There are a lot of mixed feelings that can occur when the word “hiking” is brought up in conversation with our family. Sometimes it’s excitement, but other times it’s very much the opposite. Since the kids were little (meaning as soon as they could fit into a backpack carrier) we were taking them on hikes. We wanted them to experience all the things we loved about being outside, as soon as they could. As the years passed and the backpack carriers, strollers, and wagons are all outgrown, we’ve ventured into a new phase of hiking – hiking with pre-school and elementary kids. This age range brings on a whole new experience of hiking and many memories that are created during the time outside together.
At the beginning of the year, we decided that if we really wanted to get our kids outside and explore more, we needed to challenge ourselves and signed up for the 52-week hike challenge. Our thinking was that if we make this a part of our weekly activities together, we will grow and learn more about our family and hopefully our kids would love the outdoors, just as much as we do. Well, while this all sounds nice and rosy, there are many lessons we are learning along the way. Currently, we are halfway through our hiking series and have four months to complete the rest. From our experience so far, we have learned that there are things that can make or break the hiking trip and below are some we feel are the most important.
Setting expectations for everyone in the family. From the oldest to the youngest, everyone needs to know what to expect on the hike. We have found that if the hike is talked about a few days before this helps the kids prepare and gives us time to research their questions or even show them pictures of where they are going. Common questions we get are: are there playgrounds, is there a nature center, what animals could we see there, how long is the hike, how far of a drive… and so on.
Having proper footwear and gear. We always feel that happy feet make for a happy hike. Footwear is one area that we did not skimp on cost. While we do watch for sales and try to plan for the season changes, proper fitting and protective footwear is a must for us. The kids also have proper fitting backpacks outfitted with their water bottle. Most of the time their bags were empty, but it serves as a place for them to stash any cool things they find. Also, it provided a place to put extra gloves and hats if the weather changes on us while we are out.
Snacks and more snacks! We have been on trails when hangry people set in and it is not fun! Having some trial mix/snack bar or a favorite snack in their backpack or yours goes along way.
Picking up extra trail maps – everyone needs a trail map. While we do our best to prepare in step 1, it always happens that we are 5 minutes into the trail and the question of how much longer will come along. Plus, if (when) we need a bathroom break, it is better to have an extra map in the bag or the trial map downloaded to your phone.
While we know they can walk a mile or even up to three miles or even farther depending on terrain, be prepared to carry at least one out. We know from experience that sometimes it is just better to give a piggyback ride when tired legs appear.
The above things we feel are some of the essentials to getting started, but it is just that getting started and seeing what works for your family. While we have been out, we discovered that our kids love to take pictures and videos of the hikes. So, we dug out old cameras and made this part of the adventure. In the beginning of the hiking series, we searched out what our local metro parks were doing and found they had a winter hiking series geared towards families. This was a great beginning to hiking with the kids because they offered snacks and hot chocolate at the end of the hike. What a great incentive to finish! All in all, we have learned a ton and still learning with every hike we complete. One of the best moments/feeling is seeing the kids complete a hike they didn’t think they could do and the confidence that it brings out in them!
Cheers to many more adventures!
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