Dad we made it!” my 9 year-old son exclaimed as we crossed the apex of Donahue Pass on the southeastern border of Yosemite National Park.
Teaching a child how to enjoy the outdoors is one of the greatest gifts that can be given to them. The memories they make, the opportunities for exploration, and the healthy active lifestyle they achieve are only a few of the amazing benefits kids receive from hiking that will last a lifetime.
When I post my photos of where my family has been hiking with our kids, the number one comment I receive is, “I wish we could do that.”
What are you waiting for? A few simple steps can get your family moving down the trail. The biggest piece of advice I can give families hiking with kids is to make hiking fun, which can be accomplished using these simple hiking tips for kids.
Tip #1 – Set goals and give rewards often
While we all want our kids to be pushed and to excel, excellence will develop by instilling an internal motivation in your child. The quickest way to ruin that is to push them too hard, too fast. I am not saying you should turn around at the first sign of whining, but as parents we have to create an atmosphere of comfort and success when hiking with kids. Set goals and give rewards often. For example, pick a tree on the top of the hill or the next creek crossing, and reward them when you get there. Keep a stash of their favorite snack (my kids love mini Snickers) in your pack as a simple reward. As they become older and stronger, increase the challenge and reduce the reward. Eventually the accomplishment becomes the reward. Don’t forget to celebrate the small accomplishments along the way.
Tip #2 – Kit them out with quality hiking shoes
The shoes we wear affect our entire lower bodies. The number one thing that kids will complain about when hiking is their feet and legs hurting. When kids complain about discomforts on the trail, the vast majority of the time it is because of inadequate footwear. Make sure your kids are ready to hit the trail by providing them with quality kids hiking shoes. I have made this mistake and it is so easily preventable – and can be done without breaking the bank. Watch for seasonal sales at quality retailers and you can find some killer deals on kids’ footwear. Like adults however, the shoe has to fit. Don’t buy a shoe that’s too large just to get an extra season out of it. If you want to save some bucks, set up a hiking shoe exchange program with some friends or relatives. The bottom line is that, like adults, kids need quality footwear that fits – even if they outgrow it quickly.
Tip #3 – Get them to carry a backpack
As soon as you start hiking with kids, make sure they carry a pack of some sort, but do not overload it. Train them from an early age that when on the trail, they need to be carrying something. This responsible behavior will carry on into adulthood. Start by filling the pack with their water, a light jacket, and a granola bar. As they grow the pack becomes a part of them, and as they increase their mileage and difficulty, it is much easier to expand what they carry.
Hit the trail, start small, and keep pressing forward and you and your kids will have a blast hiking together.