If you follow us on Instagram, you’ve probably realised we do A LOT of hiking with kids; our boys who are now 4 and 6 years old. We’re fortunate to live in the Peak District, so we have an abundance of fantastic hiking trails on our doorstep. Geared with an OS Map, good hiking boots, and a flask of hot chocolate and marshmallows, we love nothing more than a long walk together in the hills.
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I receive so many messages from frustrated parents wanting to go further on family hikes, so I thought it was about time I shared our top tips for hiking with young kids and preschoolers!
Now these tips aren’t just for a family hike in the countryside, these tips are also useful for city breaks where we always find there is a lot of walking.
Also with these family hiking tips, I’m sharing what has worked for our family. Every family is different and some of these just may not work for you. That’s ok, but I hope you can find here at least a couple of ideas for when you’re next out hiking with kids.
1. Ditch the buggy and carrier
Admittedly I miss those hiking with a baby days, when you can cover a lot of miles with a little one strapped to your back or in a buggy. Many parents do continue with a carrier when hiking with toddlers, but it means that they’re not actually walking and more than likely, that fresh air and rocking sends them to sleep.
Once our youngest turned 18 months, we stopped taking the carrier out on hikes and rarely took the buggy out around town unless absolutely necessary.
Yes, it was VERY slow going with them walking and it would take an age to cover a very short distance. But as there was no buggy or carrier in site, the temptation for using it was gone. It meant that they became used to hiking from a very young age.
This approach involved a bucket load of patience from us parents, that was thankfully rewarded by a looooooooooong afternoon nap afterwards.
2. Pack more snacks than you think you will need
Even now, it amazes me how much the boys eat when we’re hiking. Snacks always keep them going. Start with the healthy options, of course. But towards the end of the hike, sweets and chocolate work a treat. We sometimes get one parent to run ahead and hide the treat behind a rock. That certainly gets them moving 😉
Also make sure you take enough water. Although hot chocolate in a flask always goes down a treat in the colder months.
3. Get out early in the day
Kids are generally at their best in the morning, and the walk will always take you longer than you think it will. Even now we’re having to allow for detours to climb rocks and roll down hills.
Don’t rush the kids, but try to ensure they are at least walking in the right direction, otherwise you’ll never make it back to your car before night fall.
4. Good comfortable hiking boots
Wellies are fine for puddle jumping and a short stroll. But if you want your little ones to cover any serious distance, their feet need to be comfortable, well supported and dry. Wellies just won’t do. Imagine how uncomfortable you would feel walking any long distance in wellies?
waterproof mittens (these ones are great as they actually stay on!)
6. Hike regularly
The more your little ones go hiking, the more they’ll get used to it. We try to do some sort of hike every weekend. It doesn’t have to be a hike in the hills, even just a walk along a beach, woodland or around town will do.
7. Select an interesting walk
A flat, straight hike may be tempting if you’ve still got a little one in a buggy. But in all honesty, this type of walk is very dull for kids. The hike needs to encourage lots of play to make it fun!
Find walks that have hills to run down, trees or boulders to climb, animals to meet, and are broken up with styles to climb and gates to open. And of course allow time for these mini adventures along the way. 1 km could indeed take 1 hour 😉
8. Play games, sing songs, and engage with them
‘Going on a bear hunt’ (from the book by Michael Rosen) was always a popular song on our hikes when the boys were little. This can then be adapted for anything along the way. We recommend doing a verse about ‘poo’. That always lifts spirits!
We’re going on a bear hunt (We’re going on a bear hunt) We’re going to catch a big one (We’re going to catch a big one) We’re not scared (We’re not scared) What a beautiful day! (What a beautiful day)
Uh-oh Grass! Long wavy grass. We can’t go over it, we can’t do under it, Oh no! We’ve got to go through it! Swishy swashy! Swishy swashy! Swishy swashy!
A popular game is the ‘nature shopping list’. The kids are given a list of items that they need to find. This may be a feather, stone, stick, leaf, for example. With older kids, the list may be something like – something spikey, something yellow, something smooth. This is a great game to get them exploring their surroundings on a family hike, and these items can be collected for a craft project back at home.
Or perhaps get them to to take photos on a kids camera, to print out and make into a collage once home.
We also like to get them involved with the navigation. Show them on the map the objects you’re looking for on your hike if you’re using an OS Map. I often pretend that I can’t find the style or gate we need to find, and the boys run off giggling to wear it is, wondering how blind their Mum is!
Another idea is geocaching. This is an outdoor treasure-hunting game where participants (Geocachers) use a GPS receiver or other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers (called “geocaches” or “caches”). This is a good idea for kids ages 4+ and more information can be found on the geocaching.com website.
9. Hike with friends
With extra kids along for the hike, there are more pals to play with. This can be tricky when kids are at different stages with their physical ability. Try to meet up with families with kids of similar ages, otherwise parents with younger kids may be too tempted to shoulder carry their little one to keep up with everyone.
10. Accept that they’re still going to have major strops
With all good intentions on your part, kids are going to have their off days and they just refuse to walk. Try playing a game with them, or bring out the snacks. But if all this fails, abort the hike and try another day.
But don’t give up! I firmly believe that making hiking fun for kids and hiking regularly as a family are the key to long family hikes in the future 🙂
Were you an intrepid backpacker in your previous life? Exploring distant and exotic lands on a budget, getting off the beaten track and feeling like you were doing something different? Now that young kids are in the picture, travel priorities may have changed. But you don’t have to get sucked into the package holiday bubble. Adventure travel with young kids is possible! Jenny x