Now is the time to get outside and bask in all the glory that is the great outdoors. Parents, this call is for you as well – the trail is whole new experience when you have a kid in tow. The pace is slower, attention wanders off the trail and small hikes feel like huge accomplishments. I polled some of the families I admire most for their ability to get their kids out on the trail so that I could share some of their tips with you.
We are going to run through the prep you can do at home to prepare for a great day outside but let’s first take a pit stop to get in the right headspace. Overall, the markers for a successful hike are realistic expectations and allowing space for how your child experiences nature. Start with easy trails, loop hikes are golden for kids, and progressively add more kilometres or harder terrain as they age and gain experience. Off the cuff games or a scavenger is a great way to keep kids engaged. I remember going on hikes with my dad when I was young, well what I remember was the hunt for the perfect hiking stick. It had to be part functional walking aid and part defence against the monsters living under the bridges we would cross. We had to be prepared for battle. Another great tip is to print or draw a map to give to your child. Let them ‘be in charge’ of the map and point out things along the way.
When you know you are going to be outside, maybe hours away from your home there is some planning that must be done to make sure that the day is a success. The best place to start is with your clothes and prepare for whatever weather you may encounter. First, and most importantly, dressing in layers is key and comfort trumps all. Think about what the climate will be like where you are hiking compared to where your home is. Is it windy up on that mountain? Is it cooler by the lake or ocean? Having a base layer and an outer layer is still smart in the summer months. If you are starting earlier in Spring or pushing into autumn be prepared with hats and mitts for unpredictable weather.
There are so many things to pack! It’s never too early to start teaching kids to carry their own food and gear. Start small by letting them pack a few snacks in their knapsack. Snacks are really important by the way, lots of snacks. Food is a great motivator. Gradually add more things to their knapsack - like that extra pair of socks or a long sleeve shirt in case it’s chilly at the top. An added bonus, carrying a backpack just like you, makes them feel like they are really a part of the adventure. Light, soft knapsacks, as opposed to a rigid hard backpack, is a great option for a day hike for kids. Something that is waterproof is super helpful so you don’t have to worry about it being slung off onto the wet ground. A knapsack is also a great place for your kids to store their collected treasures.
The nice thing about late spring, summer and even early fall hikes is that we don’t have to worry about being cold – chilly maybe, but not cold. In that kind of weather, I recommend sticking with just a base and outer layer. If you are really creeping into those shoulder seasons stick an insulating layer, like a fleece, in your bag. Cotton and linen make a great base layer when it’s warm out because those fabrics will do a great job at keeping your kids cool. A lightweight jacket is key with kids – especially if you are hiking with more one – then, if it’s not needed it doesn’t become a burden to pack away. Generally speaking, on and off the trail, it’s worth it to invest in a good jacket that covers all your bases by being windproof, waterproof and breathable. Bonus points for buying a jacket that is PFC free.
Even in the heat of summer pants may be a good idea. If you know your trail has a lot of brush and thorns covering the path pants will protect those little legs from scratches. Leave the jeans behind, though. They are too heavy and restrict movement. Look for a lightweight pant made from cotton, linen or a breathable synthetic material that will dry quickly. Convertible pants are also a great option for kids.
I don’t believe that your child’s shoes should ever stop you from going on a hike. Running shoes will do the trick. That being said, if you are at the point where you know hiking will be a big part of your family’s outdoor time I would suggest investing in some hiking shoes for your kiddo. Sneakers will wear out fast on the trail and you don’t want their shoes to be the thing that’s making you do a U-turn for the car. Keep in mind, if it’s been raining a lot it’s most likely that the trail is wet. In that situation opt for a good waterproof rubber boot – something you don’t mind getting muddy.
If rain is in the forecast, don’t let some less than ideal weather hold you back from getting outdoors. Hiking in the rain is totally doable and very manageable even with your youngsters. You don’t even have to be wet! With the right gear, your kids will stay warm and dry. A full body coverall or rain suit is a great option for this and also allows them to seize some really great puddle jumping opportunities. Look for a suit that has a hood attached, elasticated cuffs to tuck into their boots and is 100% waterproof. Sealed seams are the true testament to the quality of your rain gear – I wouldn’t buy gear without them. Have some post-hike clothes packed in your car, or tent, for when you return.
Some odds and ends – I am a huge fan of buffs – a circular piece of fabric that fits around your neck. They are so versatile for you and for kids. It can be worn around your neck to protect from the sun, can hold hair back like a bandana and on those really hot days you can soak it in a stream and wear it to keep you cool. Sunglasses and hats are a must-have for the summer especially on trails that aren’t shaded and bug nets can also be helpful to keep mosquito annoyances to a minimum.
Oh and one more thing, make sure you have the right gear too! Squeeze in a bit of time to make sure you have what you need to be comfortable out there, you’ve got this!