Ah, the joyful sounds of nature: wind rustling the leaves, birds singing, children whining. Wait, no.
Like so many things, once you have children, hiking just isn’t the same anymore, if it happens at all. We used to love packing up backpacks for day long outings and wandering a bit of trail for hours. But usually, young kids are not always so into that, and neither are you after you’ve been running on two hours sleep and your muscles ache from picking them up and putting them down 20 times an hour. And so we have left behind any preconceptions of the old vision of what it means “to hike” and have found joy in hiking with our kids with a few simple “kid hacks”. Here’s a short list of things that have worked for us, most of the time.
1. Forget about finishing a trail and just enjoy the trail.
So you may have wanted to get to the waterfall at mile 3.7, that’s probably not going to happen, or at least not while carrying the kids and all the little crap they *have* to bring along.
Give that idea up right now and just say, we’ll go till they get hungry, then we’ll snack, then we’ll come back, and snack again. Keep it short and positive, they will want to do it again.
2. Take it slow and pick up sticks.
If your kids are like ours, they are just slow (so. very. slow.), because they can be, and mostly because they aren’t really sure what this whole hiking thing is anyway, and they doubt the grown-ups really know where they are going and don’t we all just want to be closer to the car where the snacks are and we can listen to Frozen on the stereo? So we just walk slowly and stop a lot. I try to talk to them about the uniqueness of each ecosystem and identify the plants and animals around us, but that may sink in one time in a hundred (though I’ll never stop trying to teach them). Really what they want to do is find a stick. And then another stick. And then wait, I have to go back because that one is better. But it’s ok. We’re outside, they are happy. And maybe we can poke some bugs.
3. Bring snacks
A lot. Seriously. Enough said.
4. Young kids are the original glampers, they need their gear or its over.
I asked my girls what they would need to go hiking, and this is what they came up with:
So we talked about it and came up with a compromise (for the 5 year old, I distracted our 2 year old with a snack). We learned from earlier trips that if she has her own camelback and can drink water as often as she wants, she will not only walk, but she will carry stuff. This is her finished pack:
5. Bring more snacks
Dude. See rule 3.
6. Be ready (physically and emotionally), to carry the little kids.
You may think they can do it, and maybe they can, but if they don’t you’ll want another option that is comfortable for everyone. I can’t wait to really hike next to my daughters, but right now I just want us to be outside together without frustrations on all sides, so I’ll carry them and be happy. If we plan to be out for more than an hour, this is our grown-up gear
2 sources of water
A wet bag with changes of clothes and wipes
First aid kit
A compass (really this is just fun for the kids to play with, maybe someday we can discuss orienteering, and we will be ready for that day)
A comfort item
Bribes (lollypops always do the trick for our girls)
7. Go, do it for a little, and then do it again next week.
Making it just a normal little thing you do together helps kids feel comfortable in nature. It will just become one of this things they have always done, and it will be no big deal the next time you suggest it to them.
If you have any other tips or stories we’d love to hear them! Hope to see you on the trail!