It’s a Saturday afternoon, mid-summer, I’m searching throughout the house for my son.
Found him, curled up on his bed with his tablet. I told him to grab his boots and crocs, we’re going for a walk.
In an age of seemingly perpetual “screen-time,” I find it more and more important to make time to introduce my son to nature. I am so lucky to have parents who made sure I lived a life rich with outdoor experience, (although back in my day, electronics weren’t such a big deal), and now more than ever, I want that for my son too. As an avid hiker, I am well prepared with gear and clothing for myself and I know exactly what I want and need for a day or overnight hike, but deciding what to bring when I venture out with my son is a little bit of a different challenge.
When I started encouraging my son to come with me, I figured some “cool” boots and gear of his own might make the adventure a little more fun for him, but after venturing out with him quite a bit, I can tell you that there is really no need to break the bank.
Once they are out there own the trail, kids won't be thinking about the color of their boots or the brands they are wearing, they will be absorbed in what is around them: plants and animals they see on the trail, the trees overhead, or maybe even the the rushing waterfalls above their heads. Below are just a few tips on gearing up to enjoy hiking with your kids.
Pennsylvania, where I do most of my hiking, is known for its rocks and water, so comfort and safety for our little adventurers feet is key. Hiking is an inherently dirty activity so having a separate pair of shoes or boots that you don't mind them getting wet, or muddy or dirty is important. You can start with a pair of closed toe shoes with a good grip on the bottom.
Tip: I suggest leaving the flip flops and/or open shoes or sandals for relaxing after hiking. Even easy hiking trails can have rough, rocky or slippery sections depending on the season and conditions, so closed toe footwear with some traction will lead to a happier hike most of the time.
Tip: If you decide to expand your child's footwear collection to include a special hiking shoe or boot, you can look for a sturdy shoe or boot with a good tread plus some structure and ankle support. Although, hiking boots are one thing I tend to spend a little bit more cash on, there are still ways to save. (Check out sourcing section below).
Consider weather, terrain and type of trail for both planning and dressing appropriately for your adventure - and then go for comfort! No need to spend the big bucks on your growing child on technical hiking clothing. Allow them to explore in whatever weather appropriate clothes make them comfortable.
Mom and Dad, remember, you know your child best, so go with your gut and keep it chill and fun. My son opted to wear rain boots on a hike once, but hey, he was comfortable and happy in them, so we both had a blast!
Tip: Extra clothes. Depending on the length of your hike, you may want to add to one of your packs a couple of other items of clothing. In the end, having an extra warmth layer or a dry option along on your adventure may be more manageable than a cold kiddo! With unpredictable weather becoming more common these days, a spare hat or rain jacket may be good things to snag and pack along as well.
There are hundreds of different types of backpacks to choose from when hiking with kids - whether your getting them started early with an infant carrier that you will carry, sourcing the perfect sized backpack for your toddlers first hiking pack, or purchasing an adult sized backpacking pack for your teen, remember to do some research and make sure the pack fits and is properly adjusted before you head out.
Here again, let comfort be your guide, and make the choice based on your child's capabilities, age and the requirements of the adventure you’re planning. For a simple day hike, your kiddo's book bag backpack may just do the trick.
Now, what goes in the backpack matters most!
While I know some parents carry everything for their kids when they hike, I like packing my son's pack with his own stuff. This gives him a sense of responsibility and independence during our hikes together. Sudden encounter with a swarm of gnats? Instead of crying for help, young hikers can learn that means it's time to reach in their pack for bug spray.
Bug spray during the warmer seasons is a must in most of the Mid-Atlantic Region, as well as sunscreen, and a basic first aid, hand sanitizer and or wipes, water and snacks too. Lots of snacks!
Tip: Snack Fun! Plan and make a special hiking snack/treat ahead of time together and involve your kid in packing it up and deciding where to have it along the trail.
Tip: Of course, you will want to have a map in your pack and know exactly where you are and where you are going, but you can also add a map to your child's kit and stop regularly to look at it. This helps kids cultivate a sense of place and distance and builds confidence in outdoor experience.
Tip: To boost the adventure, throw in a small notebook and make up a nature themed scavenger hunt list! Have an older child? Add a set of walkie talkies to enhance the hunt.
Tip: I try to keep in mind that whatever my son chooses to pack, I usually end up carrying it, at some point during our adventure, so I pack my pack accordingly.
As a single-mom, I am always looking for a deal or items on sale and with a growing boy, I like to keep things simple and basically stick to what is necessary. This has served me and my son very well on our hiking adventures.
If you are looking to gear up your kiddo in a cost-effective way, do a little research, decide on what you are looking for, and reach out to family and friends with kids who hike to see what items they may have. Hand-me-downs are one of my favorite ways to gear up for my son - and sometimes he likes getting gear from a “big kid!”
Outdoor activities, like hiking, have grown more popular since the COVID 19 crisis hit, so you may also find there is more in the used market, including thrift stores and online used clothing sources, than ever.
Social media can also be a great outlet for used kids hiking and outdoor gear. I watch Facebook marketplace, Christmas in July Sales for winter boots.
Hiking with your kiddos is a chance to break away from day to day work and school routines, and to use your child's extra energy while refreshing and restoring your own. Keeping it simple can help teach your children to be patient and resourceful by having only necessary items along for their adventures. Most importantly, remember hiking with your kids is meant to be fun. It shouldn't create more stress than it alleviates. So don’t get caught up in the hype that you need a ton of specialized equipment before you head out and explore!
See you out there!