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5 Tips for Hiking with Kids

child hiking

Hiking with kids can turn out one of two ways. Either they're engaged and interested in the nature around them, or they're bored and dragging their feet. However, if you come prepared with some outdoor activities for children, there's a great chance you'll have a fun and engaging hike for both you and your children.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that kids are kids! They're still developing, and they probably don't see hiking the way you do. If you introduce hiking carefully and pay attention to their needs, you might just inspire a lifelong love of nature. Below are 5 easy-to-follow tips for hiking with kids:

Let your child set the walking pace.

If your child is struggling to walk at your pace, he or she may feel inadequate and become agitated. There’s nothing wrong with taking it slow to compensate for your kids' tiny legs.

It’s okay to turn around early.

It doesn’t matter whether you spent 10 minutes or 3 hours outside with your kid. What matters is that you have fun! Some children have a greater attention span than others, and forcing your child to “stick to the plan” can mean a long, unpleasant experience for both parent and child. Know ahead of time that you're not going to cover as much ground with a child than an adult.

Take breaks often.

One step for you might mean three steps for your kid. If your child finds something that interests him or her, it’s worth stopping to satisfy his or her curiosity. Pausing to examine an interesting leaf or rock is never a bad thing - it means your kid is inspired. Feed that curiosity!

Plan outdoor activities.

Taking the time to keep your child engaged means his or her time spent outside will be that much more enjoyable. Playing games, whether it’s a word game or a game that revolves around your surroundings, will keep your child focused and entertained. After all, sharing time together in nature should be fun!

Bring plenty of snacks.

Staying well fed and hydrated is vital to having a fun time on a nature excursion. Hunger is a fast track to tantrums! Remember to bring plenty of snacks and stop often for a quick bite whenever an energy boost is necessary.

But it doesn't stop there. From creating games to making sure you outfit your children with the right gear, there's a lot that can be done to help your child enjoy him or herself on the trail. Read our other tips for keeping your child happy on the trail.

Other Tips for Hiking with Kids

As a parent, encouraging your kid to spend time outdoors is a fine line to walk. Not enough push on your part, and your child might not take up active living on his or her own. Too much, and your child may feel overwhelmed and resist your efforts.

It's important to read the signs carefully. There are so many benefits of hiking for children, from decreasing ADHD symptoms to maintaining a healthy weight. So make sure you pay attention to what works for your child and what doesn't.

Here are some more tips for hiking with kids:

Planning Outdoor Activities for Kids

hiking with dad

With so many bright lights and flashing screens that offer instant gratification, walking in itself may not be stimulating enough to keep a child’s focus.

That’s where games and activities come in! Try any of the outdoor activities for kids below to keep your child engaged while on the trail or a casual stroll.

“I Spy”

Whether it’s in the car or on the trail, a game of “I Spy” is a fun outdoor activity to keep your kid aware of their surroundings. Point out the different natural features from rocks to leaves. It’s even more fun if you can spy wildlife!

kid closing eyes

Focus on the 5 Senses

Ask your child to really tune into his or her senses. Feeling how an igneous rock differs from a sedimentary rock teaches your child about the environment while also facilitating a connection to the natural world. Everything in nature, from leaves to dirt, has a unique texture that’s worth discovering.

Try taking a quick break and have your child shut his or her eyes, observing sound alone. It’s amazing what sounds you can hear when you cut off your other senses! Listen for birdcalls, insects, and other wildlife – then compare what you heard.

Regardless of which sense you focus on, paying close attention to one of the five senses teaches your child to be present in the moment.

Scavenger Hunt

While walking, create a list for your child to collect from the natural surroundings. Anything from colored leaves to smooth rocks can be included. Just make sure not to take anything living or disrupt the natural environment!

20 Questions

Time flies when playing 20 questions with kids, making it a perfect game to keep children engaged while hiking. Kids love to solve mysteries, and remaining focused enough to solve a problem promotes cognitive health and development.

Think of an object – bonus points if it’s related to the outdoors – and have your child ask yes and no questions to gather information about the mystery object. After asking the 20th question, allow your child to guess the mystery object. Then it’s your turn to guess!

Identify This

Surrounding yourself with nature is one thing, but encouraging your child to identify and name the foliage and wildlife fosters a connection between a kid and the outdoors. If you don’t have the know-how to point out a sedimentary from an igneous rock or an oak from a dogwood, pick up a field guide at your local bookstore!

Bring a pair of binoculars and encourage your child to watch for birds, trees, or whatever it is that he or she finds the most fascinating!

The Right Gear: Snow Boots for Snow, Hiking Boots for Hiking

children playing in snow

Have you ever been on an outdoor adventure, only to find yourself lacking the proper gear? As a full-grown adult, under-dressing for the cold or tramping along in wet, non waterproof shoes after a rain shower can be absolutely miserable.

For children, not having the right outdoor gear is even worse. Kids are more sensitive to difficult climates and lack the ability or means to adequately prepare themselves. That means it is entirely the parents’ responsibility to outfit their child with proper gear before heading out on an adventure - choose kids' winter boots for the cold season and kids' sandals for summertime at the beach!

Kids don’t possess the same type of filter or control as adults, so a fair and honest complaint about being improperly dressed for the weather may sound like melodramatic whining. If your child voices discomfort, take it seriously, and come prepared next time with the right gear:

Long-Lasting Footwear

Whether you’re taking your kid hiking in the forests or for a brisk walk downtown, kids hiking boots or shoes is essential. A child’s footwear can determine how long your walk will be – walking in uncomfortable shoes will only detract from the fun.

hiking with family

Just like you would never wear golf shoes while summiting a mountain, your child should be equipped with footwear that works to his or her advantage per the outdoor activity. Going for a long hike through the woods? Make sure your kid has a solid pair of hiking boots or kids multi-sport shoes.

Children’s feet may be little, but they grow at a very fast rate! Some parents refuse to buy their children nice boots or shoes because they know the child will outgrow them quickly. Unfortunately, improper footwear can cause blisters and other foot problems.

That’s why outdoor adventure companies like Hi-Tec developed the Big-Fit system. The system includes two soles – one of which can be removed to increase the shoe volume when your kid begins to outgrow the boot. Instead of lasting 5-6 months like most kids shoes, the Big-Fit system allows kids’ feet to grow about half a size larger before needing a new pair.

Comfortable Clothing

Don’t forget to dress your kid in comfortable clothing that protects them against the elements. Layering is always a good idea when walking outdoors – you can never truly predict what Mother Nature is going to throw at you.

Dressing comfortably means dressing for the unexpected. Cotton shirts may feel very comfortable when dry, but when cotton gets wet, it becomes saturated with moisture and saps your body of heat. Polyester-based or spandex materials dry fast and do a much better job regulating body temperature.

If you’re exploring in cold weather with your child, remember to go with wool clothing over cotton! Wool is a better insulator than cotton and keeps you warm even if it snows or rains. Wearing cotton in cold, rainy weather is a quick path to the common cold!

Outdoor Essentials

Every climate comes with its own set of challenges, but there are some essentials in maintaining safety and comfort when exploring nature with your kids:

  • Water and Snacks. No matter the activity, hydration is a must. Bring water to stay hydrated and plenty of snacks to keep your kid energized.
  • Sunscreen. A child’s skin is very sensitive! Make sure to bring plenty of children-safe sunscreen if going outside on a sunny day or otherwise – even if the sun is not out, UV rays can penetrate the clouds and cause painful sunburns.
  • Bug spray. Always a good idea when hiking, bug bites are painful and can potentially spread disease. Bug spray is harmful to the eyes, nose, and ears, so be wary when using bug spray on kids.
  • First-Aid Kit. Every kid is bound to scrape a knee at some point. Prepare for a hike or outdoor adventure with a first-aid kit packed with bandages, antibiotic ointment, burn cream, and gauze.
  • Hand Sanitizer. When stopping to snack, it’s very important to clean your hands to ward off germs. Stock up on some hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes before hitting the trial.
  • Anti-Allergy Medication. If you know your child has an allergy, it’s imperative to bring anti-allergy medication. Benadryl works for most, but if your child is seriously allergic to something like bees, an epipen is a must.

The Takeaway

Now more than ever, it's important to get your child off the couch and onto the trail - break out of the living room and break into those hiking boots! When facilitating an outdoor activity with children, always pay careful attention to the signs. Encourage them to play outside and accompany you for outdoor activities, but know when it's time to head home for the day - family time spent outdoors should be associated with fun memories!

And remember, don’t worry so much about your child falling – if children don’t fall, how will they ever learn to pick themselves up? It can be easy to feel the need to protect your child from the world around him or her, but it's natural for kids to get dirty during outside play. You can always wash them up later! A little mud or a scraped knee is nothing to worry about. Of course, don’t take them anywhere truly dangerous and always use your best judgment when planning child-friendly adventures.

family camping fun

Here’s a short list of some fun outdoor activities for you and your children to enjoy together:

  • Nature Hikes. The woods are a fun place to romp around and explore! When planning a route, think of this: kids tend to be more engaged when they are actively pursuing something. Try to pick a route that ends with a waterfall or panoramic view. Also, as children age, hanging out with their parents becomes a lot less cool. If you allow your kid to bring a friend, he or she might become more willing to walk and explore!
  • Beach Days. If you live on the coast or near a lake, having a beach day is a great way to get your child outside. The beach allows the best of both worlds – relaxing and exploring! Put on their kids sandals and explore the tide pools, rocks, and wild life. If wading into a deep body of water, keep a vigilant eye on your child!
  • Overnight Camping. Camping brings people together. Bonding over a fire with sweet and melty s’mores is a surefire way to create some wonderful memories with your child. Even if it’s just sleeping in a tent in your backyard, camping is fun for the whole family and a nice way to spend time together outside the house.
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