Get Your Kids Hiking! Start them Young and Keep it Fun – By Jeff Alt
In addition to walking the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail, I walked the 218-mile John Muir Trail with my wife, and trekked across a 50-mile path in Ireland with her, our young daughter, and our extended family. We even emerged from the church doors on our wedding day wearing backpacks, and we took our son on his first hike when he was eight weeks old.
It’s time for you to get off the couch and hit the trail with your kids.
Start’em Young: Ergonomically designed baby carriers make it easy and fun to carry your infant, or toddler, with you wherever you hike. Walk to your favorite park or beach. Bring a friend. Stop often and let your little one explore. Make your hike a routine your kids will look forward to.
Let the Kids Lead: Play follow the leader! Hike at your child’s pace and distance. Whatever your child takes interest in, stop and explore that bug, leaf, or rock with them. Tell them about the animals, rocks, trees, and flowers. Getting to the destination is less important than making sure your kids have so much fun that they’ll want to go again and again.
Count Down to the Adventure: Psych the kids up with pictures, videos, and highlights of the places they will go and the things they will see. Use books, magazines, maps, and the Internet – especially park websites and videos showing the spectacular wildlife and locations they will see.
Pack Fun Items: Let young children fill their adventure pack with a bu- catcher, magnifying glass, binoculars, camera, map and a compass, a whistle, and/or a flashlight. Let your little adventurer take ownership and pack a few items of his/her own; even if they are not hiking related.
Play Games and Bring a Friend: Play I Spy using your surroundings as you walk along. Create your own scavenger hunt in search of animals, plants, and views along the way. Make up rhymes and sing songs as you walk. Pack a plant and animal identification guide for your older child. Let your social butterfly bring a friend, with parental permission. Intrigue your computer-savvy child with high-tech hiking gadgets like GPS, headlamp flashlights, and pedometers. Use your GPS and take your kids on a geocaching adventure.
Take Advantage of Park Activities and Guided Nature Experiences: Utilize and enjoy the amazing services and resources offered by our parks, trail and recreational systems, and associations. This will help ensure that your experience is enjoyable, memorable and even life-changing.
Suit Up in Comfort, Style, and the Latest Technology: Take this checklist with you when you go shopping so that you get all the bases covered:
- Footwear: Get your kids used to wearing water resistant sturdy shoes. Make sure the 3 and older kids are wearing lightweight trail shoes or boots with a sturdy sole. A Vibram sole with a waterproof breathable liner is preferable. Wear non-cotton, moisture-wicking, synthetic or wool socks.
- Clothing: Dress for the weather. Wear non-cotton synthetic, wool and/or fleece clothes and dress in layers. Wear multi-purpose clothes, like pants that zip off into shorts or shirts with role up sleeves. Pack a waterproof breathable rain parka. Dress for the season with either a fleece hat and gloves or a hat with a wide brim for sun protection.
- Packs: Get age and size appropriate backpacks with hydration hose capability that fit each hiker comfortably.
- Fresh, Clean Water: You can get a hydration hose system for your pack or just use bottles. Disinfect wild water using hi-tech portable treatment water systems such as a UV wand or micro-straining filter.
- Trekking Poles: Get a pair of adjustable, collapsible poles with an ergonomically designed handle for each person.
- Communication: Bring a smart phone so you can take lots of pictures and if there’s connectivity, email them to family and friends or upload them to your online blog or Facebook page. Carry a GPS unit to keep you located on the trail and for geocaching.
Other Must Haves:
- Buy pediatrician recommended suntan lotion and bug repellent; and a first aid kit that accommodates the potential needs of the whole group.
- Be sure you know how to use everything included in the kit.
- Bring a compass and a map and make sure that you know how to use both of them.
- Make sure that you know how to make a shelter, if necessary, to keep you warm and dry.
- Keep matches and a lighter in a dry place and make sure that you know how to make a fire, if necessary, to keep warm.
- Carry a whistle and a signal mirror just in case you get lost.
- Pack a survival knife with a locking blade.
- Bring a head lamp flashlight, extra batteries, 50 feet of rope or twine, and always have several feet of duct tape for unexpected repairs.
Jeff Alt is a travelling speaker and hiking expert who provides seminars in collaboration with the Shenandoah National Park staff and Appalachian Trail Shows, in and around National Parks. He is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. His hiking advice has been featured in Scholastic Parent & Child, The Boston Globe, National Geographic Adventure, DiscoveryChannel.com, and on ESPN, the Hallmark Channel, National Public Radio and more. In addition to Get Your Kids Hiking, Alt’s other books include A Walk For Sunshine, A 2,160 Mile Expedition for Charity on the Appalachian Trail, A Hike For Mike, and an eBook, Four Boots One Journey. Jeff is a speech language pathologist. He is married and has two children. To learn more about Jeff and his books: http://www.JeffAlt.com.