How to Take Young Kids Hiking

The wind howled in our faces as the snow, horizontal now, began to fall. ‘I’m tired, Daddy. You carry me’, a small voice said from somewhere down to my left. ‘No’, I said. ‘I can see the car and we’re going to finish together’.

At two and a half, this was my son’s first experience of hiking. A short route through some woods up to a high point and back. It was a mid January morning. He slept most of the rest of that day.

Hiking, hill walking and Munro-bagging (a Scottish mountaineering hobby) has long been a passion of mine and one I inherited from my own father.

As a toddler, I walked some impressive climbs, taking my love of mountains and the outdoors into adulthood and eventually a career.

So it’s been a priority for me to want my kids to have the same experiences and to grow to love the sense of discipline and achievement in conquering the seemingly unconquerable.

These triumphs translate so much into later life that its a lesson I would never deny them.

When Should your Toddler Start Hiking?

This will depend on your own skill level and knowledge of the outdoors. I would say you should consider the following before venturing out:

  • Can your toddler walk for an hour (about two miles)?
  • Do you have the confidence to lead a hike with young children in tow?
  • Does your toddler repeatedly ask to be carried if you go on short walks?

If the answer is: Yes, Yes, No, then your toddler is probably ready. If not, go on shorter walks with them to build up stamina before tackling something more challenging.

Packing is The First Part of Your Journey

If a lack of preparation leads to poor parental performance then packing is going to be a foundation of a successful trip. You don’t need loads of kit as you’ll be doing short trips of one to two hours to begin with.

My packing list would look like this:

  • Emergency bivvy shelter
  • First aid kid including tick remover
  • Map, compass and handheld GPS unit
  • A small comfortable day sack with waterproof liner
  • Snacks and water/juice — I like camping/army ration cakes as they keep for years in your bag

I also take a lightweight walking pole. If you’re taking younger children who can’t walk long distances, you’ll need some kind of carrying system such as the JACS or LittleLife Cross Country (I own both of these).

Lightweight clothing and water proofs for everyone are a must, particularly if you live in North West Europe.

Plan the Route and Recce to Make Sure its Suitable for Toddler Hiking

There’s nothing worse than driving for 45 minutes only to find that the hike you’ve chosen is way too difficult for young children.

To avoid this, buy a book of local, easy walks online or from Tourist Information. You can also get good recommendations from your Dad network.

I travel a lot with work so I’m always on the look out for accessible walks to do with the family. I’ll try to recce the route before taking any toddlers near it.

Remember to take weather conditions into account. One walk I recently attempted turned out to be more challenging than I had imagined.

Due to wet weather the paths were saturated and impassible in places. There’s no shame in cancelling your plans and going to the swimming pool instead. The hills will still be there next week.

Be Prepared to Change Plans at Short Notice

You’re a Dad so you are often prepared for the unexpected. If you’re reading this site (and you’ve read this far) you’re also a Dad who relishes challenge and expects to be surprised.

When you take young children and toddlers hiking, you need to be prepared to change plans and quickly.

Recently I’d planned to walk with my son up to a hill fort. However the weather was challenging and my son tiring quickly. I took the decision to cut the hike short and save the summit for another day.

In mountaineering, that’s the smart thing to do. Many a climber has got into difficulty pushing through fatigue and bad weather when they could have thrown the towel in and left the climb for later.

I’ve done a bit of solo hiking and remember one time I ran out of water and started to run out of daylight. Even through I was only a few hundred metres from the summit, I called it off. I’ll be back to that peak one day though…

Prepare to Have a Lot of Fun and Teach some Life Lessons

I’m a firm believer that my children are never to young to be taught perseverance, resilience and discipline. Life lessons can be taught through experience and having limits pushed (within reason).

That’s why I didn’t carry my son on that last leg of our walk in the snow. I knew he could make it with a little encouragement. And I knew that he would feel a sense of achievement when he did.

Teaching the value of being healthy, fit and active from an early age is an important life lesson. Your kids are much more likely to pick up your good habits if you introduce them at an early age.

Hopefully one day, my children will follow on with my love of the outdoors and the wilds of the Scottish hills. If not, I pray they will remember with fondness the times we shared on cold hillsides and in pop-up shelters.

If you liked this, you’re going to love my new book which is out soon.

Originally published at thisdaddoes.com.

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