Heading into the Mountains – With Kids
Taking children hiking can be incredibly stressful if you’re not prepared. However, with a bit of pre-planning and our top tips, it can be a brilliantly rewarding experience for all involved and have benefits you may not even think about, Including:
- Time to Unplug and reconnect with nature.
- Brings out natural curiosity and desire to learn which can impact their academic learning.
- Build mental stamina and resilience
- Strengthens the relationship with you as you are both partaking in something difficult together.
- It’s great exercise
- Early childhood exposure to the outdoors will impact their view of outdoor adventures later on in life.
- self-confidence, self-esteem and a healthy self-image.
What to take with you?
You don’t really need anything out of the ordinary when taking children out into the mountains. Extra sweets for coaxing tired legs up the last bit of uphill do come in handy, as does hand sanitising gel for eating sandwiches after accidental hand to sheep poo incidents.
Suncream and a sunhat are even more important for delicate skin and carrying a compact umbrella on a hot day can create shade anywhere should you need it. Also, unless it’s 25 degrees, we always carry hot juice too. Being able to warm up is essential, thanks to an unexpected chilly breeze or after a wild dip in a mountain stream.
If you’re new to hiking, check out our ‘Heading into the Hills – The basics’ post where you can find all of the information you need to safely get you out into the mountains for the first time.
Kitting them out
Children grow so quickly that spending lots of dosh on specialist kit can be a waste. Outdoor companies have caught onto this though and some have created items that grow with your children. For example, Hi-Tecs ‘Big-Fit System’ allows for an insert to be removed when feet grow, making a pair of boots last longer. Waterproofs with Velcro at the bottom can stop trousers from dragging on the floor when too long, giving kiddos extra room to grow into them.
It makes sense, unless you have numerous kids to kit out, to buy second hand on online forums such as Ebay. Should you want to buy new, check out Decathlon or Mountain Warehouse. Both shops can kit out children in mountain specific kit that’ll keep them warm and dry without breaking the bank. The also have regular sales too, keep an eye out for these as they offer great savings!
One great investment that can have them excited to head for the hills is their very own rucksack. Let them chose one with a waist belt and comfy shoulder straps, specifically designed for little people. Older children can often get away with a small adult pack. They will use it on the many family adventures you go on and it allows them to take ownership of their own equipment.
What should you expect from them?
This is a difficult one and in a way, very age dependant, so we’ve broken it down into age categories of what we would expect children of different ages to be able to achieve. You may need to take into account your own child’s needs, but allow them to show you what they can do, they will surprise you. It’s Important to break them in slowly at any level and always make it a positive experience. Flapjacks and jelly babies are great motivators!
It’s not about the long hike with little ones, it’s about instilling a love and curiosity for wild spaces so that they can enjoy them in the many years to come. Throw them in a pack and hit the trail yourself, stopping to allow them to walk small sections, pick up rocks, stare at bugs or splash in puddles.
Shorter hill or mountain walks are achievable with some planning and coaxing. Think 3/400m height gain over 2/3 miles and setting small goals throughout the walk with a reward at the end helps, e.g. lets get to that big rock up there and we can have some hot squash or lets go and see if there’s bugs in that drystone wall. Remember, just like the youngest children, it’s about building a desire to be here in the future. Make it fun and they’ll want to come back for more. They’re also old enough to take responsibility for their own water, snacks and spare jumper at this age. Maybe let them carry a camera too or their favourite bird book to identify things they see on the way.
Get children in this age group to help plan their trip and they can thrive on the challenge involved in a longer hike with a good amount of height gain. Allow them to take responsibility for packing their own food, water, jumper, waterproofs etc and have a go at getting ready themselves before you leave the house. Having things to do throughout the walk to break it up, such as identification cards or taking photos for a diary can take the ‘march’ out of it and be a great excuse for the occasional break. Think Pen Y fan from the Brecon Side or the Old Man of Coniston. We’ve known children of this age group to thrive on a hike that is exhausting their teacher!
So long as they can take ownership of the walk by helping to plan and heading out with the right attitude, children in this age range can really surprise you by how much they are capable of. They should be carrying all of their own equipment and taking control of their own safety. With the right Fitness, they could easily climb the longer routes up Snowdon or a number of peaks in one hike.
These guys are practically Adults. Expect them to carry all of their own kit, as well as taking ownership of safety equipment, map reading and route choice. Think about the achievements they can gain from the Duke of Edinburgh Award also, as this can lead to many positive outcomes that can impact everything from their health to the attitude to UCAS points.
How to make a mountain walk more interesting
Various organisations such as the Woodland Trust and the Wildlife Trusts have resources that you can use to turn any adventure into an educational one. Let children research beforehand and have an eye out for things of interest or take identification cards out with you and see where their eyes naturally wonder.
Art can easily be incorporated into you hike should your child enjoy being creating. Taking home autumn leaves and twigs to create with later or making art right there on the trail and photographing it to remember forever are both exciting for different age groups. Making rubbings of surfaces can be exciting for small hands, just as allowing time for composing brilliant photography can keep teenagers minds occupied on the place around them.
Having skills up your sleeve to teach can be a great way to spend 20 minutes; how to collect water safely from a stream, making grass rockets or knowing about edible plants are great things to share with sprogs of all ages.
Dipping your toes into a stream or jumping into pools can be great fun on a sunny day and grass sliding down steep sides of a mountains can be an exciting way to descend for tired legs.
Our top 5 thing to remember when hiking with kids.
- ‘You can make a short walk long but you cant make a long walk short’. Start off with shorter walks, you can always add extra distance if they’re moving quickly or spend time looking at interesting rocks and bugs.
- Don’t give in to their moaning, It’s supposed to be hard. Make a pact before leaving the car/house that you are all up for the challenge and that any negative words such as ‘I can’t’ are banned. It may sound simple, but if you have more than one kid in tow, they’ll police each other, often leading to peer motivation with minimal input from you. Score!
- Let them take ownership of the walk. Include them in the planning, let them pack and carry their own spare jumper, food and water.
- Know when to turn around. If the weather changes or they’re really struggling consider the experience from the child’s perspective. You want it to be a positive experience, not put them off for life. The mountain will still be there tomorrow.
- It’s not the destination but the journey. Allow them to explore the world they’re travelling through. Take photos of plants/bugs/rocks to research when you get home. Sit and listen, watch the clouds or roll in the grass. Be led by their desire to learn and you will definitely learn a thing or two.
We’d love to hear how you get on hiking with your kids, Do you have any other tips for us?