Updated: Aug 29, 2019
We have been hiking with our children from the very first week that my first bundle of joy came into this world. We used to live in Bergen, Norway, surrounded by mountains that were criss crossed with hiking trails, and since then going hiking has been a huge part of our lifestyle (read our story on the origins of Outdoorhobbits).
Begin with small steps
It is important to be aware of your child's capability to hike. If they have never done a hike, then don't expect them to power through steep mountain terrain. Instead, train them by taking them for short walks. As they develop their fitness you can progressively increase the "walk-ometer"and go for longer and longer hikes. At six years of age, our youngest daughter can walk for about four km without help. It is an amazing achievement from her part but it took her many, many, many walks to get to that fitness and mental level. Before, we used a carrier, so that she would walk some parts of the trail and be carried through others. At eight years of age our oldest daughter can hike steep hills (see or trip to Mt. Marlow), but again she is used to going for hikes since a young age.
Yes, you must. Some don't like planning ahead (and I'm not a great fan), but it comes in handy when hiking with children, as planning ahead will save you a lot of trouble and avoid possible dramas. Plan for example what to bring, food, plenty of water, first aid kit, sunscreen and insect repellent. Also I recommend to check the weather forecast for that day. I usually don't do it because we live in the dry tropics, but on several occasions we have been hiking and had the heavens open up and we all got wet (including the cameras).
Make a ready-to-go list
Following the advice about planning, prepare a list of the items you would need and go through it before you go. Because I am a very forgetful person, I have a ready-to-go list of things I need to bring for our hikes. Before leaving I check my list.
Have a ready-to-go backpack.
Same idea as above. I found it practical to have a backpack for hiking trips with the essential things with need. Put inside your ready-to-go list. Our backpack contains things such as a first aid kit, a small instant dry towel, some extra clothing, plastic bags, a compass and insect repellent. We then just add the other trip specific items, i.e. goggles will let you look at the creatures under the surface in that remote tropical stream.
Have suitable hiking clothing, and use hat to wear on hikes only. We have pants and shirts we use for hiking only, and in general these items are not the newest pieces of clothing but will help protect you against the sun, bugs, and any changes in the weather.
Get a good quality carrier
This tip goes for parents with young children. Find out about carrier brand and purchase one that is best for you (and your back). We tried different brands when our older daughter was young, and after a while, we preferred the Manduca carrier. Remember that having a child on your back can hurt you with an ill fitting carrier, so do some research and ask friends before you buy. In fact, if you have friends with carriers, ask them if you could borrow it for a day. Our Manduca has lasted for nine years and it is still functioning.
Lower your expectations
This an advice to myself because I always expect more out of my kids than what they can do. Remember always that their legs are shorter than yours, so expect them to walk slowly. Don't plan a huge hike just for the sake of it, know your childs fitness. Expect things to go wrong as well and if you don't make it to the top, it doesn't matter.
And...Expect tears and complaints
This tip goes hand in hand with the previous one. Expect them to complain a lot, especially if they are not used to go on long walks. If they start complaining or crying, let them rest and try to find something fun to do, get silly, play a game or sing a song. For example, what works for Alessa is to play the game tell me a story.
Be an explorer, an illustrator or a collector...
Role play games during walks are best. My kids love feeling like they are explorers. Our oldest daughter likes taking a explorer kit with her in a small backpack she carries around. She takes a set of binoculars, or a magnifying glass, or a small book about gems and stones.
Essential items to take
Take what you need, not what you think you could perhaps need. First things first, with young children you’re the ones who will be carrying pretty much everything apart from the stuffed toy, but you will be carrying the stuffed toy also after a while. So don’t fill your backpack with unnecessary food or items you don’t need, as it will make your trip less enjoyable and you want to have some fun too. For example, I usually pack lunch, a few crackers or muesli bars. Hard fruit such as apples (not banana they get smashed). I wish I could take chocolate but it is useless in the tropics. If I know we are coming back before lunch, then I leave our lunch in the car in an esky. On the other hand I always take some food with us on a walk, and plenty of water. Things don't always work out and you might be walking for longer than you think.
Please always remember to take your trash with you if bins are not provided, and to tread lightly on the environment.
In your backpack
Snacks (highly essential)
First Aid kit.
Water (more than you think you will need)
Phone (for emergencies, not for a little extra screen time)
What to wear
Long pants (preferred)
Long sleeved shirt (preferred)
A tie (just kidding)
And when you get to your destination, celebrate with hugs and lollies :)
Thanks for reading,
edited by: Sam Penlase
Photos: Sam Penglase and Sofia Fortunato.