Hiking with kids in tow can be tough. Heck, doing anything with kids in tow can be tough! But it is TOTALLY worth it! The adventures our family’s had and the memories we’ve made are some of my favorites. We’re working together, growing together, and playing together. What could be a better recipe for family success?
But, like I said, it’s not always easy. Here are five ways to make it a fun and memorable experience for everyone.
Play It Cool
When you’re talking to your kids about an upcoming hike, play it cool. You can be excited but be careful to not build it up too much. Let’s be honest, hiking can be long and monotonous. Kids can have a hard time feeling the same excitement about things like views, rocks, plants, and a cool breeze. Instead of building up their excitement for things that you look forward to, let them experience it for themselves.
This means also allowing them to feel some of the not so positive emotions (boredom, fatigue, heat), just like you. That way, when they see a butterfly go by or experience the feeling of accomplishment when they climb over a boulder by themselves, they can feel the change in emotion and appreciate the things that genuinely excite them.
This can be so broad, but specifically be prepared with sustenance. Anyway… Make sure that you pack plenty of water and snacks. Of course, our bodies need water to keep them performing optimally. There’s nothing worse than running out of water or snacks and still having more distance to cover. Think Thor- This mortal form has grown weak, I need sustenance. Except, instead of a hot Aussie saying it, it’s a pack of kids weary from hunger and thirst.
And you’d be surprised how far a package of skittles or sunflower seeds can take little legs (or big legs, parents need motivation sometimes too). Depending upon how long you’ll be hiking, you may want to bring a sack lunch along. Try to pack foods that will fuel the body long-term. But it’s okay to pack some things just for fun, too (remember the skittles?).
Not only food and water, but make sure everyone gets enough sleep the night before. I took the kids hiking one day, when they had been up late the night before and the difference in attitude was blatantly obvious. Never again.
It’s important to mentally prepare yourself as well. You can almost expect at least some whining or complaining. That’s okay. Prepare yourself with ways to turn a long, hot hike into a game. Some people sing songs. That hasn’t worked as well with our kids, but games like Truth or Dare, I Spy, and 20 Questions have worked wonders for us.
Hadley also likes to bring a pack of cards for when we’re resting, and the boys like to each bring a stuffed animal to be their hiking buddy along the trail. I allow the extra luggage, because we also have a rule that the kids have to carry whatever they want to bring. We each have a backpack and I carry lunch and the camera, the kids each carry their own drinks, snacks and whatever else they want.
If you can convince another family to hike with you or at least invite a friend along, the kids feed off each other’s excitement far more than their complaining. Or at least that’s been our experience.
Take Your Time When Hiking with Kids
Plan hiking adventures when you have plenty of time to enjoy the hike. Nothing’s worse than feeling rushed and having to push your kids (or yourself) faster than they’re comfortable. It’s not nearly as enjoyable and, at least in our case, it just puts everyone in bad moods. Where’s the fun in that?
Instead, don’t rush it. You don’t have to go super slow but go at a pace that’s natural and comfortable for everyone. Sometimes what’s natural for my kids feels too slow for me and that’s when games come in handy. When everyone is having a fun time, we all naturally walk faster.
Finally, take opportunities to celebrate accomplishments. If it’s a longer hike, we break each mile into ten “pieces of pie”. The kids keep track of how many pieces we have left and when we finish a pie, we get a treat. We celebrate when we reach a summit. We celebrate big time when we’re all done with a hike. For us, that usually means swimming and then ice cream cones all around. Luckily, in American Samoa we get $1 single scoop cones.
Just for the fun of it, I’m adding one more tip- Go Regularly. Not everyone can trek along a hiking trail every weekend, but everyone can keep moving in between. And when you can, make it a point to get on a hiking trail often. The more we hike, the more our kids are used to it. We’re careful not to hike so often that they’re getting sick of it, but enough that all our legs can handle a spur-of-the-moment couple miles on a trail.
I went the first eight years of our marriage not hiking. Nate’s not a hiker and I didn’t want to go on my own, so I just didn’t go. When we moved to American Samoa, I knew that I couldn’t live on this tropical island and not get out to explore the rainforest covered mountains. The first couple hikes were pretty rough, just me and the kids. But soon we figured out our routine and now it’s one of our favorite activities.
What did I miss? Comment below with your own tried and true secrets to successful hiking with kids.