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Last autumn, we started going hiking with our kids. Over the winter, we haven’t been out much as I’d have liked, but that will change now that the weather is getting better. There are so many reasons to get out and hike with kids, but some of our friends think we are ambitious to attempt it! In this post, I’ll cover what we’ve learned about hiking with kids, and hopefully, show that it’s not as difficult as it might seem.
Why go hiking with your kids?
There are loads of reasons to hike as a family. Many people hiked before having kids and simply carried on. We didn’t: we only started hiking regularly after having our eldest. It gives us a way to:
- spend quality time together, just the three (then five) of us
- explore the beautiful natural landscapes on our doorsteps
- show our children that it’s possible to be active in a way that doesn’t include organised sports (which they often don’t enjoy)
Hiking is also a great way to get to know a new area when travelling. We have done some memorable walks in the Lake District and Northumberland. Ultimately, hiking with kids can be a fun way to spend time together as a family.
What to wear
For short starter walks, your children are unlikely to need specialist clothing. Rein in any instinct to spend a fortune in outdoor adventure shops. Instead, look at what your kids already own. Layering up is a great way to make sure they’ll be prepared for any temperature. We usually dress our young kids in long sleeves and hooded sweaters, adding bodywarmers or heavy coats depending on the weather. Take waterproof suits if it’s likely to rain, or there’s a stream to splash in!
A better investment, in my opinion, is a pair of decent walking boots. We started off with hand-me-down boots and wellies, although with their flexible and roomy fit, wellies aren’t the best choice for long walks. Decathlon offers reasonably-priced kids’ walking boots. We also like our daughter’s hand-me-down Karrimors.
This is the fun bit, or at least I think so! Of course, the choice of hiking routes depends on where in the world you are. We are lucky to live very near to the Peak District, which has an abundance of hiking trails suitable for varying levels of walker. The simplest way to plan a route is to find a starting point (your house, a car park, etc.), decide on the distance, and walk out and back. However, a circular trail offers more interest and definitely keeps our kids more engaged with the hike.
Look for a book that covers your area. We bought Kiddiwalks in Cheshire* when Little T was a baby, almost seven years ago, and we’ve done several of the hikes within. There are Kiddiwalks books for several areas of the UK. Each suggested walk highlights points of interest for children and advises whether the trail is suitable for buggies. We’ve also used 50 City Walks with Kids* when we were in Paris. It was great fun picking a card out of the deck for a surprise walk!
As with many topics, local Facebook groups can be a great source of recommendations. I also like to use the search bar for potential destinations to see if any of my friends with kids have posted tips.
Choosing a distance
The best tip I can offer is to start with shorter hikes and gradually build up. Initially, I thought we would be able to hike around five miles with our kids, but even our eldest can’t easily manage more than three miles. Hiking with kids takes longer than when alone, even more so if they are young like ours. Setting out on shorter trips takes the pressure off everyone and will likely save your frustration. We usually walk a couple of miles, depending on whether there’s a climb.
Making an adventure of a walk by taking it slowly and stopping to examine interesting objects is a great way to keep kids enthusiastic. We take a picnic and plenty of snacks so we can stop and rest if the children get tired or cranky.
What gear to take
The first few times we went hiking with our kids, we were woefully underprepared. Now, I make sure we take a big backpack full of everything we could possibly need! This may not work for everyone, and depends on where you’re hiking, but here’s what I usually pack:
- This power bank
- Paper map with route marked out
- Baby/toddler carrier
- Plenty of snacks and drinks
- Change of clothes (and shoes left in the car)
- Baby wipes
- Woolly hats and gloves
- Suncream (just in case)
- Camera/GoPro (our kids love taking photos!)
- Extra SD card
- Nappy bags
- Plastic carrier bags
Good to know
- Google the route description if you can, to check it’s suitable for kids. When we went to Dovedale, we ended up scrambling up the hillside, which was hard for everyone.
- Follow public rights of way and paths
- Familiarise yourselves with basic trail markings
- Manage your expectations. Some days the kids will not be up for walking. Don’t force it if everyone is miserable (speaking from experience).
- Clear up after yourselves – we taught our kids why it’s important to leave no trace. Now Little T will lecture his siblings!
- One trick I learned from a friend is to refer to our hikes as ‘adventures’. That way the kids don’t immediately picture a long, dreary walk.