We are huge nature lovers and we enjoy being outside during the weekends and on our vacations. Before we had kids, we used to go for longer and more challenging hikes here close to home and in national parks. We liked hiking because it gave us an opportunity on exercise while being in nature. And that was very easy here in California where we have a lot of mountains and hills. After having kids our hobby changed drastically, but we haven´t given up on it. In fact, we are always waiting for opportunity to go out hiking as a family.
Even though it is always about getting out and moving, our main focus on hiking now is more spending time together and enjoying nature. The trails have gotten shorter and easier for us, and we are especially happy every time that our kids learn or see something new. Oh, how much fun it is to run into a lizard or a chipmunk while hiking! At the same time one will learn a lot about plants, animals and being in nature. I think it is good that from a young age the kids will learn some survival skills so they will know for example, which plants they shouldn´t touch or which animals not to approach. And they will learn to respect nature and protect it.
CHOOSE THE BEST TRAIL FOR YOUR FAMILY
It is better to stay on trails that you can for sure manage when hiking with kids. If you get too adventurous and choose too difficult ones, you might have to turn back in the middle which is never fun. Though that has happened to us a few times, we try to make the best of the situation. One time we had to turn back inside a cave because it was getting too difficult to walk down with a little one. We changed the trail and tried to spot some condors instead, and we still had so much fun. The main thing is that you know you can make the trail before it gets dark and wont get lost, and that everyone has a good time!
I think that it is easier to hike with a smaller baby or bigger kid than a toddler. A baby will go wherever mommy or daddy will, since he or she will be in a carrier, and bigger kids can already walk longer distances. However, a toddler who just learned how to walk, wants to do it by herself, but is slow and gets tired quickly. Luckily our little girl still fits into a baby backpack and likes to be there. We usually start walking with her in it, and then after our snack break she gets to walk a little. When she gets tired, she will be in the backpack again. For a bigger child you can always bring some entertainment with you. For example, a note book to write notes about things she has seen, or binoculars. National Park here in the USA often hand out Junior Ranger booklets, which kids can fill out while on their visit.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
The timing can definitely affect how your hiking trip will go. Here in California, it is often hot later in the day, so we prefer early morning for hiking. Otherwise, afternoons can be good after the kids wake up from a nap and have all that new energy. A baby backpack is great, since it is easy to nap in it while hiking. Many babies fall asleep easily from the gentle rocking that comes from walking.
Evenings are not always working so well, since everyone is already kind of tired and it’s hard to get kids to get excited about things. Although, we have sometimes done some hikes to see the sunset. At those times we might have pyjamas in the car which will be put on before the drive home. In that way, when we get home, we can just lift them straight to bed.
INVEST IN THE GEAR
Hiking is one hobby that we have been happy to invest in. There are especially two things that can make hiking with kids a lot easier; good shoes and good carriers or bags. Sometimes, I see families where the parents have trendy and expensive gear, but their kids are walking in the forest with sandals. It is important to make sure that the kids are comfortable walking also. Our kids walk in sneakers, but once they are big enough to walk longer trails, we get them actual hiking shoes. They are not only great for walking a long time, but they also protect your ankles.
Investing in a good baby carrier or backpack will eventually pay itself back in how practical they are. And you don’t have to spend all you’ve got; there is plenty of good second hand gear for sale. With a smaller baby we used a baby carrier but when the baby learns to sit, the backpack is even better. It is easier to carry, more sturdy and good to sit on since the seats are usually adjustable. Most of them come with a sun shade, and you can carry diapers and other baby stuff in the backpack’s pockets. Our backpack also has a removable pillow where the baby can lean on if they fall asleep. At first, I was bothered that I wasn’t able to see my child on my back, but my friend gave me the tip of bringing along a little mirror. Some backpacks actually come with a mirror that is attached to one of the pockets. The same goes also with other backpacks and bags. The more comfortable they are to carry, the better hiking experience you will have.
Here is our packing list for a shorter hike: shoes, sunhat, sunscreen, sunglasses, baby carrier or backpack (with sunshade, pillow and mirror), diapers and wipes, changing pad, a bag for trash and dirty diapers, snack and hand sanitizer, lots of water, phone and quite often also a camera.
Also depending on the trail we might also need a map, flashlight or headlamp, mosquito repellant, etc.
When it comes to clothes, I always favour layers when going out with kids. Then it is easy to take extra layers off if it gets hot or add some if it gets chilly. Sometimes the mornings can be cold and I will use long pants but even then I might pack my shorts to my backpack.
Hiking with kids can be so much fun and enjoyable! You can start with a shorter trail and when you see how it goes, move on to a little more challenging area. The most important thing is to enjoy the outdoors and the family time!