Getting outside on a hiking trail is one of the cheapest and easiest things a family can do together. With cities across the country recognizing the importance of green open space, it is becoming increasingly easy to find a place to explore without having to look too far. Even better news is that it is just as easy to pack for a day hike with children. With a small amount of preparation, you can be out the door with dirt beneath your feet in no time.
The first thing you will want to consider is comfort on the trail. Primarily, does everyone have comfortable shoes for hiking? Our boys almost always prefer to wear their hiking sandals over tennis shoes, and as a parent, I honestly prefer that, too. It is inevitable that they will find water or mud and walk right through it. Sandals dry quickly and also do not become heavy when they get wet. If your kids are going out in sneakers, make sure to pack an extra pair of socks, so that when their shoes get wet, they can change into a dry protective layer once the temptation of water is behind them.
Once the feet are taken care of, comfort can shift to the rest of the body. Cold, clouds, or drizzle don’t have to keep you inside. The key to hiking with kids is layers, especially if you plan to change elevation, are starting off early in the morning, or can’t get the weatherman to nail down what the skies are going to do that day. A jacket over a lightweight shirt can be taken on and off as the day gets warmer and colder or clouds move in and out. A breathable rainsuit can also keep them clean and dry.
Of course, if your kids are going to be dressing and undressing throughout the day, someone is going to need to be carrying something to hold everything in. Depending on age that might be Mom and Dad, or it might be the kids themselves. A sturdy backpack will fit the bill, keep your hands free, and also contain the following items:
Even if you only plan to go a short distance, having water along is extremely important. When our boys turn 3, they receive their very own water hydration pack to carry. It empowers them on the trail, keeps everyone moving along as we don’t have to stop every time they want a drink, and keeps their spit and germs to themselves. If you opt for a water bottle, choose one that is lightweight and reusable.
Food serves two purposes on the trail. First, it can replace the nutrients and energy used while traversing over rugged terrain. Salty snacks like peanuts and pretzels help to replace the sodium you’ll lose on a hot sweaty day and these backpack energy bites are full of protein. The second use for snacks on the trail? Motivation! When everyone starts to get tired and little ones want to be carried, it works wonders to pull out a lollipop or licorice stick and promise to bestow it as soon as they’ve reached the next landmark or curve in the path.
First Aid Kit
Hiking with kids is not a daunting task, but it is likely you will experience trips and falls, scrapes and bumps along the way. Be prepared with a few bandages, antibiotic ointment, a pair of tweezers for splinters, and kisses for all those boo-boos. Here are more good tips on keeping safe while hiking with kids.
This is the step in packing that is sometimes easy to forget, but sunburn is a surefire way to convince kids they never want to go hiking with the family again. Even in a shaded area, sun filters through. Working up a sweat, or on a breezy day, you may not notice that the sun has turned everybody a rosy shade of pink. In addition to the cheeks and nose, keep in mind that on uneven dirt trails, kids will often be looking down, exposing the back of the neck. That is the spot we often forget to cover and we pay for it over and over again.
The best part about hiking with kids is how excited they are to be in nature. Kids naturally are inquisitive and when you get them outdoors they can be incredibly observant as well. Capitalize on that curiosity by providing a way for them to record what they are seeing. It can be as simple as a few sheets of paper and a pencil or a pocket notebook. If you are looking for something a little more organized, there are a dozens of printed nature books that can be filled in.
We make our favorite “journal” by stacking several paper lunch bags together, folding in half, and stapling the spine. The boys carry them and stop whenever they want to draw what they see, glue seeds and leaves on a page, and pick up a feather or other small momento to stick into the pockets. No matter what version you bring along, don’t forget to pack some colored pencils and a glue stick.
The last consideration to make when packing for a hiking trip is how to carry the kids. We start giving our boys independence and responsibility to move themselves along at a pretty early age, but the transition from being in a baby carrier to walking the whole way can be tough. Our lifesaver has been the Piggyback Rider! Clipped onto the parent’s harness, kids can turn and lean and look around freely. And when they can’t make up their minds about being up or down, it is easy to let them on or off, and get on your way.
Hiking with kids is an easy way to spend time together as a family. Gather this short list of supplies together one time and you will be ready to head out on the trail whenever you have a whim to!
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