6 Tips for Hiking with Kids

I’m honored to be able to share a guest post by Maura Marko, travel blogger extraordinaire. Her baby is more experienced in the world of outdoor recreation than most adults, so I’m thrilled that she took them time to share these tips for hiking with kids. Thank you to Maura for your contribution!

hiking with kids

My husband, Bobby, and I have been exploring the great outdoors together since we met while working at Tomahawk Scout Reservation in Northern Wisconsin in 2007. We were married 2 years later and welcomed our son, Jack, in July of 2014. Outdoor recreation has always been at the center of our lives. Together we have enjoyed backpacking, rock climbing, horseback riding, snowshoeing, snowboarding, camping, and hiking trips as a couple and as a family. Learn more about some of our adventures by visiting our blog, We Found Adventure.

We are often asked for advice on hiking with babies and kids. People are usually shocked to hear of the adventures we have taken our 13 month old son on. Other hikers on the trail constantly remark on our tiniest hiker saying, “He’s so little!” “I can’t believe you bring him with!” “Wow, you’re brave.” We just chuckle, smile, and make chit chat when we receive such comments, but really we are thinking that of course we are going to bring our son with us on the trail. Why would we stop hiking after having a baby? For us, we always knew that having a baby would change the way we approach and execute our hikes but it wouldn’t stop us from hiking.

We took our son on his first hike in the Cascade mountains when he was two weeks old. He’s been hooked ever since! His carrier is his happy place, if he is having a bad day we know the cure, take him outside. Stepping outside calms him, it has since he was an infant. Hiking as a family has brought us so much joy and happiness and we want to encourage as many families as we can to get outside with their kids.
Hiking can be defined in many different ways. You need to set your own definition, one that works for the whole family. A “hike” may be a stroll around the block with an infant, or a weekend backpacking trip with your teenager. Define it and then do it!

Here are just a few pieces of advice for people who are interested, but maybe a little intimidated at the idea of hiking with infants/toddlers/kids.

hiking with kids

1. Keep Your Expectations Real and Attainable – You Really Can Do This!

This past weekend my husband and I were at REI shopping for more outdoor gear (because you can never have too much, right?) and overheard a couple saying loudly that they thought it was ridiculous that people thought they would still be able to do everything they did before a baby entered in their lives. They laughed and scoffed at such a ridiculous concept. Do we do everything we did before having a baby? No! Of course not. Does that mean we feel our lives are somehow less exciting or adventurous? No! It means our expectations, goals, and dreams have changed, have evolved. We talked of the incident later that night and I think Bobby said it best. He agreed that our hikes may not be as long or as epic as they were pre-baby BUT, they are deeply more meaningful to us.

I think of the walk we take as a family every morning around our neighborhood and tears sometimes well in my eyes. I think of the precious moments we have had on these strolls. I think of the first morning we ever let Jack walk with us. He took unsure, unsteady, and stumbling steps but was so excited! He found a stick and held it aloft like a sword, he was so proud of his great discovery. We walked hand-in-hand as a family. Passersby smiled, remarked at what an adorable quartet we made, parents, baby, and golden retriever. That first morning Jack walked almost 1/4 of a mile before finally sitting down and calmly went back into his backpack. This had exceeded our expectations, which had been set at a very short section of trail we were hoping he would complete on his own. We were so proud of our son for having completed such a feat.

Whenever we set off on a hike, whether through our neighborhood, or through the remote wilds of a National Forest we think the same thing. We know that the day may or may not be successful. We know that Jack may have other, and different, ideas of how our day is to go. We know that we need to be in the moment. Enjoy what time we have outdoors before the meltdown comes, before bad weather rolls in, before the trail becomes too dangerous for us to feel comfortable walking on with our precious cargo. We know that no matter how long or how short our day may be, we will be happy with the end result. We know that worrying about getting in all the miles, reaching the end, or breaking a speed record is silly. We just want to enjoy the journey that day is offering us. So, when I say that it’s important to have realistic expectations I guess what I’m really saying is that having no expectations may be what works best.

hiking with kids

2. Come Prepared

Being prepared is important when venturing off on a hike with kids. Here’s a short list of what’s in my backpack/diaper bag.

  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Lunch
  • More Snacks
  • Rain Gear
  • Umbrella
  • Extra Socks
  • Warm Layers
  • Sunscreen
  • Billed Hats
  • Did I mention Snacks?
  • Diapers
  • Wipes
  • Diaper Rash Ointment
  • Changing Pad
  • Change of Clothes for Baby
  • Bug Repellent
  • Bandaids

If hiking in a more remote setting I add these things to my pack:

  • Headlamp
  • Water Filter
  • Knife
  • Lighter
  • First Aid Kit
  • Compass
  • Map
  • Emergency Blankets

Something I almost never pack on a hike is toys. There is one exception to this rule: a lovey. If your child has a lovey, I would definitely bring that with. But, there really isn’t any need for toys. Sticks, rocks, pinecones, dead leaves, and other natural toys should be enough to capture your child’s attention.

Remember that water is really important for every member of your hiking crew. Even littles in carriers still need water on a regular basis. Talk about how you are thirsty and encourage the kids on the trail to drink when you do. If a nursing or pregnant mother is on the trail she should be drinking more water then anybody. Staying hydrated may be one of the most important pieces to having a successful day on the trail.

Did I mention snacks? Seriously, snacks are important for everybody. Nobody likes a hungry and fussy child, let alone parent, let alone all at the same time! Bring enough snacks for everybody to ensure that empty tummys aren’t the source of your trail woes. It can also be a good idea to bring along an “extra special treat” to enjoy when you reach your high point, turnaround point, or final destination of the day. An added incentive of a delicious delicacy at the end may help to encourage forward momentum in your tiny-legged trail companions.

Keeping warm and dry is another key component to the happiness and moral of a hiking crew. Layering is important on the trail for all hikers. Some rain shells can also be great windbreakers so look for one that can be used for both situations. We used an umbrella to keep our son dry on rainy trail days when he was an infant in a front carrier and it worked wonders! We never leave home without one. It also came in very handy on sunny days before we could use sunscreen on him.

hiking with kids

Wet feet are another thing that can really ruin a day out on the trail. Do you have a puddle jumper in your midst? Consider bringing a couple extra pairs of socks in that case! While jumping in puddles is super fun it often leads to wet socks which generally lead to wet feet and blisters. Changing socks mid-hike will help make your day on the trail last a little longer.

When Jack was an infant I brought, on average, 3 outfits for him on hikes. At that age I also packed extra shirts for both Bobby and myself for those excessively, and often occurring, well aimed diaper fiascos! Nobody will have fun when ones ensemble has been soiled… Need I say more? Nowadays I just pack one extra outfit just in case because, why risk it?

hiking with kids

3. Be Okay with Turning Around Early

I once met a family that had attempted their first hike as a family of four and listened as they told me how awful the hike had been because they hadn’t completed the whole 8 miles. They were so obsessed and fixated on their end destination that they forgot that the journey itself is often where most of the fun is had! I learned this lesson while hiking pregnant. There were numerous hikes that I wasn’t able to complete, though I desperately wanted to. I was limited by my physical condition and wanting to keep baby and myself safe and healthy. This prepared me well for hiking with a baby and kids.

If the weather is too cold and kids can’t keep warm even though they have all their layers on. If the weather is too hot and there may be a danger for heat related illnesses. If somebody has a bad blister. If somebody has a stomach ache. I could go on and on and on about all the reasons that somebody may not be having a good time on the trail. It’s important to remember this very key rule: If one person in the group isn’t having fun, then nobody will. Just turn around and try again on another day. Never force it. We always try and end hikes on as positive a note as possible because we want our son to associate hiking with fun and laughter.

hiking with kids

4. Have Fun and Enjoy Each Outdoor Opportunity

Relax and take deep breaths of the fresh air you are out enjoying. Tell jokes, sing songs as you go along the trail or tell stories, encourage exploration of the natural world, create a scavenger hunt to encourage forward movement, and discover new favorite places together. Family time is so important and so precious. Taking a family hiking trip without electronics buzzing and distracting us is one of the healthiest things we can do. Focus on each other, help and encourage those that may be struggling on the hike but whose moods can be changed with some TLC and laughter. Keep it casual and fun. Don’t stress about what else needs to be done that day or that week. Just be in the moment with your family. Capture these moments and hold onto them tightly. Hiking definitely brings a family closer together.

hiking with kids

5. Adhere to Leave No Trace Principles

If you are unfamiliar with the Leave No Trace Principles please familiarize yourself and your family with them before hitting the trails. Consider attending an Awareness Workshop as a family to learn more. This is especially important with little kids who may not understand that picking wildflowers in a park isn’t appropriate. Kids also produce a lot of trash and, as adults on the trail with them, it’s part of our job to help them see what they’ve missed and help them to pick it up. Always do a trash sweep of an area you’ve stopped and taken a break at. Designate a “trash pocket” or bring along a trash bag to pick up litter you see along the trail. “Be that somebody” is a lesson my husband learned in Boy Scouts and we still hold each other accountable with today.

hiking with kids

6. Hike with Friends, Family, or Find a Local Group

If the idea of hiking really intimidates you but you want to give it a go in a group setting I definitely encourage you to check out local groups for help and advice. I run the Twin Cities Branch of Hike it Baby which is an amazing group of families who all like to get outside with their kids. We try to have at least one hike a week somewhere in the Twin Cities and surrounding areas. It’s a safe and fun place to learn and we always stick together as a group adhering to the strict rule, “Leave No Mama/Papa Behind!”

Hiking with friends who don’t have kids but are more then willing to help out is another great way to hit the trails. At first, hiking with other people made me nervous. I was worried people wouldn’t be okay with our slow, stop often pace. But, I soon learned that good friends on the trail can be a helpful asset that allowed me to enjoy even more of the day with extra hands helping out.

Hiking with other families is also a great way to get out. Often, having other kids in the group can help keep the group moving forward. If an older child spots something fun up ahead and races to explore, it will encourage younger ones to do the same. Playing games along the trail as a group (like “I spy” or “Going to Grandmas House”) are great ways to keep moral up, kids distracted, and legs continually working away on walking!

hiking with kids

I truly hope that these tips will help you to feel more comfortable and confident when hitting the trails as a family. Overall, I just want to encourage you to step outside as a family, breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy life together.

Thanks to our guest poster Maura!

Maura MarkoMaura Marko and her husband Bobby bring their baby Jack along on all of their recreational excursions. Whether they’re hiking, camping, backpacking or rock climbing, they somehow make it work for the entire family (it can be done)!

Maura and Bobby’s blog “We Found Adventure” is beautifully written and documented with gorgeous photography that will make you want to hit the trails ASAP. Be sure to follow Bobby and Maura’s travels on social media as well:

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  • Joe Black
    12/20/2016 at 11:22 pm

    Hi there! You have amazing post!