WHERE TO START
"You don't always need a plan. Sometimes you just need to breathe, trust, let go, and see what happens." -Mandy Hale
Hiking is a loose term and as outdoor sports go, by nature, it’s beginner friendly. Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and others understood that essentially you get yourself outside and walk around in it.
A simple concept for certain free-wheelin’ gentlemen, but I’m willing to bet that if Father Thoreau had to pack up his brood for a romp around Walden Pond, the prospect of a day outdoors would have seemed wayyyy more daunting.
The same rings true for those of us with more conventional moorings. Kids can complicate the most basic things. When was the last time you took a real shower?
What Age is Best?
There’s no magic age or time -
Whether it’s life or hiking, every age will present different difficulties or challenges. The only way to make it easier is through repetition. Sometimes the hardest part is psyching up to leave the house!
Babies can be relatively easy to hike with. All you need is a wrap or carrier to cuddle your precious cargo and you’re off. “But you forgot about feeding! And diaper changes!” Believe me, I’ll never forget the logistical nightmares of infancy, but I’d rather be stuck nursing in the woods than inside a public toilet any day! This is where having a solid game plan or schedule can be most helpful. Trust your parental instincts, you've got this! Sure shit hits the fan, (blowouts, oh my!) hit up the Gear page for helpful tools (diaper extenders for the win!). Just know that every hike will make you more confident and you’ll start to whittle down what you need and what you can leave in the car. With that being said, irritability and fussiness can make us all wanna cry, so don’t be afraid to turn around and head home! There’s no shame in throwing in the proverbial burp cloth on a bad day. Check out HikeItBaby for more terrific insight on getting outdoors with your infants.
What's the most feared animal in the wilderness? Sure lions, and tigers & bears oh my! But have they met a toddler?
Throw all those idyllic hiking dreams in the garbage can and stuff your pack full of snacks. Let’s go! These tots can now walk on their own, yay! But before you let your back sigh in relief, remember: those little legs tire easily and are hard to coax onward when energy burns out. We are in the throes of toddlerhood with V (she’s 2.5) and it’s been the most challenging element of our hikes. They can have VERY strong opinions about how they dress, where they walk, and what they feel like doing. Meltdowns WILL happen. It’s just the nature of the beast. It WILL get easier. Remember that garbage can with all your hopes and dreams? Leave it at home. Try to head out on the trail with little to no expectations of a “perfect hike.” If not, you will set yourselves up to fail, and regret it as soon as the whining starts (and it will start). It ain’t easy. We work on this every hike! Don’t be too hard on yourself when you lose your patience. Don’t be too hard on them when they plop down on the trail and refuse to go another step. Just grab a snack and bribe them to the next bend. Toddler or not, if you can check your expectations at the door, you will have an infinitely better hiking experience. Take a look at our blog post A Tale of Inconvenience for more about this.
After age 4, you’ve got the best adventure buddy you could imagine. Your curious kid will be thrilled to run, climb, and explore. Try to keep up!
Note: Teenagers may be creatures similar to the aforementioned Toddler. I haven’t experienced one in the wild yet, but imagine it similar to a sulky, silent panther (i.e. terrifying).
The 3 F’s: Footwear, Food, and First-Aid
In regards to gear and supplies, affordability and accessibility is of top priority. Many family excursions wind up being costly (the gift shop trap!) Getting your family outside at little to no-cost is one of the best things about nature! We try to keep things real simple by focusing on The 3 F’s: Footwear, Food, and First-Aid.
DO NOT feel pressured to drop a fortune on fancy hiking shoes! Kids grow out of clothing SO quickly and comfortable sneaks will be just fine for most of your hiking needs.
We do try (emphasis on the try), to dress for the type of hike we’re heading out on. If we know there’s going to be a water feature our kids can’t wait to dunk their feet into, we throw some dry shoes in the car. One time, I was REALLY good and even remembered to pack their water shoes (heyy supermom)! Both M & V flat out refused to wear them and insisted on going barefoot...sooo avoid needless stress and overpreparation ‘cause those kids’ll keep ya humble.
Remember back to ONE sentence ago when I said don’t over prepare? HA. HA. Well. When it comes to food be rigged and ready. At home my kids ask me for a snack approximately every 10 minutes. On a hike, divide that time in half... It’s all good though, they’re out there burning energy so stop frequently for water and food. It’s also a great incentive to make it to the next bench or bridge or any other place you choose to pause and take a breather. Hand fruit is great (and compostable), as well as trail mix, bars, crackers, etc. We try to save chocolate or “treats” when things get real apocalyptic out there or at the end for a celebratory ride home. Do what works for you & your family, you know them best. Bottom line: BRING FOOD.
Channel your inner Boy Scout and “be prepared.” Scrapes and skinned knees are inevitable, so keep a basic first aid kit in your trail pack Part of our pre-hike routine is an application of sunscreen & bug spray before we hit the car. We keep a separate set in our pack for easy reapplication. Take precautions against ticks by wearing light colored clothing (long socks!) and checking each other intermittently. Do a more thorough check before getting in the car to go home. We always shower and wash our hiking clothes upon our return. Ticks are a dangerous nuisance and the fear of them keep many of us from enjoying the outdoors. Take a moment and read our post Ticked Off for the latest in prevention and the tips we’ve personally found most effective.
It’s just as important to have a trail map of your destination on hand. Some trails have maps at the head of the trail, but others do not, so be prepared! Find the map online but do not rely on cell service in the woods. Be sure to have it downloaded and accessible (think airplane mode!) before you go. Better yet, go old fashioned and print out a map. It’s also a good idea to let someone know where you are going. Shoot your Mom a text, call a friend, or update your Facebook status. Practice common sense and safe hiking techniques.
Where To Go?
2019 was the year Dan & I made a pact to get our family outside more. Sure, sometimes life gets too life-y and we don’t make it out, but we stuck with it and the adventures have started to pile up. Those brief escapes have become something we ALL look forward to, something exciting to select and plan as a team.
When your kids are young, choosing the right hike can be the tipping point between failure and a win. Difficult terrain, lengthy trails and a lack of kid-friendly highlights are great ways to assure your family never wants to hike again. This is where we can help set your family up for success. We’ve reviewed some of our favorite family adventures with you in mind. We rate the trail difficulty (most are easy!), how long it took (breaks included) and directions to the trail. We dish the dirt on the what we dug about it and what we could have done without & drop a list of our Must Know Before You Go’s.
We hope you’ll feel more confident choosing a family adventure after checking out our perspective and it inspires you to create your own family hike bucket list. We hope you’ll share some of your own adventures with us!
We know how hard it is to start, hell - how hard it is to get out that door. But trust us when we say it’s all downhill from here. It’s well worth it and I’ll say it again: it gets easier. And if we can do it, anyone can.