Some tips for bringing young children out on the trail

Equipment

Having the right equipment can make all the difference in the happiness of the parents. The following list offers some suggestions for various equipment choices.

  1. Baby Carriers. Framed or not, consider the weight of the carrier. Soft carriers are far lighter than framed packs and can be used on kids as old as 5. They can be packed into a backpack if your toddler wants to walk on their own.
  2. Packs for your kids. Around age 4, you can typically start having your children carry some of their own equipment. A great way to begin is by getting them a kids hydration pack with some small pockets to carry snacks, toys, or other interesting things found on the hike. Around age 6 or 7 you can probably have them carry their own sleeping bag, sleeping pad, some clothes, and their favorite cuddle toy.
  3. Be sure to pack clothes and a sleeping bag that will keep your kids warm enough for the conditions you will be in.

Tips and Tricks

  • Start them as young as you can.
  • Go often. Make it seem like it’s part of your everyday life that you get outdoors.
  • Keep drive times down. Hikes within an hour away from your house are ideal for toddlers and pre-schoolers.
  • Infants are arguably the easiest to hike with. Outside of keeping them warm, fed, and rested, you can take them as far as you can carry them.
  • Stay flexible. Kids will change their minds 15 times in 5 minutes. Be willing to work with what their needs are.
  • If you’re hiking in a group with older kids, agree on a funny word (squiggles!) that anyone can say that will signal that they need to stop. If you’re on a multi-day trip, change the word daily to keep it fun.
  • Keep your kids involved. Make them hike. Give them chores to do and show them the proper way to do them. Make sure you let them know how big and helpful they are when the help.
  • Creeks, lakes, and large rock outcroppings are almost always great places to stop and play.
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