1. Always bring a first aid kit.
First aid kits prove critical on the trail. While all hikers should bring along certain essentials, adults should take special precautions when taking children out on the trails. The kit should include insect repellents and sunscreen that are mild enough for use on children’s skin. In addition, packing children’s aspirin or ibuprofen can help in the event of an injury. Some other key items include antihistamines, tweezers for removing splinters, bandages of various shapes and sizes, and moleskin for covering blisters. These items can quickly reverse a negative experience. If children have allergies, an EpiPen is another essential item. By keeping these items in their own kit, adults can simply throw the kit into a backpack whenever they go hiking.
2. Choose easy and interesting paths.
Strenuous hikes can discourage kids. While adults may hike for the exercise, children are more interested in the experience. For that reason, adults should choose paths with particular points of interest, such as waterfalls or uncommon plants and animals. Adults can make the trip more interactive by teaching children about what they are going to see during the drive and even bringing field journals so kids can track their experiences. Magnifying glasses and binoculars can help fuel exploration. Major features, like a particularly beautiful lake or a summit, can provide motivation for children to keep moving when they become tired or disinterested. Of course, adults should never push children to continue if they simply do not have the energy left to do so.
3. Build energy pit stops into the hike.
Hiking requires a great deal of energy, and children tend to burn through their food quickly. To ensure that all kids keep their energy levels up and stay hydrated, adults should require frequent stops for snacks and water. Because children can sometimes get picky on the path, adults may want to bring a wide variety of snacks, such as fruits, nuts, and sandwiches, so that kids can choose what they want to eat. These stops can often motivate tired children to keep moving. For example, adults can promise snacks and water once they cross the next footbridge. By the time kids rest and refuel, they will be eager to continue.
Children often engage most in an experience when it is linked to a game. When hiking, children may also participate in a scavenger hunt to locate certain insects, plants, or animals. Kids also like to feel like they are in charge, so adults can give each of the children a turn as leader. Allowing kids to lead lets them set the pace, so that it is not too fast for them to keep up with everyone else. Another popular game is Hot Lava, where children pretend that the trail is made of lava and they must go along the path by hopping from stones to roots without touching the dirt. Adults may also want to have kids scout out trail blazes, which reinforces the skills they will need to hike on their own when they are older.
5. Bring adequate types and amounts of clothing.
Before anyone hikes, it is essential to look at a weather forecast. With kids, this step is extremely important. Adults should pack extra layers, as well as hats and gloves, just in case the temperature suddenly drops. Hikers should also be prepared for rain with ponchos or other gear. All kids should have adequate hiking shoes. The type of shoes necessary depends on the path. Gentle, flat terrain typically only demands tennis shoes, while rockier and steeper areas may necessitate more specialized footwear. If the hike involves crossing streams or wading through rivers, plastic flip-flops or water shoes are required. Adults should also keep a change of clothes in the car for each child, since kids will likely get wet or muddy during the hike.
6. Teach children to become environmental stewards.
One of the biggest advantages of taking children hiking is the opportunity to teach them to become stewards of the land. Adults should emphasize the importance of rules like “pack it in, pack it out” and ensure that kids comply with these expectations. A great way to get kids involved with environmental protection is to pack gloves and a small trash bag and have them collect trash on the trip back to the car. This trash collection can become a game, challenging kids to spot items and perhaps offering a reward to whomever collects the most. Of course, adults should strive to teach kids age-appropriate lessons about the impact that such trash has on the environment, and thus why it is important to collect and dispose of it.