It’s a new season and you want to start hiking with your kids. But it feels daunting. While you dream of peaceful happy treks along serene trails, you fear it might be more tears and complaining along a poorly selected path.
Where do you get started?
How do you set yourself up for success?
And how do you recover from the rough days, rather than throwing in the towel?
We’ve been hiking with our kids for many years now and they are strong hikers at ages 8 and 4. But it isn’t always perfect, we have “bad days” hiking just like everyone else and we have made a plethora of mistakes along the way.
But we’ve also learned from those mistakes!
Here are our top tips!
Disclosure: We only recommend products we like and use/would use ourselves! This product may contain an affiliate link. This means we may earn a small commission from your purchases, at no additional cost to you! Thanks for helping us out ❤︎
Dress for Success
What your kids wear when hiking is unbelievably important. Their clothes need to protect them, keep them comfortable temperature-wise, and still allow them to move.
Let’s talk underwear. Yep, undies! People don’t realize how important good underwear is. Ditch the cotton while hiking. Opt for wicking material that will not hold moisture against your body. Moisture means chills in cold weather and chafing in the summer – both hurt the experience!
Now, what about the legs? Only in the high heat of summer do we hike in shorts, instead opting for thin pants that protect us from sun and sticks while letting us climb rocks and slide down dirt hills. Liv loves these, which give her sun protection AND she can swim in them! Pip prefers these, and they roll up! In cooler/colder weather we usually hike in lined pants.
In the colder part of the year, fewer good layers are always better than more poor layers. By investing in some good quality layers you keep everyone warm, which makes for happy hiking. You also avoid bulk, and bulky layers impact mobility. Nobody likes waddling up a trail weighed down by four pairs of pants, five shirts, etc. If you have good layers there are rarely times (in the lower 48) that you need more than three layers! Some of our favorites are here.
We always carry an extra layer with us. A rain jacket with a thin fleece liner is perfect for Spring – Fall here in Colorado. In the winter we opt for these jackets because we can combine or separate them!
Always bring a hat. Always. In the warm months, it keeps the sun or rain off your face and protects you from annoying bugs. In the winter it does wonders for keeping in your body heat!
And when in doubt, go with wool socks. Yes, even in the warmer months! They protect your feet, wick moisture, and add cushion!
Speaking of socks…
Good Shoes Take You To Good Places – Seohyun
A huge contributor to hiking frustrations is bad shoes! If feet hurt or the shoes do not contribute to the adventure, the hike is doomed from the start!
Tread tread tread tread tread. No matter how easy or hard the hike is, the shoes NEED TREAD. The Walmart teenies they love? Just say no. Those comfy crocs or the expensive Plae shoes they live in? Resist!
When hiking, you often come upon amazing areas to explore. Logs to walk on, trees to climb, rocks to scramble. Bad tread can ruin this experience every single time. They slip on wet spots, they can’t get up the tree, they can’t get tractions on the scramble.
In the summer, we usually hike in Keen sandals when in the front range, All year round we hike in Keen hiking shoes in the mountains and cooler weather. You don’t have to go with Keen, I’ll share a few other brands I hear amazing reviews on soon. Just make sure they fit well, are comfortable, and have tread.
A bonus to any pair of shoes is also how they deal with wet. Shoes should be at least a bit water-resistant – puddles are irresistible, as well as creeks! And sandals that dry quickly in the summer are a bonus as well!
And make sure they have toe protection! Trails are full of rocks, roots, and rough spots. A trip and fall can be recovered from quickly when toes weren’t injured!
Go Out Before Up
Ok, you are dressed and ready… but now where do you go?
When you first begin hiking, my key to success is to build stamina with distance before adding in elevation. Getting kids further and further out builds stamina before adding in the strength and endurance “up” adds to the adventure.
Pick trails that wander through a forest before they go up hills and mountains. Check area webpages and resources and pay attention to “elevation gain” numbers before loading everyone in the car. Also, social media mom groups are a great resource for good hiking recommendations!
My favorite way to find trails is AllTrails. I can look at trail recommendations on the app, see the difficulty rating, miles, landmarks, photos, AND elevation gain. You can use a free version of the app or there is a paid version for $30 a year. With the paid version I can download maps ahead of time to use when I don’t have cell coverage. It also gives me “off route” notifications if we miss a turn. And it also has “lifeline” – so I can keep my family notified of where we are and if we are ok.
There was this one time we disappeared hiking for 6 hours… we were fine! But my husband didn’t know that. There are now update rules… oops!
Before The Battle Comes The Rewards – Latin Proverb
Pick hikes that have motivation built in!
Show your kids the pictures of the view, waterfall, rock scramble, etc. that they will get to experience.
Look up some geocaches along the trail before you head out.
Make a goal to find certain colored leaves, shapes rocks, types of sticks, etc. Learn about how to identify a specific tree and count how many you can find along the way. Hint: if you are in Colorado, go for Cottonwood or Aspen!
The more hikes you do, the more you will identify which activities or hikes are motivating to kids. My son loves hiking to a view, and that keeps him going! My daughter loves views and waterfalls. So I try to make sure many of our hikes include those because it builds an internal motivation for them!
My son likes to hike lost in his thoughts. My daughter wants to sing the whole way. I’ve begun learning more old camp songs to teach her while resisting the urge to chat with my son and interrupt his thinking!
Use early hikes to start to identify what makes the hike rewarding and build it into the experience again and again. Help them connect the thought of hiking with good memories, experiences, and feelings!
Food Is Fuel… And More
So before I even touch on food, let me make a quick comment about water. Pack as much water as you think you will need. Then add 1-2 more bottles of water. I’m not kidding! I love this water bottle because it gets so compact once empty! You really do not want to run out of water on the trail, I promise.
Ok, onto food.
Pack an exciting lunch and snacks for on the trail that will fuel and refresh everyone!
We have specific snacks that are only for hiking. They are the ones my kids absolutely love. They know they are hiking snacks and that we don’t get them any other time. We discuss how these snacks fuel them and refresh them and set ahead of time when we will eat them on our hike. Usually, it’s at our destination, when we get to a good view. For longer hikes (7+ miles) we set mile markers and check the map on my phone to know when we will stop to snack!
Food is fuel, and that is an important discussion in our house. So we make sure our food on hikes is filling and fueling… but also fun!
This means Kind bars, peanut butter on our sandwiches, and jerky. It also means fruit leathers and organic fruit snacks for the “boost” we need to get back to our car!
As Scouts Say…
Be prepared! As a parent, it can be super stressful to try and manage little ones, get packed, stress you aren’t forgetting something, etc. This does not set the tone you want for a day of hiking!
If you are hiking on Friday, get prepared on Thursday! Once the kids are in bed, get started. Layout everyone’s clothes for the next day, down to undies, socks, and shoes. Pull out your “hiking bag” and make sure everything is stocked (post coming soon on my bag!). Snacks in the packs, water bottles filled, extra water filled, etc.
Pack up lunches and put them together in the fridge, so it’s a quick grab. And while you are in the kitchen, get breakfast prepared ahead of time! Set the table and pour cereal into bowls (press and seal over the top, just pour milk in the morning). Make the pancakes ahead of time and pop them in the fridge, then set out plates and forks. Wash the fruit and prepare it into individual servings to grab and serve in the morning.
Make sure you have a change of clothes in the car – mud and water happens!
Set the following day up for smooth sailing – because it will help with our 7th and final step…
When on the trail, it is easy to get “destination” focused. Trust me, I still have to guard against this one!
It isn’t about the end of the trail. It is about being on the trail with your kids and instilling in them a love of hiking, nature, and adventure.
So encourage them as you go!
Avoid “hurry up!”
Try “Let’s race to the next trail sign!”
Avoid “Are you coming?!”
Try “Let’s see who can tag mommy/daddy first!”
Avoid “Stop whining!”
Try “I heard you say your legs are tired – did you know that is when muscles grow?”
Turn it around and demonstrate how to talk, think and enjoy yourself on the trail
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new” – Socrates
Happy trails – let us know how the adventures go!