We all want what’s best for our kids and for the most part, that means healthy bodies and minds. One of the best and easiest ways to help improve our little ones lives is to get them out of the house and away from the screens by going for a hike; big or small. This is what I’ve learned about hiking with kids from my experience with Olin, Elich, Ahren, and Ikah.
Making the Break
The wonderful thing about “hiking” is that it can be so much more than a walk in the park and also… just a walk in the park. My point is, you can make it what you want it to be and get from it what you need. The most important thing is to make the commitment to just get up and get started.
Like you, I consider my children to be a top priority in my life and investing in their future starts with investing in what goes into them now. Watching them spend so much time in front of a screen does very little to improve their lives. Hiking is the perfect way to separate yourselves from the stress inducing digital world and come together as a family in the natural world. So enjoy that fresh air, the sounds of nature, and memories you’ll make by hitting the trail.
It’s important to note that you don’t have to start out hiking Zion National Park. Just start out with easy hikes close to home and around the neighborhood to help you all get acquainted with your own capabilities. Kid friendly hikes are family hikes to things like a local park, museum, walking to a relatives house instead of driving, or just a big loop around the neighborhood.
Young children enjoy the opportunity to stop and look at different types of trees, plants, leaves, and bugs along the way. Older kids tend to like a bit of a challenge and for that reason might need a bit of motivation like a scavenger hunt. One of the really neat things you can do just to get out and about is check out this Geocaching website and consider downloading the app for great spots around you.
Best Hiking Shoes
When you finally start hitting the trails hiking with kids, you’ll want to consider getting yourself a decent pair of shoes or boots, depending on where you live and the types of seasons you deal with. You’ll want something with a fairly aggressive tread compared to tennis shoes as gravel and sand often give way to slipping. You might also want to consider the density of the brush in your area as it will help you decide between a low top or shoe and a hightop boot type.
Another consideration that goes hand in hand, or foot in boot, with this simple upgrade is the sock itself. You will want to choose a nice thick sock for padding and warmth that goes above the top of the footwear. This will help protect little feet from unnecessary blisters and their ankles from small scrapes from low twigs and sticks even on kid friendly trails.
Get Hiking Clothes
As you progress into more purposeful hiking trips, you are going to want to consider your choices in clothing to make the hike more enjoyable and also be prepared for possible weather changes. For most of spring, summer, and most of fall, a good pair of cargo shorts paired with a t-shirt and a light long sleeve shirt is the perfect choice. The long sleeve is great to stay warm in the cooler hours and protect you from the harsh sun in the mid day.
On that same note, it’s a good idea to dress accordingly when out and about in colder or wet months. Remember to dress in layers (base layer, mid layer for warmth, and protective layer for the weather) as it will keep you from getting too cold or wet to enjoy your hike. It’s also a good idea to bring along a hat no matter the season.
Great Hiking Bags
When you feel like the hike around the neighborhood just isn’t doing it for you, you’ll want to prepare for longer hikes and the more advanced hiking trails with a hiking bag. This is a great piece of hiking gear for kids as it gives them a place to pack snacks and water bottles and even some really cool trinkets and treats. But it’s important to equip your kiddo with the right sized pack to ensure they are comfortable and can handle the load.
One of the simplest and easiest hiking backpacks to use when starting out either on pavement or trails is the Camelbak Mini Mule biking bag. This nice compact little bag carries 1.5L of water and has room for a small snack and trinket. If you are planning on progressing your hiking adventures into mountain fishing or hunting expeditions, you might want to consider the Eberlestock H31 Bandit Pack. This pack is more rugged, has room for 3L of water and a fair bit more room for an extra bit of clothing, some hiking or hunting gear, as well as space for the eats.
For my own personal use, I’ve had a number of hiking packs over the years ranging from around $50 5.11 bags, which I DO NOT recommend, to $500 Mystery Ranch bags dedicated to heavy loads and hunting. One of the newer bags I’ve come into owning is the Kanjera Caprock 35 Heavy Duty Backpack given to me by a friend. This bag has the strength and durability expected of a pack by hunters that head out into the deep bush and the compartmentalization that is perfect for families on the trail. It’s a bit large for little kids but great for older kids to grow into, especially if you want a pack that can easily cross over from hunting to hiking and back again.
Teaching Children Outdoors
As a hands-on parent, hiking with kids can give you an amazing opportunity to teach your children about a vast array of things. Everything from Rocks and Minerals to Birds, Mammals, Waterfowl, Butterflies, and flowers can be sought out and examined. This will not only give them a fantastic foundation of natural scientific and historical knowledge but also help spark in them a greater interest in the outdoors AND help position you as a source of knowledge.
To find this great wealth of knowledge, you can drop into a local backpacking or hunting shop, an REI, or even a local Museum. Don’t forget that regional fish and game, Bureau of Land Management, and National Forest offices also have tons of free information pamphlets available along with more advanced and waterproof ones available for sale. And, lets not forget the library and book stores.
Bring Inner Peace
Hiking with kids is also more than the movement through and into nature. A large and forgotten part of what a hiking adventure can give you is a chance to change your setting and take time and space in a better one. Sitting still is a great way to improve a young persons perspective on mental health.
Nowadays, the focus of society is to keep moving, keep “doing”, to seek instant gratification, and to produce for others to prove or demonstrate ones own worth or value. This is ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE for the mental health of a child (or adult for that matter) and can be set right by allowing a kid to enjoy being themselves, to focus on their surroundings, the now, and learning to be present.
Hiking Gifts and Gadgets
Most kids love gadgets and that’s a fantastic thing if you want to get them outdoors. Periodically gifting small pieces of outdoor gear is another great way to get kids excited about hiking the trails and exploring the world around them. What better way to look at the world than up close with a magnifying glass or bringing far off birds and mammals up close with a good pair of binoculars.
When it comes to gadgets, I am a pragmatists and try to keep things simple but useful. As far as my boys are concerned, I got them fixed blade knives as early as 8 years old because I believe that children learn responsibility and safety when given the chance and guidance. Other really neat gadgets you might want to consider are small pocket knives, first aid kit, headlamps, compasses, a sun hat, binoculars and even a good hand held radio from Midland USA.
Start Hiking With Kids
The right gear, educational materials, and age appropriate gifts or gadgets can help make hiking with kids a memorable experience. Enjoy your family without the distractions of the modern world and let them see, touch, and hear the better parts of the world around them. And remember, hiking doesn’t have a monthly subscription and your family or friends won’t have to bum a login off of you so feel free to take them along and do it as often as you like.
What other hiking ideas or questions do you have?