Over the summer, my husband and I decided to start hiking again. It’s an activity we did all the time before we had kids, and something we stopped once we had Jack, our first son. I’m not really sure why we stopped. I think that after you have your first baby, you just try to keep your head above water. For my husband and I, that meant loosing a little bit of who we were as individuals in order to take care of our children. I would recommend that if you can remember to keep the little things that make you happy in your life after you have your first baby, you do that. We have slowly over the last couple years started taking more time for ourselves and incorporating our children into our previous activities. It’s not always easy as sometimes you have to train your children, which can be a challenge. But. I promise it is worth it in the end when you get to share a passion you have with your family.
For Jarrett and I, it has been a wonderful experience sharing this passion with our kids. Hiking isn’t always easy with three young children, but there are a couple things you will want to think about if you want to start hiking with young children.
It’s easy to want to go back to your favorite trails with your kids, but make sure you think about things like length of the trail, the elevation, width of the trail, trail conditions, your child’s ability and yours. Because I have three children, Jarrett and I use backpack carriers for the girls who are one and we let Jack walk. (He’s three). With Jack walking, we can do about 8 km, which is about a 2 hour hike in the mountains (going Jack speed). Sometimes I have to carry him up hills, but today we did a 7 km hike, and I only carried him twice up hills, and there were lots! So he probably ended up walking about 6.75 km of the 7 km we hiked. I’m pretty proud of him!
Choosing A Trail
As I mentioned, when you go to choose a trail, you need to think of things like the length of the trail, the elevation, width of the trail, trail conditions, your child’s ability and yours. There are lots of resources on the internet that can allow you to look at trails before you walk them to make sure they are appropriate for your children.
If you have really young children, and you haven’t done long walks with them before, will probably want to start off with a hike under 10 km. I found that when I started going on long walks with my kids in the carriers, it took them a couple trips before they were comfortable in them. My girls now know that when they are in the carriers, it’s going to be a while until they get out.
Take a look at elevation on your hikes. It may be a 6 km hike, but it could be straight up. Your child may not be able to do that kind of hike. Even if you are walking with kids on your back, it’s extra weight you are carrying so just make sure you are comfortable with steep inclines before you get started.
You also want to make sure that the trails you are picking are safe. Many paths have thin little ledges between a wall and a drop. Please be extremely careful if you take your young children on these paths. Kids don’t have the best balance, and you don’t want to risk loosing a child off the edge.
Finally, make sure you take a look at the weather before you go. If it’s in the winter, chances are there is going to be snow and ice on your hike if you are in colder climates. You probably don’t want to do hikes with your young children when there are ice on the trails. That is just asking for injuries.
So, be smart when looking at trails to go hiking on with your children. You know your family better than anyone. If you walk lots with your kids, you can probably do longer hikes with a bit of elevation. If you don’t, try some nice, short, flat ones to start.
What to Take
There is always the question of what to pack on hikes. You don’t want to pack your whole house, but you still need to be prepared, especially with children.
First, lets start with safety. In Alberta, where we have lots of bears, we always pack bear spray. Chances are, you won’t see a bear. But, if you do, at least you have something to protect yourself and your children. You can also get bear bells which is a noise deterrent for the bears. Don’t walk alone and make sure your children don’t run ahead of you on the trail in case there is a bear up ahead that you didn’t see. If you see a bear, back away slowly. Don’t run away. Check out this website for everything you need to know about avoiding bear encounters. I recommend googling the safety ideas for your area to see if there are other items that would help you protect yourself in your area against animals that frequent your area.
Dress for the weather. Layer. It’s easy to take off clothing, but if you don’t have clothing to put on when you’re cold, you’re hooped. As I’m writing about Canadian weather in the mountains, make sure you always have a hat and mitts in your bag, just because when you get into the higher elevations, it can get cold, even during the summer. Kids and babies need an extra layer that you would’t need, so make sure you remember that when dressing them. Especially if they are just hanging out in a backpack.
For babies and young kids, bring a backpack carrier. You can carry them in the front or the back, whichever they prefer. Make sure that if you have a baby, you follow the guidelines for front and back carrying so that you don’t end up hurting them by spreading their legs too far apart. I know that it is faster to just carry your kids, but if they are walking and over 2, try to get them to walk as far as they can before putting them up in a carrier. It’s great exercise and it’s a good idea to try to build up their stamina for walking and hiking, especially if you want to go on more hikes. You don’t want to carry your kids forever!
Pack food. I always find that Jack gets cranky halfway through the hike. Once I feed him, he’s good for the rest of the hike. Things like fruit squishies, protein bars, granola, and granola bars are great to pack as they are filling, light, and can get squished. Also, bring lots of water. You really don’t want to run out of water half way through your hike. It’s going to make the bag heavier, but it’s better than a dehydrated child. Maybe think about packing some electrolite crystals that can give you a little bit of an extra boost when you get really tired. If you have babies, you can also pack milk for them (or breastfeed on the trail if you want).
On the Hike
Don’t be in a rush when hiking with young children. Take your time, enjoy the outdoors. You can engage your kids by getting them to look for flowers, different trees, running water, bridges, mushrooms (don’t eat them unless you are 1000% sure you know what the mushroom is). Jarrett and I set up our carriers so that he has a baby on his chest and a backpack on his back, while I have a baby on my back and the ability to carry Jack at the front if he gets tired. It works really well for us. If you are really into backpaing, you can get backpacks that have space to carry stuff, plus a place for a baby. It’s a pretty big bag, but then you don’t need to have front and back carrying happening.
Take lots of little breaks and stay hydrated. You packed all this water, now drink it! It’s important to keep your kids hydrated. Find a nice place to stop if you are on a longer hike and have a bit of a picnic. You can also pull out your granola bars and eat them on the trail. Make sure you keep your garbage or throw it in a garbage can! You don’t want to damage the beautiful surroundings with litter. Also, be wary of bears with food. If you leave it out somewhere, it might attract them to that spot. Just be careful and respectful of the area you are in.
Finally, have fun! Enjoy nature! Look at the views. I’m sure you’ll all have a great time. Did I mention it’s also a great workout for the entire family? No need to go to the gym on hike days 🙂