When you have kids, your whole world changes, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop adventuring. If you love spending time in the great outdoors, bringing your children with you into the mountains is a great way to bond as a family and introduce your little ones to the magic of wild places.
But, if you’re a bit nervous about taking your kids hiking or backpacking for the first time, we understand. Although we love them, children require a lot of attention, focus, and effort to keep happy and healthy, so the idea of bringing a whole family on a backpacking trip might seem a little daunting.
Thankfully, we’re here to help. Coming up, we’ve got your ultimate guide to hiking and backpacking with kids so you can get out and live your best life in the wonderful world of the outdoors. Let’s get to it!
Advantages of Hiking & Backpacking With Kids
Just because the adults in your family love to hike and backpack doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any benefits for the little ones in your group. Indeed, hiking and backpacking are great activities for children of any age and are a great way to get them started on a life of adventure. Here are some of the best advantages of hiking and backpacking with your children:
Exercise & Movement
These days, obesity is a major problem for young people around the world. Thankfully, hiking and backpacking are active pursuits that get us moving. When we take our children hiking at an early age, we help set them up for healthy habits later in life. Plus, hiking teaches our kids to move through difficult terrain, which helps them develop their balance, strength, and cardiovascular abilities – skills that will serve them well as they get older.
A Sense of Wonder
There’s a lot to see, hear, touch, and discover for a young person in the great outdoors. A hike in the woods or the mountains can provide endless entertainment for your little ones and is a great way for them to gain exposure to the myriad of flora and fauna along the trail. Simply put, hiking with kids is a great way to instill in them a sense of wonder about the natural world.
When we hike with children, we give them a challenge with a goal to work to, whether that’s making it to camp, to a summit, or to an alpine lake. These small goals and challenges can seem daunting to a young person, so working with them as they push themselves physically and mentally can pave the way for them to develop more self-confidence in their own abilities.
Quality Family Time
Hiking with your children is a great way to bond with your whole family in a place that’s far from the distractions of the urban world. Without iPads, phones, and toys, when we’re outside, we spend our time simply enjoying each other’s company and build memories that will last a lifetime.
Tips For Hiking With Kids
Although hiking and backpacking with kids have innumerable benefits for the whole family, it can seem like a big undertaking if you’re not used to such adventures. So, here are some of our top tips for enjoying the outdoors with your children:
- Plan your trip purposefully. Before you had kids, you could probably make a split-second decision and decide to head out on a quick day hike or overnight backpacking trip on the weekend with just a few hours’ notice. With kids, that stuff just doesn’t fly. Hiking with kids, especially in the beginning, requires a good amount of planning to find the right trip for everyone.
- Get your kids excited about hiking. Hiking might not be everyone’s idea of fun, so it’s worth asking your kids if they’re even interested in backpacking. But, even if their answer is an emphatic NO, it doesn’t mean you have to throw in the towel. Ask them to give hiking a shot for a few trips and work with them to build some excitement about spending time outside before you head out.
- Bring lots of snacks. Kids love snacks, and so do adults, for that matter. When you have kids, they’ll be having the time of their lives until they get a little low blood sugar, and then all hope is lost. When you have ample snacks, however, you can help keep your kids happy and avoid a total meltdown. Top tip: pack more snacks than you think you need. You’ll be happy you did.
- Take lots of small breaks. Remember that your kids have much shorter legs than you, which means they need to work three or four times harder to cover the same distance. So, plan to take lots of small breaks during your hike. Usually, a short water break every 15 minutes and a longer snack break every 30 minutes does the trick.
- Give everyone a job. Many kids like to have a small task or role to guide them during their day. When you go out on a hike, give everyone a role or a task to keep them excited. For example, older kids can be asked to be “timekeeper” and let the group know when they should take a break, while others can be “navigators” or “wildflower spotters” to keep them engaged.
- Hike with friends. If you know other families that love to hike with their kids, consider going on a group outing. Having more kids around might sound like mayhem, but it provides the children with more people that can accompany them as they explore the great outdoors.
- Play games. Children love playing small games, so it’s nice to have a selection of “trail” games that you can play as you walk. This could be as simple as just telling stories, or you can challenge older kids to solve riddles. If you’re stuck and can’t think of anything, ask your kids – they’ll probably make up an awesome game for you to play, right on the spot!
What to Bring
- Kids can carry their own backpack stocked with a light jacket for layering, a nature journal, snacks, and even a hydration pack.
- Never hit the trail without the ten essentials – every good Scout and adventurer knows that these supplies are a must when you hit the trails.
On any outdoor adventure, remember to follow the Leave No Trace Principles.
A professional mountain guide and experienced outdoor educator, Gaby enjoys traveling and exploring the world’s most remote locales. As a writer and editor, Gaby has written for a variety of climbing and travel blogs, news sites, and climbing magazines. She is currently finishing a master’s degree in outdoor education but in her free time, Gaby loves a strong cup of coffee and searching for the next great adventure. Check out more of Gaby’s work on her website.