Hitting the Trails This Summer? Hiking Tips for the Whole Family!

Now that it’s warmed up outside, many families hit the trails to hike. Whether you’re hiking on vacation or simply heading to a nearby trail, it’s best to be prepared—especially when kids are involved. A little bit of preparation can save you a lot of headaches and ensures that everyone has a good time.

Today, hiking expert Jeff Alt is back to share even more of his hiking know-how. His new book Get Your Kids Hiking is a great resource for parents who want to get out on the trails with their kids. Here are a few of Jeff’s fab tips on the benefits of unplugging and getting outdoors, how to prepare, and ways to make the hike fun for the kids.

Hiking Tips from Jeff Alt

FBM: What are some of the benefits of hiking, particularly as a family? Hiking as a family allows you to focus on each other, removed from all distractions. Not only that, but hiking has so many healthy positive benefits such as cardiovascular health, stress relief, as a supplement for treatment of depression, and weight loss; and kids have the most to gain. TV, computer and video game addictions are replacing outdoor play time. Passive inside entertainment is contributing significantly to the national obesity epidemic! Instilling a fun family hiking tradition will give your kids an alternative to the indoor electronic alternative.

Where can new hiking families start—both location and a little beginner how-to? Start by creating a regular walking routine around your neighborhood or at a nearby park. You can gradually build up to a hike at a vacation destination. Start at home and keep it simple and you will be more inclined to make walking and hiking a daily habit.

Some tips to get you started:

  • Let the child lead. I call this “Child Directed Hiking.” This helps you focus on what they’re interested in and keeps you from leaving them in your dust.
  • Research the destination and activity. (Have your youngster help you with this—Google, park websites, library, bookstore travel section, outfitters, etc.).
  • Always hike with two adults and leave your itinerary with someone. Include the trail you’re taking, expected time/date of return and park emergency contact.
  • Acquire the right gear. Get everyone properly fitted into essential gear particularly boots, shoes and packs. Remember bug repellant and sunscreen.
  • Bring enough water for everyone and have a way of treating water along the way if you run low. Stop for water every 15 minutes.
  • Pack your kids’ favorite snacks. Desirable food will help encourage your kids to eat and stay energized. Pack more food than you think you will need.
  • When preparing your food, think compact, lightweight and filling. Bring items that are easy to prepare or ready to eat.
  • Overnight hiking will require a stove, more planning and gear than a day hike. (This topic covered in detail in my book).
  • Carry a first-aid kit, and brush up on child first aid and CPR. Learn about the dangers of hypothermia, and monitor children for signs. Pack all of your child’s medication.
  • Learn how to use a compass and map or GPS. Learn how to make a quick shelter to help keep you warm and dry. Keep matches and lighters dry and in a safe place. Know how to start a fire to keep warm. If you do get lost, make yourself as visible as possible. Place a bright item (e.g. item of clothing or gear) in the open.

What activities and games can you play with kids on the trail? The driving priority with children is to make sure they have fun. Using my “child directed hiking” approach, let the kids lead the way and tell you and show you what they are interested in.

  • Whatever animal or rock your young child takes interest in, stop and explore with him or her. Talk to your child about what you’re seeing. Label the animals, rocks, trees and flowers. Tone down your mileage goals to the comfort level of your child.
  • Teach your children good backcountry ethics. Kids can learn to pack out trash, take nothing from the woods but memories and pictures, and proper backcountry toileting at a young age.
  • Bring items that kids can use to interact with nature: magnifying glass, binoculars, plant and bird identification guides, and a camera.
  • Use all of your senses to explore. You can play “I Spy,” close your eyes and listen to sounds, find various textures, and place a sheet of paper on a leaf and rub your pencil over it to make a leaf imprint.

Any tips for hiking with kids of different ages and skill/endurance levels? Engage older children with trip planning, animals, local history or anything that applies to what they are learning in school. Continue to use the “child directed hiking” approach, letting the kids lead the way. Let your older child bring along a friend, with parental permission of course. Let your seasoned hiking teenager hike ahead in a group of two or more; lay down some ground rules (ex. stay on the trail, stay together, meet up at a specified location).

How can you make hiking more appealing than say, playing games on an iPad? Engage your computer-savvy kids with adventure technology (e.g. GPS, pedometers, headlamp flashlights, geocaching) and teach them all about how these incredible devices are being used for fun, like scavenger hiking, geocaching, and letterboxing. Older children can use the computer to research your destination or sport (all national parks and most other destinations have websites chock full of facts and info, maps, wildlife guides).

Thanks again to Jeff for these great tips. Who’s ready to hit the trails? —Erin

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