50 TIPS FOR HIKING WITH CHILDREN
Here is a list of 50 tips and techniques for hiking with children. These time-tested tips can go a long way to helping your child develop into a lover of the outdoors and natural world. Not all of them will be helpful with your children, as every child is different. I recommended reading all of the tips and testing a few at a time to see which ones are truly helpful to you and your family.
(TIP #1): Bring a few different delicious snacks. You can try bringing just fruits & vegetables, but kids are probably going to want something more rewarding like candy and cookies when they hike.
(TIP #2): Hike to interesting things. Kids generally love waterfalls, swimming holes, rock scrambling, fire towers, (easy) stream or river crossings, and places teeming with wildlife. They also love trails with bridges, bog bridges and boulder caves.
(TIP #3): Bring an old or shockproof camera for the kids to use on the hike. Allow them ample time to actually shoot photos with it.
(TIP #4): Bring other kids along on the hike. This often increases both enthusiam and the desire to actually finish the hike.
(TIP #5): When enthusiasm is running low, consider striking a deal. Ask your child what they want to do next weekend if they go hiking this weekend.
(TIP #6): Bail if there is any chance of poor weather. Even if your kid has enjoyed hiking in the past, that can easily turn after just one bad experience in poor weather.
(TIP #7): Be flexible. Don't be afraid to turn around or take an extended break if necessary.
(TIP #8): Consider doing the same hikes over and over again each year. Many kids like repetition instead of something that's always new to them.
(TIP #9): If your children get tired or cranky, you can consider playing the guilty card. Ask if they really want to turn around instead of finishing the hike.
(TIP #10): Do at least several day hikes before you try an overnight hike. When you are ready for an overnight hike, consider staying at a shelter or hut instead of tenting.
(TIP #11): Your first overnight hike shouldn't be for more than a few miles. I wouldn't do more than 2-4 miles on your first backpacking trip with children.
(TIP #12): Toddlers love to play hide and seek while hiking. Have one adult hide behind rocks or trees on the trail and come in and out of view of the child often.
(TIP #13): Attach a favorite stuffed animal and/or toy to your backpack.
(TIP #14): Sings lots of songs together.
(TIP #15): Do a scavenger hunt. You can even print and give them a list of things to find and cross off (i.e. a mushroom, an acorn, animal tracks, etc.)
(TIP #16): Bring a special treat that they are not used to eating. One acquaintance of mine used to bring a treat that began with a different letter of the alphabet for each hike (i.e. B = brownies, C = carrot cake, D = danish)
(TIP #17): Take them out for ice cream or their favore restaurant after a good hike is successfully completed.
(TIP #18): Get a leash for a toddler and let them lead the hike. A leash is great for safety's sake, but it also gives them more freedom to explore versus being in a backpack or baby carrier.
(TIP #19): Let your children climb on as many rocks or trees as they want (with supervision, of course). This will slow down your hiking progress, but they will enjoy the experience immeasurably more.
(TIP #20): Go their pace, not yours. This may be very difficult for you to do, but I strongly encourage you to try (and try hard). This will involve a lot of stops, so you'll absolutely need to be patient. This is easier said than done for most people.
(TIP #21): Think long and hard about taking your children hiking in cold weather conditions. Most children will not enjoy this. I generally won't hike with children if the temperature is below 25 degrees Fahreheit. I also hike much shorter distances when the temperature is below 30 or 40 degrees.
(TIP #22): Change diapers often. Keeping them dry keeps them happy.
(TIP #23): You can try to time your hike so that kids take a nap either before the hike, after the hike, or during the hike (whatever your desire is).
(TIP #24): Bring your dog or tell your friends or family to bring their dog on a hike. Kids love hiking with pets.
(TIP #25): Let older children participate in planning and/or choosing the hike.
(TIP #26): Don't even think about hiking during certain challenging seasons, like bug season, snowmelt season, or mud season.
(TIP #27): Young kids generally don't care about scenic views. Appreciating scenic views is something that comes with age.
(TIP #28): You may want to try telling your children they are going on an adventure, not a hike.
(TIP #29): Try to get older children involved in the packing process for a day hike or overnight trip. If they are old enough, they can even carry their own supplies in their own small backpack. Keep the overall weight of their backpack to a minimum though.
(TIP #30): Make sure you are prepared with everything you are going to need on the hike. You'll probably going to need most or all of the "ten essentials".
(TIP #31): If the weather is a bit chilly, bring an insulated bottle with a hot drink, such as hot chocolate or warmed apple cider.
(TIP #32): It's all too easy to turn your children off to hiking permanently. Carefully choose when and where you'll be hiking, as well as how far and with whom.
(TIP #33): Some kids will enjoy hiking the most when it has no agenda. In other words, think about just entering a nature park and letting them lead the agenda-less exploration.
(TIP #34): Try to find a trail that has wild berries or fruit that can be picked and eaten. Make sure what you are eating is safe, of course. Common berries that can be found in season include raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and huckleberries.
(TIP #35): Let your children watch TV or videos that encourage them to participate in outdoor activities. Dora the Explorer is one excellent example.
(TIP #36): Consider bringing a magnifying glass for the kids to use.
(TIP #37): It is wise to ensure that children are well-fed and well-hydrated before starting any hike.
(TIP #38): Young children love throwing rocks. It's one of their favorite things to do outdoors.
(TIP #39): Look for signs of wildlife with your children, such as animal tracks and claw stratches on a tree.
(TIP #40): If you are hiking with multiple children, rotate who is in the lead.
(TIP #41): Try some urban walks in addition to nature walks.
(TIP #42): Have children make their own trail mix before a hike. Give them a variety of items to add to their trail mix bag.
(TIP #43): Adults should wear a backpack that is sizeable enough to squeeze in anything their children are carrying at the start of the hike. It's almost inevitable that children will get tired of carrying those items and will pass them to you.
(TIP #44): Show your older children the trail map and constantly show them where you are heading.
(TIP #45): Layer your child's clothing as well as you layer your own.
(TIP #46): Give lots of positive reinforcement, such as "you are a great hiker!" and "what an awesome climber you are!".
(TIP #47): Always try to incorporate some sort of end destination for your hike. Children want to be rewarded for their efforts.
(TIP #48): Try geocaching. Kids love finding hidden things.
(TIP #49): Get a baby carrier that has a sun-screen. Before you buy, ensure the backpack has enough space for supplies. You'll also want to understand the weight limitation so that you can figure out how many years the backpack will likely last for.
(TIP #50): Older children usually enjoy using binoculars, so consider bringing a pair, especially if there are scenic views or wildlife to look at.
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