15 Tips for Hiking with Kids
Taking your kids out on hikes is a great way to keep them fit and active, and spend quality time with them. Being outside in the fresh air, exploring new places together – it sounds idyllic, right? If you are wondering how to make walking with kids fun rather than a whingefest, here are some top tips for hiking with kids.
We’ve been taking Hols on walks ever since she could walk. We gradually built up the distance and difficulty and now at the age of 9 she’s managed each of the Yorkshire 3 Peaks and some of the mountains in the Lake District, including Coniston Old Man. We go out in all weathers and can be out all day, and she really enjoys being outside, happily tackling 15km walks. Here are my 15 top tips for hiking with kids.
Start Them Hiking Early
If you get kids used to the idea of walking as early as you can, it becomes normal. We were doing loops such as the Room on the Broom Trail in Wakefield when Hols was 3ish and have taken her on walks whenever we can. We try and head out most weekends now and it has become part of our weekly routine.
Start with Short Routes
To start out with, pick short, easy routes. In the Peak District there are a few family friendly walks around reservoirs such as Torside Reservoir, Errwood Reservoir, Woodhead Reservoir, Dove Stone Reservoir and Langsett Reservoir (as well as Digley, Ramsden Reservoir and Wessenden Reservoir for a bit longer of a walk). Reservoir walks tend to be pretty flat and easy going, going through beautiful countryside. If the circular around the reservoir is too far to begin with, just do a there-and-back walk -start out at 20 or 30 minutes and build up. For short walks with views, why not try Mam Tor from Mam Nick Car Park, or Higger Tor? You can park really close and be at the summit of these in 10-15 minutes.
Plan Walks Around Their Routine
No-one wants to be trying to go on a walk with a child who needs a nap. It’s really not fun. Try and time your walks around your child’s routine, taking into account meal times and nap times (if they still nap). Get out early in the morning so you’re back for meal times.
Get The Right Hiking Kit for Kids
Make sure you get the correct walking gear. I know, it seems a bit daft to spend a fortune on walking gear for kids who a) might not like walking or b) grow out of it in a few weeks, but if your child is dry and comfortable it’s one less thing for them to complain about! Walking long distances in wellies isn’t great for kids feet, especially on a cold day, and trainers aren’t good if they get wet! You can find offers on kids hiking boots in the sales at hiking shops such as Blacks or Cotswold Outdoors, or buy second hand ones from Ebay or Facebook Marketplace. Kids hiking clothes don’t need to be expensive either – brands such as Peter Storm and Regatta are really good and excellent value for money.
You don’t need much hiking kit for kids to begin with – I’d suggest starting with some waterproof walking boots, a waterproof coat and some comfortable leggings or walking trousers. You’ll probably already have hats, gloves, warm coats etc. Holly has a waterproof parka from Craghoppers and a thin waterproof coat from Peter Storm which is great for popping as a waterproof layer and folds up really small to go in a rucksack. Her hiking boots are The North Face Chilkat ones but they keep her feet warm, dry and supported over the rocky ground. She usually wears running or hiking leggings as they allow her freedom to clamber on rocks or run about. She wears a fleece sometimes, but usually just wears hoodies, tops, hats etc that aren’t special hiking ones. We bought a Vango walking pole for her, which she LOVES. It comes on all our walks.
Take Plenty of Snacks
If we go out for a day hike I pack plenty of snacks, more snacks than I think I’ll need! Our favourites are energy bars such as Hobnobs, or Mini Cheddars, but I’ve taken homemade granola bars before – it just depends if I have time to make them or not. I have a Pinterest board full of hiking snack ideas which you may find useful. One hiking essential though is Haribo – we always take a bag of Tangfastics to keep us going up the mountains! We always take a drink, and on a cold day we take a flask of hot chocolate for Hols – I hate the stuff!
Explore at Their Pace
I’ll freely admit I’m a bit competitive. If I see someone running ahead, I’ll run faster to try and overtake them. I always got my running PBs when running in a race or with other people! I’ve had to park my competitiveness when it comes to walking with kids though. If you go at their pace it allows them to feel in control a bit and stops them getting tired too quickly. We always let Hols set the pace for our walks and slow down if she needs to.
Take Plenty of Rest Stops
If you are out on a long walk with kids, or climbing steep hills (such as Grindslow Knoll or Cat Bells) let them take plenty of rest stops. This also means you get to stop and enjoy the view on the way up! We usually try and incorporate a pub or cafe stop at the end of our big walks as a little treat.
Carry Their Stuff for Them
Hiking with kids can mean you take a lot of stuff with you but if you are wanting to get them out hiking longer distances or up higher peaks, take some of the strain off and put their things in your rucksack. Mr R and I both take a rucksack and spread the load between us. As Hols gets older I’ll get her a rucksack but for now it’s one less thing for her to complain about!
Play Games While You Walk
This is basically a distraction technique! We like to walk and play games, such as I Spy or a challenge, such as everyone picks a colour and the person who spots the most hikers with that colour top on wins. Create scenarios that encourage their imagination – a bit like the “What Would You Do If…” game.
Take a Scavenger Hunt
Kids love to collect things, so why not put together a Scavenger Hunt for them? It can be something as simple as a list of things such as 3 different leaves, a feather, a rock with a cool pattern on, a stream, a funny shaped tree, a snail shell, Stickman (or a stick in the shape of a man) etc. Give them a pencil and let them tick off their finds as you go along.
Geocaching is one of the best things we ever did! A treasure hunt is always a great way to motivate kids and they don’t realise how far they walk as they’re busy searching for the treasure. If you are just starting out, you don’t need much geocaching kit. You can download the free Geocaching app for your phone, pop a pen and some tweezers in your pocket and you’re ready. There are geocaches hidden all over the world and you end up discovering amazing new places, along with the fun of finding the treasure. If you do enjoy geocaching with the free version of the app I’d definitely recommend the upgrading to the Premium version which has more geocaches to find.
Let Them Be Navigator
Whether you’re geocaching or just following a walking route map, letting your kids be in charge of directions is a great way to get them involved. It’s a great way to get them started with map skills too – they can learn which way is north, what a trig point looks like on an OS Map etc – all the essential things!
Keep it Interesting
Encouraging kids to go hiking can be a challenge, but if you find places with something interesting (e.g. a hike to a waterfall, hike to some cool rocks to clamber around on or a hike to a ruined hall, for example) it keeps them motivated. If you child likes trains, a great walk would be along the old Woodhead railway line at Torside – it’s flat, easy and there is the old platform near the Woodhead Tunnel to explore.
Start a Challenge
We LOVE a challenge in our house, so things such as the Peak District Ethels Challenge or the Peak District Trig Point challenge are really great to try and complete. Whilst some of the peaks are high, some of them are more gentle and easier to access, especially for little legs. Some of them, such as Stanage Edge, only have one steep climb then lots of fun things to explore along a relatively gentle ridge.
Go with Friends
Walking with friends is always fun, and kids often don’t realise how far they have walked if they walk with friends. We did a Mam Tor walk, heading up Mam Tor, along The Great Ridge to Hollins Cross, Back Tor and Lose Hill before heading back into Castleton for lunch with friends and Holly and her friend never felt tired. The power of distraction!
I hope this post has been useful for you and has given you some tips on walking with kids. If you start out easy and gradually build up the distance and terrain difficulty, you’ll be hiking with your kids all over the place! Happy hiking 🙂