Hiking with your family can be a great time outdoors. Children love being outside. Recently, my wife wanted us to go hiking near where we live. The trail was a heavily used unimproved service road that wound around the mountains near our home. I thought that it would be a good opportunity to teach our two oldest children about hiking and backpacking. In that process, what was normally second nature to me, had to be slowed down and methodically articulated and each preparatory task thought through. Here is what I learned:
Lessons Learned From Hiking With Family
1. Kids get tired of carrying their backpacks more quickly than you are expecting. I ended up hand-carrying their little packs on the return leg of our hike back to our car.
2. Kids like to get into their backpacks and play with all of those essential items that have been put together for them (e.g. whistles, multi-tools, flashlights, snacks, etc.).
3. Backpack weight has be considered. Carrying weight has to be something that a person needs to get used to. This is especially true for children and their backpacks. Even though I thought my kid’s backpacks were light, their little back muscles and shoulders became fatigued carrying the weight on their backs much sooner than was anticipated.
4. If you have an infant, someone has to have a child carrier instead of a stroller. My wife wanted to use a stroller for our infant son. However, the trail was unimproved and had some steep areas along the way. This made pushing the stroller more physically demanding that would have been if one of us was using a child-carrier.
5. Kids will sunburn more easily, become dehydrated more easily, and will lose interest in the hike more quickly that you are anticipating.
Suggestions For Hiking With Your Family
Here are some suggestions to consider if you have never been hiking or backpacking with your family or have not been outdoors with your family in a while.
1. Do not put things in your children’s backpacks that you do not want them to get into. If you can, carry those items with you. During rest breaks, teach them about each of the items that you are carrying for them.
2. Carry extra water and food in your pack for your children.
3. Be mindful of the weight of the children’s backpacks. They cannot carry as much weight as you might think.
4. If you use a child-carrier, then the spouse that can carry the extras for the children will have to carry them in their pack.
5. Do not overload your own back to carry extras. I have arthritis in my back, so I have to be careful about how much weight I am putting on my body, so that there are no spasms or cramps during the hike. This means that some items will have to be left home or in the vehicle.
6. Have realistic expectations of yourself, your spouse, and your children. If you or your spouse are not in shape to conduct a multi-day hike, or your children have little or no experience with hiking or backpacking, do not attempt a large and complicated hike. Start with short hikes and work your family up to being able to hike a multi-day hike. It is easy to take on more than you or your family are ready for by being overconfident in your knowledge, abilities, or physical fitness.
7. As always, have an emergency plan. Children can get hurt out there just like you. Have a plan on how to deal with emergencies (i.e. physical injuries, sickness, bites, allergic reactions, etc.).
8. Finally, always tell someone what you are doing, where you are going and what time you will return. Provide them a map with indicated waypoints along with your cell/smart phone number and emergency points of contact like U.S. Park Ranger Stations, etc.
Some Final Thoughts
The outdoors can be a lot of fun for your family. Children love adventure and seeing all of the new things that are presented by the outdoors satisfies those curiosities. However, safety has to be the operative word when taking your family on the trail. Little feet get tired, little backs get fatigued, your spouse gets as physically tired as you do and needs a break. Therefore, every precaution should be considered before leaving for even a few hours in the wilderness. As one Oregon family discovered, you can get lost just going out to pick wild berries. So, be prepared at all times, especially, when young children are included in the outdoor adventure.
If you are safe and thoughtful, hiking with your family can bring a lifetime of fond memories and an appetite for more outdoor fun. There is nothing like watching your young children get excited about a seeing a deer in the distance or a butterfly suddenly fly past unexpected. Hiking and backpacking are a great way to enjoy nature, get some physical exercise, and develop family relationships. Therefore, do not hesitate to enjoy a little outdoor recreation with your family on the hiking trail.
I hope this has been useful for you.
Take care and See you on the Trail!