These days kids are spending more and more time indoors, looking at a screen and are losing touch with nature.
So you’re wondering when and how to introduce your little ones to the great outdoors.
It can seem like a daunting prospect if you’ve never attempted it before.
Won’t they get tired too quickly?
What if something goes wrong?
But if you want to spend more time on the trail with kids of any age, then there’s no better time to get started than right now.
Sometimes even walking to the shops ends in a stone-footed child refusing to go any further.
But we’ve all been there haven’t we?
Feeling tired and depleted and wanting to turn back or just drop where we stand.
The secret lies in making the hike fun, engaging and rewarding.
Whether the incentive is a view, a celebration at the finish point or just a chocolate bar, knowing how to spur them on in moments of weakness is all it takes.
With the right knowledge and a bit of confidence, hiking with children can be easy and fun.
Of course you need to make sure they’re dressed right (i.e. layers, warm jackets, etc), have the right equipment and footwear, and have plenty of food/snacks and water – just as you would for your own hike.
But hiking with kids takes a little extra something, to create an experience that is interactive, safe and fun for all the family.
To make things a little easier, we’ve pulled together some top tips for anyone who is planning their first hike with kids in tow.
As your children get older, you’ll have to adjust your methods slightly.
Little kids love the trees and the smells and get excited by a scampering squirrel or a funny looking plant. Teenagers unsurprisingly not so much.
Whining, complaints, crying and negativity can turn a lovely family outing in a torturous few hours but can be avoided.
Tweak these basics into something that works for your family and enjoy getting back out onto the trails!
Choose the right hike
Have a look at various trail options before heading out.
Try to find a varied route with changing features to hold kids’ interest.
This is particularly important for older kids, where fast-changing surroundings will keep them more engaged.
Trails that incorporate all sorts of boardwalks, streams, ponds, rocks, logs, bridges and creeks make for a more interesting walk for both them and you.
Hikes with lots of animals, flowers, mushrooms and collectibles can be the most entertaining for kids.
Prepare and plan – for everything
First up – make sure your children have the right clothing and footwear that fits well with comfortable socks.
Just as you would for yourself, invest in quality clothing that is breathable and warm but not likely to have them overheating.
Ask friends and families to borrow and always welcome hand-me-downs.
Never forget their sun hats, basic first aid supplies, plenty of water and high-energy snacks, and a fully charged mobile phone.
Depending on the time of year and the location of the trail, consider insect repellant, sunscreen and rehydration drinks.
If you’re going on a fairly flat but longer route, do you need an all-terrain stroller or carrier when the kids need a break from walking?
Where possible, involve the kids in the planning – including the location, distance and goals. This way you might get more buy-in and they’ll feel like the hike is their adventure.
Turn it into a thrilling adventure
…Or at least make it feel like one to them.
Little kids are rarely in it for the vistas or sense of accomplishment.
They’re more interested in critters and creatures, discovering hidden gems or hearing stories (real or made up) about things that have transpired in the area.
Let them pack binoculars or a magnifying glass, a notebook and a stick for walking.
If you’re going to be doing lots of outdoor excursions, splash out on a flower or edible plants identifying brochure, or a guide to local wildlife.
This will give them something to get excited about and look out for en route.
Kids are natural explorers and tend to stray off path to pick things up and pack them into their pockets.
Factor in lots of extra time so you don’t have to rush through this. After all, getting a feel for the wilderness and natural world around them is what it’s all about.
Don’t overestimate your children’s abilities.
A bit of a challenge is fine but dragging them up the side of a mountain for five hours will only put them off future hikes.
Take your time, start small and build their endurance.
Kick things off with gentle lakeside walks and countryside jaunts, then build up to overnight trips with longer trails and camping stops.
Just remember why you’re doing this.
Are you in a hurry to get somewhere and does it matter if you turn back early?
It may take you a number of hours to cover a few kilometres but at least you’re outside having fun.
There’s a good chance things will go wrong. But when they do, don’t get discouraged and definitely don’t appear defeated in front of your children.
Whether it’s a tantrum, a rainstorm or an equipment failure, take a moment to work through a solution with them and then move on.
Make the best of whatever you are faced with and be sure to offer praise at any opportunity.
Be frequent and generous in telling your child how well they are doing and how fast they are – even if they aren’t.
Kids love knowing that they’re doing an awesome job (a bit like adults), especially for their first few attempts.
Be silly. Be creative. Whatever helps to pass the time and make them smile.
For little kids this might mean making up imaginary situations where the forest floor is lava or the trees are full of elves.
For older children it might mean challenging them to get from A to B hopping between rocks and logs or racing each other.
If allowing them to dress up or bring a prop gets them on the trail, then why not?
Play I-spy, make nature charts, tell stories or discuss old memories.
If it’s fun, they are less likely to focus on being tired or hungry and will want to do it again in future.
Pick a leader
Kids love being in charge.
Not only is it fun and exciting, it empowers them and lets them make decisions for the group – good practice for the future.
Just make sure you change the leader around to avoid arguments.
It also means that they get to set the pace – without feeling slowed down or hurried along.
It’s never too early to start informing them about the wilderness and safety when out hiking.
Teaching them about their surroundings early on will engrain it in their minds and could save their lives one day.
Teach them what to do if you get separated, how to react in different weather conditions (from heatwaves to lightning storms), and even give them some basic first aid knowledge.
Do pretend safety exercises to pass time on the trail and help further their outdoor education.
Making them aware of nature from an early age is another opportunity not to be missed.
Teaching them how to take care of the environment, leaving no trace and respecting wildlife sets them up for life.
Lead by example and always make sure that all of your trash is collected and taken home with you.
The “pack it in, pack it out” concept is a good start.
Hike with friends
Invite other families to join you on the trail, as friends can be the best motivators to keep going and not complain.
Kids get so tied up chatting and exploring with their pals that they forget about how far they’re walking.
Teens in particular value time spent hanging out with friends rather than just their parents.
If there’s a dog thrown into the mix too, you’re onto a winner!
The only words of warning here are make sure that the friends are of a similar or higher hiking ability.
Otherwise you’ll have a slow, complaining group – exactly what you were trying to avoid.
Whether it’s weekly or monthly, make a hiking adventure a new family tradition.
The best thing you can do is to make it a regular thing.
Kids love the sense of adventure and exploration and will start looking forward to their next outing.
With such a wide range of trails and destinations, you’ll never be short of options.
Most importantly, just have fun with them.
Whatever you do and wherever you go, if you’re spending time outdoors with your children then you are doing something right.