is off and hiking in the Scouts or Guides without you. It may be slow when they are very young, but enjoy rediscovering the outside with them.
If you keep it up, you’ll soon be off doing ‘real’ hikes again, but this time that little baby has grown and is now a walking partner, who helps their old folk out if needs be. 😉
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