Hiking with kids is one of the most enjoyable outdoor activities you can do as a family, so here are some tips we’ve put together from our experiences of walking as a family.
Our two boys (and all young kids in general) love being outdoors and exploring new places, so taking them hiking is a perfect family hobby. But there are a few things you need to consider to stop that first trip from turning into a nightmare!
Start hiking with kids young
It’s a bit tricky to get your child to walk up a hill when they can’t even stand up, but there are plenty of great bits of kit that you can use to get babies out on hiking trails pretty much from newborn stage. Baby carriers, off-road pushchairs and toddler backpacks are all awesome bits of kit that allow you to get out as a family. Introducing your kids to short hikes as young as possible (even if they’re just strapped to your back or chest) helps them create a connection to nature and the outdoors from a young age, which is a great thing for their development. Start with short family walks, then build up slowly.
Begin with short family walks
If you want to climb Ben Nevis or walk a multi-day backpacking trail, get a babysitter! Kids are a bundle of enthusiasm and will throw themselves into a hike or walk, but attention spans and energy levels can snap at any time. So to get started, plan short routes that will keep them interested and motivated. Then build up to longer hikes as they get older.
Let them help you plan the hike
If your kids are anything like mine, they think they know everything! So we let them get involved with the planning, showing them the area we’re planning to hike and letting them choose a few paths or trails. And most importantly, the cafe they’ll be going to for a celebratory snack or ice cream after the walk.
Get your kids involved with map reading
Similar to the planning stage, when you’re out hiking with kids it’s a great idea to make them feel as much part of the adventure as possible. So as well as letting them help you plan the walk, get them involved with navigating too by letting them use the map or play with any mapping app (like Komoot or OS Maps) you might be using.
Load your pack with snacks
You know how much your kids eat at home? Times that by about 1000 when they’re burning off energy on a long hike. So if you want to keep them happy and fend off one of those famous energy crashes, make sure you pack plenty of tasty snacks as incentives. Don’t just go for junk though. Although sweets and chocolate are great for hiking treats – fruit, carbs and protein will all keep them walking for longer.
Keep your kids warm and dry
Kids love getting muddy, jumping in puddles, splashing through streams, rolling in the dirt… you know the drill. What they don’t love so much, though, is getting wet and cold. So if you’re planning to take your own fancy Gore-Tex jacket and waterproof boots, make sure they’ve got the same. Also factor in that kids generally feel the cold quicker than adults. Plus, if they’re going to be sitting stationary in a pushchair or some form of child/baby carrier, they won’t be generating any extra body heat through movement. So waterproofs and at least one good insulating layer are vital when hiking with kids.
Carry plenty of spare clothes
As mentioned above, most kids take every opportunity to roll in whatever general liquid and filth they find when they’re out hiking. So if you’re planning a long-ish route where you can’t easily pop back to your home or car if they need to change clothes, it’s worth packing a few spares.
Let your child carry their own pack
This summer we took our 5-year-old son up his first mountain (Cat Bells in the Lakes, see below) and as part of the trip I let him pack his own rucksack. He loaded it with his own waterproofs, binoculars and snacks and insisted on carrying it the whole way. The whole thing added to the adventure for him and made him feel like a proper mountain for the day.
Pick your first mountain carefully
Whether you’re planning to carry a baby or toddler up a mountain, or hike up it with a slightly older child, choosing the right peak is very important. How high is it? How challenging is the terrain? Are there fun things to look at along the way? What kind of weather can you expect? Is there a quick way down if you need a speedy getaway? Can you park your car close to the bottom of it? Are there public toilets nearby? Cat Bells in the Lake District is so popular with families that it’s almost become a cliche for hiking with kids, but it’s popular for a reason. Read our account of climbing it here.
Get some good kids’ hiking shoes
Wellies are great for walking and splashing about locally, but make sure you get some good hiking shoes for your kids if you’re planning something more adventurous. Focus on comfort, support and ideally some waterproofing and you can’t go far wrong. Here are some of our favourites from the past year.
Don’t forget to look after yourself!
With so much to think about when you’re preparing to go hiking with kids, it’s very easy to forget that you need good clothing, kit and plenty of food and water for yourself. Just because you’re carrying lots of extra kit for the rest of the family, don’t cut back on your own kit. You need to carry all of the same stuff you’d normally carry on a hike – plus all the stuff for your kids. It’s probably time to get a bigger pack!
Make your family hike fun!
I went on a lot of hillwalks with my parents when I was a kid that often felt like a chore, battling against grim weather to get to the top of a hill that was cloaked in cloud and fog. And I can tell you from experience that it’s not much fun! Mostly kids just want to be entertained, so pick a route and weather window that’s going to let them have the most fun possible. Streams, waterfalls, mini scrambles, caves, trees to climb – pack as many of these as possible into your family hike and you’ll all have the time of your life!