Hiking With Children: Tips for the Trail

Hiking with children is a rewarding venture for both them and their parents. A few days of self-sufficiency, getting back to nature, enjoying the fresh air, and distancing from the sanitised grounds of caravan parks is great for Mum and Dad – and kids love the sense of adventure, animal-spotting, new campsites, and marshmallows over the fire!

In this blog, I’ll outline key tips for preparing for a successful hike with young children, and what to consider on the trail.

A young child on the shoulders of a man, in the outdoors. Both are smiling.

Kids love the sense of adventure. Image: MiniMeis

Getting Started

Perhaps you’ve taken your kids for a few day walks through the local conservation park, and wonder what it might be like to go on an overnight hike? Here are 5 tips to help you get started.

1. First Thing’s First…

Follow all the normal rules of hiking to the letter: packing clothes for all weather, a map and compass, tent, sleepwear, sturdy footwear, plenty of food and water, and notifying somebody of both where you intend to go and when you plan to get back. Do these things in plain sight of your kids to set a good example for the next generation!

Little one taking a break and having a snack on the side of the track.

Sometimes a yummy snack break is necessary when hiking with little ones.

2. How Far?

It’s often difficult for parents to plan a hike if they’re not sure how far their kids’ little legs can take them – but many parents may not realise just how ready their kids are for some simple hikes! Often, the distance they can travel is a function of the child’s physical and mental development.

Kids will mentally fatigue long before they are physically tired. The old ‘are we there yet?’ mentality can amplify a child’s feeling of tiredness, so it’s important to keep kids interested while walking. A good idea is to play a game such as I Spy, spelling and counting games, or animal spotting.

3. Rule of Thumb

The truth is, you won’t really know how far your child can hike until you try. To give you some idea of how to plan, you might find that kids can walk half their age in miles, per day. For instance, as a rough rule of thumb, a four-year-old can walk 2 miles (3.2km) per day.

Child looking for leaves while hiking.

Allow the kids to explore in nature. 

4. Take a Leaf

Children will often want to explore a little as they walk, stopping to pick things up or gaze at a lizard or leaf. This will slow down progress.

It’s important for parents to remember that their priority is no longer to get from A to B, as is often the case when walking with adults. In fact, parents would do well to take a leaf from their kids’ book; slow down to explore and discover the minutiae of the bush.

Abandon the idea of making it to camp in as short a time as possible, and enjoy teaching your kids about nature at a leisurely pace.

Family walking along path with packs.

Hiking with kids allows you to slow down to enjoy and discover new things together. 

5. Take a Break

Kids don’t have the stamina of adults and tend to move with shorter spurts of energy, followed by periods of rest. Until they settle into a more regular pattern of progress, parents need to adjust the frequency of breaks they take.

This can be frustrating, but remember that tired kids will have a poor hiking experience. To make it a positive one, pack plenty of yummy snacks to eat during breaks – perhaps some special treats they might not normally be allowed to eat at home (like lollies).

Remember, your expectations when hiking with children must be different from those when hiking with adults. You can only go as fast as your littlest pair of legs… and the conversation is certainly different too!

By giving your children a positive experience when hiking, you’re essentially giving them a gift for life: the realisation that the infinite joys of nature are just a rucksack and a few steps off the beaten track.

Hitting the Trail

1. Carry-On Camping

Inevitably, kids may need to be carried. There are a number of harness child carrying systems on the market, designed for kids or toddlers who can’t walk for any significant distance. These are great for day-hikes.

For kids who are a little older, they can be carried on shoulders where safe to do so. It’s important for Mum and Dad to realise that they may need to take the additional weight of their children, as well as the weight of their rucksacks.

A child with an ice-cream on a man's shoulders in a child carrier.

There are a number of harness child carrying systems on the market. Image: MiniMeis

2. Parents Pack Heavier

One key consideration is that parents will not be covering the distances they might normally walk with other adults. For this reason, they can afford to ‘pack heavy’ with a little more emphasis on water, food, and luxuries like toys or games.

This weight would not be comfortable over 10-20 kilometres, but over 3-5km in a day it is quite manageable.

3. Helping Out the Adults

Kids love helping out, and will often want to take a backpack along. This is great, and you can always pack something light in their bag like their favourite soft toy. Sometimes a small but significant item like the First Aid kit can make your child feel like they’re carrying something important contributing to the team.

However, expect your child to feel some discomfort after a while and perhaps want to shed their load. It’s a good idea to select a kids’ bag that can be strapped or attached to Mum or Dad’s rucksack if necessary.

Child carrying hiking pack.

Get the kids to help out by carrying a small day pack of snacks or something small. Photo: Peter Inverarity 

4. Sleeping Arrangements

There are a number of options when accommodating sleeping arrangements, and it all comes down to the size and/or number of tents you’re prepared to carry. Two parents and two kids between 4 and 6 years old can comfortably fit into a 3-person hiking tent of generous proportions. Alternatively, you could pack a 1-person tent for the kids to sleep in, and a 2-person tent for Mum and Dad.

Be careful not to overestimate the size of your tent though – it’s a fine line between ‘snug’ and ‘cramped’! If you’re buying a tent for family hikes, be sure to see it set up in the shop first and preferably have your family with you to determine floor space!

Kids sitting on the edge of a hiking tent.

When you’ve got kids in the tent, you want to make sure it’s not too cramped! 

5. Entertainment

It’s a good idea to take a few travel games for the campsite too: a pack of UNO cards, for instance, and a storybook or two for around the fire. There are always games you can make up yourself too – for instance, a few small stones and a line in the sand provides the means for a perfectly good game of ‘Bush Bocce’!

Why not see if you and your kids can find some animal tracks nearby too? The easily-recognisable kangaroo, wallaby, or emu prints – or the disturbed earth dug up by a foraging echidna. Remember to supervise the kids though; the excitement can carry them away from camp all too easily!

Family watching sunset after a hike.

Hiking and adventures with the family are memories for life!

Family Hikes are Memories for Life!

Kids who have positive experiences hiking will grow up to be confident and conscientious explorers of the natural world. Moreover, their experience in self-sufficiency and teamwork will instil a resilient streak, which will serve them well throughout their life.

Hiking with kids takes them to unique and special places, creating unique and special memories that will stay with families forever.

How do you prepare your kids for outdoor adventures? Let us know in the comments below.