Planning and Preparation
Get a hiking book and take it with you. A book with local hikes makes it easier to find hikes that are kid friendly. At first I was just making photocopies of the hike we planned, but Shane tried to take the kids on a hike and the trail was closed. He was able to pick a new trail because he had the hiking book with him. I now take the book with me.
Start off slow and take reinforcements if it helps to reduce anxiety. I was nervous about taking my girls hiking alone because they are so young (4yo, 3 yo and 15mo at the time) and can be unpredictable. So, for our first hike, I picked a short, flat trail and brought my neighbor’s two older girls along to help with the little ones. It went really well and helped build my confidence.
Pack first aid items. I learned this on our first hike. You can buy a prepared first aid kit or make your own. If you buy one I suggest you add a variety of fun band-aids to it. I made my own kit. Here’s a list of the items I have in my pack:
- antiseptic wash
- cotton balls (to use with antiseptic wash)
- band-aids (variety of sizes and cartoon characters)
- antibiotic ointment
- hydrocortisone cream (for bug bites/rashes)
- Children’s Tylenol/Motrin
Carry baby wipes and plastic bags. Ironically, I’ve only used baby wipes to clean up muddy hands, not diaper changes. The plastic bags will come in handy for dirty wipes and other trash items.
Pack plenty of snacks and water. I like to take apples, carrots, peanut butter pretzels, nuts and chocolate.
Have the kids carry their own packs. I bought mini backpacks from Pottery Barn Kids for the girls. They usually have a few prints on sale. I also got a kid’s Camelback for Caleb for Christmas. It’s a bit pricey but I thought it was a good purchase since we go on long 3+ hour hikes.
Keep a portable potty in the trunk of your vehicle. This works best if you are dealing with girls and have a minivan or large SUV. Some people may think this is bizarre, weird or disgusting. But I can’t tell you how many times it’s saved me from a bad situation. Sometimes it’s not easy to find an inconspicuous spot or there might be the danger of poison oak. And we’ve seen porta potties way more disgusting than a potty in the back of my van. I actually got the idea from my neighbor who also has four kids but is older and wiser than me. I use one like this. I highly recommend one with a lid. Luckily I haven’t had to deal with a #2 situation. And even if I’d had, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to talk about it.
Review safety rules before starting your hike. Here are a few rules I go over with my kids:
- Do not run so far ahead that I can’t see you.
- Walk when it feels unsafe or I tell you it’s unsafe. (I want the kids to be aware of their senses so I encourage them to react to their instincts.)
- Stay on the trail unless I say so. (There is a lot of poison oak in our area.)
- We take our trash out with us.
During the Hike
Be flexible. If you’re hiking a trail for the first time, it’s difficult to know if it’s a good match for your family. You might need to abandon the hike altogether (see first tip) or cut it short. I didn’t get to finish this hike because it turned out to be to dangerous for me alone with the three girls.
Expect to get something different out of each hike. I have different expectations when I go on a hike alone or with Caleb versus going with the little ones. This hike was really not much fun for me but the girls loved it. I had to adjust my thinking to go with the flow and focus on their joy rather than the trail.
Take a lot of breaks. You want to make sure the kids don’t get too famished because they will quickly turn on you. You don’t want to be stuck out on the trail with a gang of grumpy kids.
Come up with a fun way to reenergize your kids. Sometimes the kids will get tired and say they want to go home. This is a good point to head back to the car. But they still need to make it that far and I can only carry so many kids at a time. So I ask them “Are we awesome or are we whiney?” And I have them repeat “We are awesome!!” until they are yelling it and giggling. And with Caleb I ask him about Jedis and what they would do in a situation like this. Or ask him about one of the games he plays and what are the ways they get more power.
Let the kids lead when possible. We’ve been on trails with a series of small loops and the kids love being in charge of choosing our path. Or sometimes they will find an interesting tree to climb or stream with rocks to throw. I have never thought to myself that I need to come up with some game to keep them interested. I believe kids will make up their own fun if they’re allowed.
Let them get dirty. Let them throw sticks and rocks (of course with the rule that it be away from people). Let them be kids and enjoy nature. You can always pack an extra set of clothes in the car.
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