Hiking with Young Kids
You know what? Life is boring when you are indoors. There is absolutely no reason why you can’t explore the outdoors and go hiking when you have young kids.
Like most things in life post kids, you just need to adjust your expectations and do things a bit differently.
There are no real rules when it comes to hiking with kids. As a parent, it’s our job to ensure their safety and be aware of their energy levels, mood and physical needs.
I have found that as long as you are organised, keep an open mind and are flexible with plans; that hiking with young kids can actually be fun!
Here are my tried and tested tips for hiking with young kids!
Allow plenty of extra time
Hiking with kids means stopping for snacks, drinks and a rest more often than you usually would. Kids walk a lot slower than adults, and due to the extra weight when carrying them; you will walk a little slow as well.
They will also want to stop and look at every flower, mushroom, animal poop, spider web and odd shaped leaf they see.
Invest in a good quality carrier
A good quality carrier will make or break your hiking experience with young kids. You need to test it before its maiden voyage and make sure that it’s comfortable and fully adjustable.
Kathmandu Karinja Child Carrier
I use Kathmandu’s hard frame Karinja Child Carrier when hiking and camping due to the decent amount of storage in the back.
The child seat is really padded out well and our two year old often falls asleep in it.
My favourite feature is that it has an adjustable back length for the wearer. This means it can be easily switched between myself and my husband (who is taller) and still fit correctly without any pain.
Piggy Back Rider
When the kids outgrow a backpack style carrier, but can’t quite keep up still, a Piggy Back Rider standing carrier could be the answer to your problems!
The child is harnessed in and can quickly hop on and off as they need to. This carrier is also great for places like the zoo, amusement parks and busy cities.
Make it fun and feature friendly
This is as easy as playing games and talking when you walk. See who can spot the next trail marker first or see who can spot the next animal poop.
Did you know that wombat poop is cube shaped? I know, it’s gross! But young kids seem to like subjects that involve bodily functions.
Ensure the trail is not boring for them by choosing a trial that involves a swimming hole, waterfall, rock hopping across a river or dramatic views. This will go a long way to keeping the boredom at bay.
Let them have a go
Let them have a go when it’s safe to do so. You’re kids will surprise you!
My four year old scrambled up the steepest section of the Apsley River Waterhole and Gorge Walk in Tasmania recently. Letting him do this and achieve it really boosted his confidence and since then, he has been more willing to try other walks.
Pack lots of snacks
Even if your kids have just eaten a three course meal and you are only hiking for 40 minutes. Pack lots of snacks and drinks! A well timed snack break, or even a little bag of snacks whilst in the carrier does wonders for heading off the grizzlies.
If you pack some kind of protein balls, you can tell the kids they are ‘power balls’ that will give them ‘super hiking power’ for the next 10 minutes.
Adjust your expectations
The reality of hiking with kids is that you won’t be able to hike for as far or long. Don’t be disheartened though! It’s surprising what can still be achieved and how many awesome destinations are out there.
You can absolutely still do multi-day hiking with young kids; you just need to make some modification to how and where you used to do it.
You are carrying twice as much with a child. Twice as much food, drinks and clothes. Not to mention bedding if it’s an overnight hike. If your child is in nappies, you will have to carry the dirty ones back out in a heavy duty garbage bag.
Do not carry anything that is not a necessity (except marshmallows for the fire), your back will thank you for it later. Consider sharing your sleeping set up with your toddler.
We carry two sets of day clothes only, all quick dry materials and either hand wash or use a scrubba wash bag in the arvo when we set up camp.
Invest in a hiking trolley
The biggest issue with multi-day hiking with young kids is that it’s very physically demanding to carry your gear when you already have a child on your back.
Investing in a hiking trolley or trailer will solve this problem. A quick google search will give you some inspiration for making your own or show you where to purchase one.
We use either of these two solutions, depending on the track and conditions.
Bicycle Trailer with slight modifications
A bicycle trailer for kids used as a hiking trolley. This works surprisingly well providing your hiking path doesn’t have steps.
Ours has an optional handle for pushing it like a pram, or you could modify it by adding two large broom handles and pull it behind you. You will mostly likely need to change the front wheel to something more sturdy.
You can load it up with either kids or equipment and carry the other on your back. Obviously this is not what the product is designed for but even I am surprised at the abuse this trailer has taken with no issues!
I asked our local welder to make me a hiking trolley based on my vague pencil drawings and a used bike tyre. He did a fantastic job!
Our bags get strapped to the trolley and I can wear a child on my back and push the trolley out in front. If we are going uphill I can drag it behind me. This is more rugged than the pushbike trailer option and manages to get over steps and logs quite well.
Get the timing right
If your child is an early riser, you will want to start out nice and early before the mid-morning grizzles set it. If they are too young to walk, you might like to go hiking around nap time so they can sleep in the carrier.
You know your own families dynamics so you can adjust this to suit. We all know how hard a tired toddler is to deal with!
You don’t wear uncomfortable shoes for hiking so don’t expect your kids to. Make sure they have a comfortable pair of sneakers or hiking shoes and good quality socks.
When we are hiking here in Australia, I make sure they are wearing high top shoes due to snakes and other creepy crawlies.
Young kids love being given the important job of taking photos!
The Nikon Coolpix camera is both shockproof and waterproof and my kids have been using mine since they could hold it. We also have a shock and water proof Go Pro that they strap on and take movies with.
More often than not, I get lots of close up pictures of fingers, noses and feet but it’s still a fun way to document the journey through the eyes of a small child.
This is as simple as a little check box style card with some pictures of what you might expect to see. For e.g we will soon spend five days hiking the Noosa Trail Network in Queensland, so I will include things like a koala, pair of birds, lake, mountain and big fluffy cloud.
Take proper rests
Take the time to actually sit down, rest your feet and have a proper snack and drink. Don’t just dish it out on the go. Kids have lots of energy, but their batteries still need recharging. Sitting on a fallen log and munching on treat biscuits can be a fantastic bonding experience with the kids.
Look for animals, tracks, burrows and insects etc. Talk about them! It’s a great opportunity to learn new facts. Investigate the areas wildlife together on the internet beforehand to give you an idea of what to look for and where.
Know when to call it quits
If you have been hiking in the rain all day, don’t feel bad about ditching the plans for a hotel room. This is supposed to be fun! Positive experiences now will play an important role later.
Let them play with sticks
They are great for walking, poking, sword fights and spiderwebs. For a lot of kids, it’s one of the few times they are allowed to wave a stick around without getting into too much trouble. Just make sure it’s not too pointy and lay down some ground rules!
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