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How to go hiking with kids

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Sept 2012; updated Apr 2023.

Hiking with kids is possible. Read these tips.

If you're anything like me, before you had kids, hiking was something you enjoyed.  The challenge was key, either distance or 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 encourage 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 teenager.  I can't promise any answers, but here are some suggestions and what we've found to work.

Why Bother?

If you used to do outdoor activities and now have kids, this needs no answer.  But many families are turning to outdoor activities once they have kids as concerned parents get worried about the growing childhood obesity crisis, not helping 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 are all beneficial.

Start them young, and they'll want to continue.  If you have a baby with 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 you appear to need 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 shock.

We certainly recommend getting a Child Carrier.  We found the LittleLife brand very good.  

With a child carrier backpack, you can set off pretty much as before, except 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 begins....and the pace stops.

You can still use the Child Carrier for small toddlers, but the weight will become noticeable as they grow.

Hiking now becomes about carrying them in manageable chunks between locations and then stopping in places for them to 'explore'.

Exploring is essential and gets them used to being outside and 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 easily (and too hot).

You can pick up items from the high street, but you get what you pay for, just as with adult gear.  Some brands, such as North Face, create child versions.  If you plan on doing several 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.

The time of day and their tiredness can play a big factor here.  On 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 get tired easily, a lot is psychological, and they haven't yet learnt how to push on as adults.

  • 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 happily 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 interesting things to them.

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 to hike themselves.

Hiking with Older Children

You can start exposing children to 'proper' hiking as they grow up.  You may still need to use some techniques with younger children.

Now you can make challenges bigger.  In the summertime, climbing Mount Snowdon via the Pyg and Miners track is a challenge you can set.

This is a hard climb, and you need to have some common sense (steep falls, changeable weather), but it 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 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 baby has grown and is now a walking partner who helps their old folk out if needs be. 😉