Hiking With Kids
A simple change in perspective and careful planning can make hiking with kids fun and rewarding. For kids, hiking is little more complicated than a walk in the park. They naturally want to walk along exploring this bug and that leaf.
For experienced hikers who have now become parents, it requires changing our point of view from “reaching the destination” to “enjoying the journey.” Few things are as gratifying as introducing the next generation to hiking and finding that they share your passion for the outdoors.
Modify Your Goals
In our competitive world, we have become accustomed to stretching for that next goal just out of reach, and often attaining it. Translated to hiking, that means logging those miles and counting those bag nights. Hiking with kids can have attainable goals too. However, they are measured qualitatively instead of quantitatively. In other words slow down, enjoy the journey, mark the milestones in smiles and discoveries. The world looks different from a child's viewpoint. You are wise if you allow your child to share it with you.
What is Plan B?
Annoyances such as mosquitoes, colder or wetter than expected weather can have more serious consequences when hiking with kids. Children have more difficulty regulating their temperature than do adults which can lead to hypothermia at a much faster rate. Pay close attention to adequately clothing your hiking child. Use layers of clothing just as you would for yourself and monitor them frequently.
A normally cooperative child who becomes very irritable or lethargic may be experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar. This happens when the body is not taking in enough calories in relation to the expenditure of energy. Especially with children, this can happen rapidly. Hiking with kids requires frequent snacking along the trail.
Kids also have less emotional control than adults and will tend to complain more. For minor complaints, adopt the adage, “complaining goes with the territory” and just let it pass without comment. However, pay close attention if the complaining becomes serious or is accompanied by a refusal to continue the journey. Your goal is to encourage exploration and appreciation of a sport you are passionate about. Be careful not to push so hard that the child is repulsed by the experience and never wants to try it again. When hiking with kids, always be ready to take a break, cut the trip short or end the trek altogether.
Enlist the help of a buddy
If you are planning more than a couple of miles when hiking with kids, it is best to enlist a hiking buddy's help. Depending on the age of your child, you will carry in (and out) diapers, extra clothing, an extra sleeping bag, extra food and water AND a tired child. Does that seem like a load? It is! In my experience, the best way to handle this situation is for you to carry the child and enlist a buddy to carry the gear. Willing “buddies” might be a fit grandparent, best friend, aunt or uncle, etc. Choose a buddy who will enjoy the hiking experience and doesn't mind a carrying more than their own personal gear for the trip.
Allow your child to carry a minimum of gear. Find a very small, lightweight kids book-bag style backpack and allow them to carry a favorite small toy, a small water bottle (which you will need to refill from yours often), a small bag of trail snacks and possibly a favorite blanket or stuffed animal to sleep with. This will get them accustomed to having something on their back with a minimum of weight and make them feel like they are fully participating in the adventure. As the child grows and ages, they will be able to carry more. Be careful to keep the weight very low to protect growing bones. A good rule of thumb might be for a child over 3 years old, carry no more than a pound per year—less depending on the child.
Plan to Carry the Child
There are several different methods for carrying your child when she becomes too tired to continue on her own. One method is to simply pick her up and put her on your shoulders, often resting with her back against the pack you are carrying. Many people find this perfectly suitable for shorter treks.
A second method, and the preferred method for longer hikes is to purchase a child carrier. You will want to put as much effort into choosing your child carrier as you did in choosing your own backpack. Any child who is sitting up securely on her own will likely be more comfortable in a backpack-style carrier. Opt for one with a good suspension and a well-padded hip belt. The same good judgment and fitting precautions that you used to pick out your backpack apply to choosing your child pack.
Consider the sleeping arrangements
Whether your child sleeps inside your bag with you or has a bag of her own is a matter of personal style. If you choose to put your child in her own bag, remember that any part of the bag that she does not occupy will be dead (cold) air space. Choose a smaller bag and fold under the part the child does not need. Children have a tendency to squirm around a bit at night. Realize that your child might wiggle out of her bag and plan her sleeping attire appropriately.
Sleeping arrangements with your child will depend upon the child's age and size. If you and your mate share a roomier two-man tent and your child is smaller, you may be comfortable with the child sharing your tent. On the other hand, if your tent is snug or your child is larger, you may need to carry a second tent and one adult sleep with the child and the other adult in a tent alone. As your child progresses in age, independence and skill, she will be able to transition to her own tent.
In order for hiking with kids to be enjoyable, safety is paramount. Give some thought to your own child's personality, physical fitness, attention to surroundings and ability to make good judgments and set appropriate rules or boundaries. Following are some examples of safety concerns worth considering:
Children are natural wanderers. Stress the importance of staying in sight of an adult at all times.
Consider the inherent dangers of where you will be hiking, i.e. narrow ledges, bears or mountain lions, campfires, deep or running water. Play a “what if” game to help your child know how to act in an emergency.
A child's skin is more sensitive than an adults. Vigilant protection from sunburn, windburn, hypothermia and biting insects is necessary.
Do you know if your child is allergic to stinging insects? Probably not. Consider talking with your physician BEFORE your hike about carrying a auto-injecting epinepherine pen until you are more familiar with your child's allergies in the outdoors.
Adding a few simple items to your first aid kit will ensure comfort and safety while hiking with kids. Scaling down adult medications to treat a child is inaccurate and unsafe. You will need to carry age-appropriate pain/fever reliever and an antihistamine such as Benedryl. Also consider adding a diaper rash treatment if appropriate to your child's age. Children's topical teething pain reliever, such as Oragel, is useful for a multitude of uses. Oragel's active ingredient is benzocaine, an anesthetic. In addition to numbing the pain of teething, a topical application can temporarily numb the pain of a cut in order to make it easier to clean it thoroughly. It can also stop the itch of a bug bite.
It is not necessary to have the latest-and-greatest clothing for your child. Thrift stores, discount stores and hand-me-downs are sources of warm, appropriate clothing for your hiking child. In most cases, sturdy sneakers will suffice for footwear. When choosing clothing, remember that fleece will be warmer than cotton and fit is more important that style.
Summing It Up
Proper planning, consideration for contingencies should adverse events occur and acceptance that hiking with kids can be just as rewarding, even if very different, can build memories and skills that will last a lifetime.
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