Hiking with children can be a great way to introduce young ones to the wonders of nature. By planning successful, enjoyable hikes when they are young, you will set your children on the path to a lifetime of outdoor adventures. Here are some tips for making those first few hikes enjoyable for both kids and adults.
Planning and Pacing
Here are some pacing rules of thumb for children of varying ages. Set your group's goals based on the youngest child's ability.
- Ages 5 to 7 can hike for 1 to 3 hours per day, covering 3 to 4 miles over easy terrain. Rest stops should come every 30 to 45 minutes.
- Ages 8 to 9 can hike a full day at an easy pace, covering 6 to 7 miles over variable terrain.
- Ages 8 to 11 can do a full day hiking, covering 7 to 10 miles of moderate terrain.
- Ages 12 and up are ready for challenging hikes and week-long trips.
When loading a pack for a child, limit the pack weight to 20 percent of their weight. Teenagers can carry up to 30 percent.
What to Bring
Packing for kids is much like packing for adults. Some additional items for kids include:
- Your kid's favorite foods for snacking
- Extra water
- Insect repellent
- First aid kit
Special Clothing Considerations
Children get cold faster than adults. The key to comfortable hiking is to dress them in several layers, which can be peeled off as they get warm and added as they cool off. Bring long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, plus a hat and extra socks.
Young children should be taught to stay within eyesight. Older children must stay within earshot and must call often. Teach children to stay where they are if they discover they are lost. Many children relate to the idea of hugging a tree when lost. Instruct them to find a nearby tree and stay with it until they are found. Use the buddy system. Have the kids carry a whistle.
Fun along the Way
Take frequent energy stops. Sing songs. Encourage investigative games that work into the context of a hike. Take a child's friend along; they'll be more likely to stay entertained. Try bird watching, plant identification, looking for animal's tracks, or counting rocks, birds, flowers and other features as you hike.
Rules of the Trail
Teach children to stay on the trail at all times. Not only can they get lost, but going off the trail can damage fragile plant life, and cutting across switchbacks can create pattern erosion. Teach your kids to treat the outdoors kindly. Pack out everything you pack in.