Hiking with children can be a lot of fun, but there are many things that can go wrong. You might have picked a hike that you thought your family may be able to do, but quickly had to cut it short because it was too difficult. Maybe the trail was too dangerous for your little ones, there were dangerous areas not suitable for children or just too strenuous. I would like to share with you some tips on hiking that we’ve learned over the years. In order to choose a hike that is right for our family, we look for factors such as difficulty and length.
- DISTANCE FROM THE TRAIL
I started with trail mileage because hiking with children‘s may be difficult. Bella, my older daughter, can handle any hike that isn’t more than 4 or 5 kilometres in length. She enjoys going on walks, searching for sticks and stones along the way, and doing anything she can to keep herself occupied on the trail. However, Isa, my youngest daughter, is the polar opposite. She becomes bored, tired, wants to be held, sits in the middle of the trail, sobs, and whines before we’ve even gotten half way through our journey. With her, we’ve seen everything.
We evaluate the overall distance while picking a hiking trail, not only the distance to the other side. We look for hikes that our child and we can both comfortably do and plan accordingly. Isa is still young enough that I can carry her in my Ergo carrier when she gets tired, and I always have a bag with a treasure hunt for her to do on the path to keep her occupied and trekking longer. Other criteria, such as individual child talents, must be considered in addition to path distance.
2. EXTENSION OF THE ENTIRE TRAIL
Trail elevation is a very important factor when choosing a hike. You may find a 5 mile hike with minimal elevation or you can find a short 2-3 mile hike with over 500 feet in elevation, which can be more challenging to climb. Are your kids comfortable going up and down hills on a trail? Is the distance of the trail and elevation gain a good fit for them? Will they need to be carried up or down some of the inclines? How will you do carrying one of your kids uphill and back downhill? These are all important considerations when making plans for a hike. If you haven’t hiked with children before, I recommend starting with a small elevation gain first to see how they handle it.
GAIA GPS APPLICATION
If you’re looking to hike a trail and are not sure of the elevation gain, some websites may provide this information. Alternatively, if you can find the map of the trail and count the elevation lines on it, you can calculate your own estimate by adding up the lowest point on the trail to its highest point. A useful app for doing this is Gaia GPS. It is good to measure the lines according to the twists and turns of the trails. It’s easier to go up hill in 0.3 miles versus the same elevation gain in 0.1 miles.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO PLAN AHEAD FOR ELEVATION CHALLENGES?
When we hiked to the Lanikai Pillboxes, the elevation gain was a straight upward elevation of several hundred feet at the beginning of the hike. My oldest daughter Bella did struggle at the beginning of this hike and we had to help her. My husband carried Isa and between him and I, we helped Bella climb to the ridge of the mountain. This is probably one of the toughest hikes we did with Bella (four years old at t he time) but she did pretty good and she’s a kind of girl that likes to push her limits to reach that mountain top view.
Another challenging hike we did was Makua Cave in Oahu, Hawaii. This random hike we decided to do while driving around the West coast of Oahu turned out to be a great experience for experienced hikers only. The trail got very steep, rugged, slippery and dangerous for little ones; it was not suitable for inexperienced hikers like ourselves. My husband and I alternated hiking up to the cave and then coming back down. I knew my daughter would have put her all into it, but I preferred to play it safe by doing things the way they were supposed to be done with the ropes and climbing.
3. WHERE IS YOUR CHILD’S LEVEL OF EXPERIENCE WHEN HIKING?
Different children have different hiking experience and skill levels, which can influence how much effort they put into the hike. For example, Isa is not a very experienced hiker, so she will enjoy walking along the trail but will eventually need more encouragement to continue uphill. My younger son has more experience hiking and is able to push himself harder than Isa.
Bella has a different hiking experience than I do. She likes the challenge and the sense of pushing her limits, which helps her learn more about hiking safety. She is careful to stay on the trail most of the time, uses a walking stick when necessary, and is not afraid to keep going if she feels fine (as long as she isn’t tired or hungry).
IMPLEMENTING LEVELS OF EXPERIENCE IN YOUR PLANNING
Knowing your children’s hiking experience levels can help plan the hike accordingly. If one of my children is less experienced than the other, I would plan a hike that is suitable for them. You can also plan a hike that will push their limits but not to the point of frustration or exhaustion.
Remember to include in your own level of experience as well. Always remember that it is better to be safe than sorry.
4. WHEN HIKING, YOUR CHILD’S DETERMINATION AND ENERGY
Studies have shown that a children hiking experience levels can be determined by their determination and motivation. A child who is more determined to push themselves and stretch their limits has more motivation, which can lead to better success in life.
5. THE TRAIL’S TERRAIN
Trail conditions can vary, so be prepared for anything. The terrain is usually rugged, but there are also sandy trails in some areas, snowy trails in others, muddy ones, and even paved ones. Knowing what to expect ahead of time will help you make the best decisions for your hike.
The terrain can make a big difference in how easy or difficult your hike will be. Sandy trails can often be hard to walk on, as your feet sink into the sand instead of walking on a smooth surface. However, this type of terrain is good for areas such as islands and deserts, since it is rugged with lots of dirt and small rocks. In contrast, paved trails are usually much smoother so they are better for hiking in rural areas or near cities where there may be lots of people and cars.
6. WHEN HIKING WITH KIDS, AVERAGE TIME TO COMPLETE THE TRAIL
This is a good guideline to follow when hiking with children. I always like to add 15-20 minutes for every hour just to be safe. If the hike is estimated at taking 4 hours, then I would add 1 hour and 1.5 hours for lunch if we need it, and also break time such as swimming at the waterfall
It is best to plan to be out there for a longer period of time and come prepared with the right gear than not being prepared mentally, physically, and not having the right snacks, hydration, food, or sunblock.
7. THE OUTLOOK FOR THAT DAY’S WEATHER
It is always good to monitor the weather before traveling to an area, in order to get an idea of what the average temperatures are and if there are any weather patterns that match those of previous years.
8. SEASONAL TIME OF YEAR
When making arrangements to be outside, knowing the time of year and the weather for that time of year can be quite beneficial. Some regions have continual rain at certain seasons of the year, while others experience extreme heat and aridity at other times of the year.
If you plan ahead for the winter, you will be aware that it will most likely be cold. If you visit in the fall, you will likely witness a lot of wildflowers, as well as showers in some locations.
9. DIFFICULTIES ON THE TRAIL
First and primarily, keep in mind that you will be in nature, and nature will throw curve balls at you in any case. Being outside presents its own set of difficulties from time to time. This isn’t to say you can’t research some of the paths to see if there are any additional barriers. Perhaps the bridge across the creek has been damaged, necessitating a detour. Or perhaps there is a section where you must scale a rocky ledge to continue your journey. You and your family will have a happier and safer trail experience if you do some homework and prepare for these challenges.
Don’t forget to factor in any problems when estimating your time. It’s a good idea to mentally prepare for a 30 minute detour by estimating that your trip will take 30-40 minutes longer.
10. THE HIKE’S REQUIREMENTS
This varies from family to family. What equipment you’ll need depends on your child’s age and skill level. For example, an older child will not require a baby carrier, and an older child may require stronger hiking boots for a longer and more demanding trek. This guide was created to help you with the most important hiking necessities. Make sure to schedule your hikes around the equipment you already have or will be able to buy for the trip.
ONLY LEAVE FOOTPRINTS, NOT TRACKS
It is always important to obey and apply the Leave No Trace Principles when visiting the outdoors. These concepts are critical for preserving our planet and limiting your influence while traveling throughout the world. More knowledge on how to put LNT principles into practice may be found here.
PLAN A FREE HIKING TRIP WITH US
For your convenience, I’ve prepared a hiking trip planner. It covers all of the above-mentioned themes. You can print it and use it to jot down ideas as you plan. When you sign up for our newsletter, you can get it for free. After you join up, you’ll get a confirmation email and a login to our Resource Library, where you can download our Hiking Trip Planner as well as a variety of other outdoor activities, planners, checklists, guides, and more.
Always do your homework before embarking on any hike. It’s always smart to play it safe. If you keep the main things described above in mind, you and your family will have a pleasant, safe, and memorable hike. I sincerely hope that these important principles will assist you in planning your next family hike. Are there any other important considerations you make when making a plan? Please let me know in the comments section.
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Hiking is fun!