When my kids were little, we did zero hiking. And I guess “little” is a variable term used by many to represent different age groups. But when I say “little”, I mean toddler age. And by toddler age I mean, ages 2-4. So when my kids were this age, we did ZERO hiking. When we started cub scouts my son was 7 years old and my daughter was almost 5 years old. And all the hiking we did back then was super easy, walking on concrete and really no elevation gain or loss. And while google’s definition of hiking is “the activity of going for long walks, especially in the country or woods,” I still feel like this didn’t really count.
And while everyone has a different version of the term “hiking”, it has to be said, that hiking is on some sort of gravel or dirt, has at least SOME elevation gain or loss, and is longer than a city block. So for the purpose of this post, that is what I am referring to.
1. Bring water
I don’t care if you are 4 or 40, you need water. I don’t care if it is 30 degrees or 100 degrees, you will always need more than you think, so make sure to plan far enough in advance. For the love of Pete, don’t bring plastic non-reusable water bottles. If you have any love for the environment OR you plan on doing this again, bring something reusable. Our favorite brands are Nalgene, Camelbak and Hydroflask. They all come in many sizes, colors, and shapes so you can choose your preference. However, there are plenty of other brands out there to choose from. Something reliable and hardy will be preferred. Trust me on this. Kids beat things up.
2. Discuss expectations in advance
So every single kid out there is different. You know your kid best. Small kids that love to walk and run, may be fine on longer treks but some may not. When they are that age, the more hikes you go on, the more you will get to know their limits. I find that the more direct you can be with them, the better. I would never lie to my kids about the distance we were traveling or the kind of hike we would be going on. That all adds to the excitement of the finish line! But no matter what, having a conversation about what you expect of them is key. I wouldn’t expect a two-year-old to walk the whole way, depending on the distance. BUT I also don’t want to carry them the entire trek either. Letting them know your plans is key. Will you carry them on the way out but not the walk-in? Will you turn around when they get tired and not carry them at all? Will they carry their own water or their own snacks? Give them a little grace in the beginning and know they are totally new to this. But also be prepared for anything!
3. Bring snacks
There are few things I would recommend bringing on a hike with kids. Snacks are a big one! They always seem to want a break or water or for eating. And having that along with you will prevent a lot of meltdowns and also give them the energy to keep going. Great snacks are dried fruit/leather, granola trail mix, granola bars, fruit squeeze packs, and such. Stay away from candy or high sugar content as those only give quick energy bursts. Also stay away from dairy products because, in hot weather, those don’t do well in packs and can spoil easily without a cold pack (which adds to your weight).
4. Major five essentials
c. First Aid kit:
Don’t go buy a large first aid kit for your day pack. Honestly, the most important thing is something to clean a wound with an alcohol swab or other disinfectant and some bandaids. For all serious injuries, you will be calling for help anyways, but the minor ones, you can plan to treat these yourself.
d. Protection from the weather:
Depending on the weather, you will want to make sure you bring sunscreen or a rain jacket/warm jacket. Protection from the elements is key to a good, smooth, and enjoyable hike.
Little kids get bored really fast. Let’s be honest. Their attention spans are small. But on a hike, there is so much to do and so much to see that their attention can be guided to seeing and doing many different things while out and about. One thing I loved to do with my kids at this age was drawing what they see or even doing picture rubs. Take some paper, and a crayon and you can definitely have some fun doing an easy craft out on the hike. It takes a little more patience but it is so well worth it in the end.
If you can keep these basics in mind for your hike, then there is no reason you shouldn’t have a great time! Again, you know your kids best, so knowing what they can handle and what they can’t is huge! Just know, they can usually do more than we think they can. So give them the chance when you have the time!