One of the highlights of having kids is the privilege of showing them new and beautiful places. Hiking is a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors with your family. Some parents may be reluctant to go hiking with their kids, especially if they haven’t done a lot of it themselves. When you know how to hike with kids and prepare, you can soak in the beauties of nature with your family without feeling stressed out.

Reasons you should take your kid on a hike

  1. Physical exercise: Hiking is an excellent form of exercise. Hiking can improve cardiovascular health, and promote overall fitness.
  2. Exposure to nature: Hiking exposes your children to the natural world, which can foster a sense of wonder and appreciation for the environment.
  3. Improved mental health: Spending time in nature has been linked to improved mental health outcomes, including reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. Hiking can also offer a sense of accomplishment and boost self-esteem.
  4. Quality time with family: Hiking can provide a unique opportunity for families to bond and spend quality time together. It can also provide a break from the distractions of technology and other daily stresses.
  5. Development of life skills: Hiking with your kids can help them develop important life skills. Some of these include problem-solving, teamwork, and communication. It can also help them develop a sense of independence and self-reliance.
  6. Boost creativity: Being surrounded by nature and the beauty of the great outdoors can spark creativity. They may notice things they hadn’t seen before, be inspired by natural elements, or even come up with new ideas for play or exploration.
  7. Improved sleep: Hiking can help children burn off energy and get better quality sleep. Studies have shown that spending time in natural environments can also help regulate the body’s internal clock and improve sleep patterns.
  8. Increased attention span: Hiking can help children develop their attention spans and improve their ability to focus. This can translate into better academic performance and overall productivity.
  9. Exposure to new experiences: Hiking can expose children to new experiences and challenges, which can help them build confidence and resilience. Whether it’s navigating unfamiliar terrain or facing a fear of heights, hiking can provide opportunities for growth and learning.
  10. Educational Opportunities-Hiking can also provide opportunities for learning about plants, animals, and ecosystems.

With all of these benefits, hiking is definitely worth the extra effort it takes to prepare to take kids out into nature!

Preparing to hike with kids: Things you should be aware of before you go

  1. Choose the right trail: Make sure the trail you choose is appropriate for your children’s age and ability level. Consider factors like distance, elevation gain, and terrain difficulty when selecting a trail. If you’re not sure what trail to pick, look up “kid-friendly hiking trails near me.” and then read the reviews.
  2. Dress appropriately: Make sure everyone is dressed in comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing and footwear. Layers are key for changing weather conditions.
  3. Pack essentials: Bring plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, insect repellent, and a first-aid kit. You may also want to bring a map, compass, or GPS device.
  4. Set expectations: Talk to your kids about what to expect on the hike, including how long it will take, what they might see, and what the rules are. Encourage them to ask questions and share their own observations.
  5. Check the weather: Check the weather forecast before you go and be prepared for changing conditions. Know when to turn back if conditions become unsafe.
  6. Make sure your cellphone is charged-consider packing an extra battery. A cell phone is critical if you need to call for help.

A huge part of hiking safety with kids is making sure you are prepared before you go. When you are prepared, small problems are less likely to escalate into disasters.

Kids hiking by a lake.

How to dress your kids for hiking

  1. Layer up: Dress your kids in layers so they can easily adjust to changing weather conditions. A base layer of moisture-wicking fabric to keep them dry, a mid-layer for warmth, and an outer layer for protection from wind and rain is a good combination.
  2. Choose the right footwear: Make sure your kids wear sturdy, comfortable hiking boots or shoes with good traction. Avoid sandals or open-toe shoes that could leave their feet exposed to injury.
  3. Cover their head: Encourage your kids to wear a hat or cap to protect their head and face from the sun, and to keep them warm in cooler temperatures.
  4. Protect their eyes: Sunglasses can help protect your kids’ eyes from harmful UV rays and glare, and also help them see more clearly on sunny days.
  5. Dress appropriately for the season: Depending on the season, you may need to dress your kids in extra layers, waterproof clothing, or other specialized gear.
  6. Consider the terrain: If you’ll be hiking on rocky or uneven terrain, consider dressing your kids in pants to protect their legs from scrapes and scratches.
  7. Bring extra clothes: In case your kids get wet or dirty, it’s a good idea to bring extra clothes for them to change into. This is especially important on longer hikes.
  8. Avoid cotton: Avoid dressing your kids in cotton clothing as it can become wet and heavy, making them feel uncomfortable.
  9. Bright colors-Having your children wear bright colors will make them easier to keep track of when you are hiking.
Water bottle by a river.

Essentials to pack when hiking with kids

  1. Water: Make sure you bring plenty of water for everyone. Kids can get dehydrated quickly, so it’s important to encourage them to drink often.
  2. Snacks: Bring plenty of snacks to keep your kids fueled and energized on the trail. Portable, non-perishable snacks like granola bars, trail mix, and fruit are good options.
  3. First-aid kit: A basic first-aid kit is essential for any hiking trip.
  4. Navigation tools: Bring a map, compass, or GPS device to help you navigate the trail. You can also download a hiking app on your smartphone.
  5. Sun protection: Bring sunscreen to protect your kids from harmful UV rays, as well as hats and sunglasses to protect their faces and eyes.
  6. Insect repellent: Bring insect repellent to keep bugs at bay and prevent bites.
  7. Emergency supplies: Bring a whistle, flashlight, and emergency blanket in case of an emergency.
First aid supplies.

What to put in your first aid kit when hiking with kids

  1. Band-aids in various sizes and shapes
  2. Gauze pads and adhesive tape
  3. Antiseptic wipes or solution
  4. Tweezers for removing splinters or ticks
  5. Scissors
  6. Instant cold pack for swelling or pain
  7. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain and fever relief (check with your child’s doctor first)
  8. Antihistamine for allergic reactions (again, check with your child’s doctor first)
  9. Lip balm and hand sanitizer
  10. Neosporin or another topic antibiotic cream
  11. Latex-free gloves
  12. Blister care supplies
  13. Personal medications (if applicable (e.g., allergies, asthma, diabetes, other chronic conditions)

Know how to use your first aid supplies

Having supplies is great, but if you don’t know how to use them, they won’t be as effective. Be sure to review basic first aid periodically so you are confident of what to do in an emergency.

Setting boundaries to keep your child safe when hiking

  1. Stay on the trail: Teach your child to stay on the trail and not to wander off into the woods or other areas where they might get lost.
  2. Follow the signs: Teach your child to follow the trail markers, signs, and any other indications that will help them stay on the right path.
  3. Stop at forks in the trail: When there is a fork in the trail, everyone in the group should wait to make sure no one is left behind.
  4. Don’t run ahead: Tell your child not to run ahead of the group. This can make it easy for them to get separated and lost.
  5. Don’t fall behind-remind your child not to stop to look at something unless someone is with them.
  6. Use landmarks: Teach your child to use landmarks such as distinctive trees, rocks, or streams to help them remember their route.
  7. Carry a whistle: Give your child an emergency whistle and teach them how to use it. This can be an effective way to signal for help if they get lost or separated.
Boy sitting alone on a walking pathway.

Make a plan with your children for what to do if they become lost while hiking.

Talk to your child before you start hiking about what they should do if they become lost. Keep it short and easy to remember.

  1. Stop– Your child should stop as soon as they realize they are lost
  2. Make noise– Your child should start yelling loudly, or blow a whistle
  3. Wait for help-Your child should wait where they are for you to find them

Additional safety details to consider:

If your child is too young to remember their phone number and important details, use a sharpie to write your name and number on their arm.

If a child is old enough, have them carry a kids hiking backpack. Make sure they have their own water and snacks. This will keep them hydrated and fed if they get separated from you.

Consider purchasing a small GPS tracker to attach to your child when hiking. This will allow you to track them down quickly in the event you can’t find your child.

Boy playing in a stream

Keep your child safe by being aware of potential environmental dangers while hiking

When hiking with children, it’s important to keep them safe from environmental hazards that can be encountered on the trail. Here are some tips on how to keep children safe from environmental hazards while hiking:

  1. Heights: Teach your child to stay away from steep cliffs, edges, and other high places that may pose a danger. Children should always stay within sight of an adult and should never be left alone in high-risk areas.
  2. Fast-moving water: Keep your child away from fast-moving water, such as streams and rivers. Children should always wear a life jacket and be supervised by an adult when near water.
  3. Cold: Dress your child in warm layers when hiking in cold weather. Bring extra clothing, blankets, and hand warmers to keep them warm if needed. Be aware of the signs of hypothermia, such as shivering and confusion.
  4. Heat: In hot weather, dress your child in lightweight and breathable clothing. Use a hat and sunscreen to protect them from the sun. Bring plenty of water and encourage your child to drink frequently to avoid dehydration. Recognize the signs of heat exhaustion, such as weakness and dizziness.
  5. Animals: Teach your child to stay away from wild animals and not to approach them. Instruct them to make noise, such as clapping or shouting. If you encounter a potentially dangerous animal, such as a bear or mountain lion, stay calm, stand tall, and slowly back away without turning your back.
  6. Bugs: Apply insect repellent to your child to protect them from bug bites and stings. Teach your child to avoid touching or disturbing bugs, especially venomous or poisonous ones. If your child is bitten or stung, clean the area with soap and water and apply a cold compress to reduce swelling. Inspect your kids for TICKS when you get back from hiking.
  7. Strangers: Remind your child of stranger danger. If they need help from a stranger, tell them to ask a mom who has kids for assistance.
  8. Plant safety-Tell your child not to touch or pick plants while hiking. Remind them about plants like stinging nettle and poison ivy. Tell your child they should never eat berries that they find growing in the wild.
Stay on trail sign.

Hiking etiquette with kids

Teaching kids about hiking etiquette is important to help them become responsible and respectful hikers. Here are some things to remember:

  1. Leave no trace: Teach your child to leave the trail as they found it. This means packing out all trash and waste and avoiding damaging plants, trees, and other natural features.
  2. Yield to others: Teach your child to yield to other hikers, especially uphill hikers, and to let them pass. When encountering horses, bikers, or other groups, instruct your child to step off the trail and give them room to pass.
  3. Respect wildlife: Teach your child to respect wildlife and observe them from a safe distance. Instruct them to never feed or approach animals, and to avoid disturbing their habitats.
  4. Stay on the trail: Teach your child to stay on the designated trail to avoid damaging fragile ecosystems and habitats. Instruct them to not cut switchbacks or take shortcuts, and to avoid creating new trails..
  5. Respect private property: Teach your child to respect private property and to stay on public trails and lands. Instruct them to not enter private property or fenced areas, and to always follow posted signs.

Remember to lead by example and practice good hiking etiquette yourself, so your child can learn from your behavior as well.

Final Thoughts:

Hiking with kids is a lot of fun. There are many benefits that make the effort of getting outdoors worth your time. Parents who are adequately prepared, have a lot fewer reasons to panic. Make a plan and show your kids how beautiful the natural world is!

Looking for more information on how to keep your kids safe? Check these articles:

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Kids and hot cars

Kids bike safety

Kids and trampoline safety

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