Tricks for Taking Small Kids Hiking

Tricks for Hiking With Small Kids

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If your kids are the normal kind, you might have a little trouble tricking them into doing outdoor things that are outside their comfort zones. Sure, playing outside is easy. And camping may even be a breeze. But taking small kids hiking?

Oh boy, now we’ve got trouble.

It’s true, some kids are awesome. Some kids hike for hours or even days without a single complaint or meltdown. If that’s your kid, whoa are you lucky.

For the rest of us with, you know, normal children, we have two options. The first option is: don’t go hiking until your kids are a lot older. The second option is: teach them to hike.

I like option two.

I have two wildly different types of kids on my hands. It occurred to me recently that I’m basically raising Ernie and Bert. Dave, my Bert, is the kind of guy who likes to sit quietly and read. Walking any distance with him includes a lot of complaining. Huck, my Ernie, is the kind of guy who wants to play drums in the middle of the night after eating cookies in his bed. He’s good for the first two miles of any adventure as he sprints up the trail … and then he loses steam and it’s over. You basically have to drag him home as he toddles slowly behind you like a drunk baboon.

I’ve been reading a lot about taking small kids hiking in an attempt to get my 7 and 4-year-old on board with hiking. I don’t want to hike all day, but I would like to be able to do at least five miles. And while we aren’t there yet, we have gotten better.

Tricks for Taking Small Kids Hiking

1. Practice before you go. Last fall we started working on hikes by going on incrementally longer walks. We visit parks and go on short nature walks. We walk to school. We walk up hills. We walk down hills. And the practice is working. A hike we went on over a nice weekend early this winter showed that the wherewithal of both Sprinter and Whiner increased. We got farther than we ever had before.

2. Talk about it ahead of time. Kids are easily swayed by the power of positive thinking. Don’t use the word “hiking” with them — it sounds boring. Instead call it an “adventure.” Doesn’t that sounds more exciting? You’re going on an adventure. You can’t wait to get there. You are you going to see amazing things. Isn’t that be nice? You’re going to look at awesome stuff on the trail. Won’t that be exciting?

3. Gear up. Kids like gear as much as adults do. For Christmas we bought our guys a couple of practical sun hats and called them “adventure hats.” Now they know things are about to get exciting when we bust out the hats. Other fun kid gear could include head lamps, rain coats and hiking pants — all practical but kind of cool.

4. Remember comfort. Pint-sized hikers want to be comfortable too. If you’re hiking or adventuring in extreme conditions, you’ll want to outfit your little people in the same quality of gear you want for yourself.

5. Lower your expectations. No, you’re probably not going to be able to do with your kids the same things you would do with other adults. Your hikes are going to be shorter and they are going to be really, really slow. You’ll get farther if you present it less as a forced march and more as a chance to examine every stump and flower. Don’t fight the slowness — embrace it. Little legs are probably going to wear out really fast, so if your child is young enough to tote in a kid-hiking backpack, you’ll want to have one ready.

6. Raise your expectations. What you should not do is give-up on outdoor adventuring altogether. You can take small kids hiking and they can enjoy the outdoors if you give them the chance to learn how. They are only going to be this age for right this moment – so enjoy the excuse to linger over rocks and creeks, and look at right now as a chance to give them a lifelong gift of enjoy the outdoors.

3 Responses

  1. Love this entry! And it reminded me of a post I wrote about our family hike in June 2015, think you might enjoy:

    “Our Family Hike Journal (saving for future entertainment value when I no longer have a 5-yr old), 4.4 mile Raven Cliff Falls SC. Life with an Army dad…

    Daddy: “So the rules for the hike are, no one is allowed to say ‘I’m hungry’ ‘I’m tired’ or ‘Are we there yet’.”

    Kate: “Is that like a rule from the President for the whole world or is it just for our family?”

    A short while into the hike…

    Kate: “Can we take a break?”
    “How much further?”
    “I hate bugs, can I get more bug spray?”
    “How many more minutes or hours or whatever?”
    “I hate mud.”
    “Can we stop for a snack?”
    “There’s something in my shoe.”
    “Is it a lot further?”
    “How many more miles?”
    “It feels like walking around the world two times.”

    Daddy: “You’re getting very close to breaking the rules.”

    Kate: “I’m hungry.”

    Daddy: “Let’s get moving. We are going more than three times slower than my EIB (Expert Infantryman Badge course) pace.”

    Kate (to herself): “Just think about the granola bar, Kate. Yum yum.”

    Daddy: “Hey, you can’t see nature if you’re babbling incessantly.”

    Kate: “Are we almost there?”

    Daddy: “Almost there.”

    Kate: “Good because I don’t want to go many longer than this.”

    Daddy (upon arrival, looking at trail map): “Huh. We were 10 minutes faster than the average pace for this hike. I find that very hard to believe.”

    Everyone still smiling!”

    🙂 we will try again this summer with hopefully better luck (but it really was so entertaining)!

  2. My favorite hiking with our kids when they were young story:

    Note: we started our kids off hiking before they could walk. First in front carriers and then in a back hiking pack. As soon as they could run good they were also good for a couple miles hiking.

    We camped at Mt St Helen’s for three weeks with Bryan then 12 and Raven then 7. One day one of the park rangers told us about a new cave the forest service had just discovered which had petroglyphs from natives inside. Who can pass up this newly discovered amazeballs, right? 5 miles nearly straight up hill later a voice from about 5 yards behind us was hysterical and exasperated coming from Raven “There better still be Indians in this cave when we get there and they better be making me lunch!”.

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