The Trient glacier in Switzerland

Hiking with small children: Five tips to make it fun for everyone

I know that hiking with small children may feel daunting, but it’s definitely possible and we’ve been doing it with our two little adventurers since they were very young.

I think the thing to remember in order to make sure everyone has a good time is to go at your child’s pace and don’t be too ambitious. This is especially important if you’re just starting to hike with your children. Start out with short routes and build up slowly to ensure that everybody has a good time.

Hiking with small children: Getting started

If you’re new to hiking with small children, the main thing to do is just get out there and try it. I’ve seen people say before not to mention the word “walk” or “hike” to children, as they will instantly equate it with boredom. But I think this is only the case if you have helped them to create that association previously.

We started taking our little adventurers out on our hikes from a very young age. First we carried them in baby slings, then toddler carriers, before eventually they were able to start walking themselves.

We always framed it as a fun event, a chance to explore and have an adventure. Even at this young age we involved them in the walk. We pointed out interesting things and let them explore the environment around them.

My eldest always liked to carry a leaf while in her carrier and waved it proudly like a little flag. Now, at age 6, she still loves collecting leaves and other treasures on our walks. (As her coat pockets attest to!)  

However, if you are feeling a bit nervous about hiking with small children, there are definitely some steps you can take to make the experience fun for everyone. If you’re used to hiking quickly, or long distances, some of these may take a bit of getting used to. But the most important thing to remember is that you are aiming to foster a love of hiking. If that is created from a young age, then speed and distance will come with time. 

So here are my five tips for hiking with small children:

Be realistic with your route

I would say the most important thing to remember when hiking with small children is to be realistic with your route. There is no point attempting an epic distance for your first hike, as it’s sure to leave everyone feeling fed up and disappointed.

Start off with small distances and gradually build up. If you’re hiking with a toddler, take a carrier, so they can have a rest or a nap when they get tired. We have this Osprey Poco LT child carrier, which we love as it folds up really small when not in use.

Let them lead

I cannot explain the difference that handing over the map makes while hiking with children. We always go through the route ahead of time. We point out where we are starting from and where we are aiming to get to. Plus, we identify any landmarks to look out for along the route. Then we let the little ones carry the map.

Giving them ownership of the walk, really makes them feel like a trusted member of the team. We’re always amazed at how good the 6-year-old is at spotting landmarks and making sure we stay on track. (Obviously we follow along too and help them get back on track if needed.)

Another thing our children love, which we actually started during the dreaded lockdowns, is what we call Adventure Walks. As we were stuck at home and only able to venture a certain distance from the house, we used to let them lead us wherever they wanted. At the end of each street we’d ask them whether they wanted to go left, right or straight-on and we’d just see where we ended up. They loved it so much and even now often ask to go on an Adventure Walk.  

rocks on the Bisse du Trient

Go at their pace

I think when you first start hiking with small children, this can be one of the hardest things to adapt to. It may even feel a little frustrating if you’re used to hiking a lot. However, it’s really important to go at the pace of your child. There is no point trying to rush them and hurry them along, as everyone will just end up feeling stressed. (I always joke to my friends that the words “hurry up” mean nothing to a child anyway.)

It’s also important to acknowledge when your little ones are getting tired. Factor in time to take lots of rest breaks along the way. When we see the estimated time of a route, such as when we were hiking the Bisse du Trient in Switzerland, we always double it to ensure that there’s going to be enough breaks.

Allow time for play

One of the things you’ll find when hiking with small children is that they will find things to play with anywhere they are. In fact, being out in nature is one of the best playgrounds there is. There are leaves to collect, stones to throw in streams and creepy crawlies to admire. Plus, don’t get me started on the walking stick collection we have at home!

Again, if you’re used to hiking quickly, this stopping and starting may feel frustrating at first. But I quickly learnt to love seeing the world through the eyes of my little adventurers. They notice so much more than I ever do on hikes. Hiking with small children has taught me to be more present in the moment and more appreciative of my surroundings. 

The river at the Bisse du Trient glacier

Be prepared for hiking with small children

If you’re hiking with small children, especially in remote areas, it’s really important to be prepared with the right equipment and hiking gear.

Depending on the age of your children, you may want to consider investing in some hiking boots. However, if the distances you are travelling are short and mostly flat, sturdy trainers will probably be fine to start off with.

Also, make sure you take lots of layers. The weather can often change quickly when you’re on mountainous routes for example. So even if you’re starting off in the sunshine, make sure you pack warm layers and waterproofs so that you don’t get caught out along the way.

Hiking with small children packing list:

  • Water bottles – we love SHO water bottles. They’re slightly more pricey than plastic ones, but they keep the water really cold and are a good size for small children to carry themselves.
  • First aid kit – essential on all hikes, particularly if you have accident-prone little ones like me! Make sure you chose a substantial one, like this Premium First Aid Kit.
  • Sun cream – always chose a high factor, as it’s so easy to get burnt. If your little ones aren’t fans of sun cream, I recommend Nivea roll on sun lotion which is easy to apply and they can start to put it on themselves as they get older.
  • Sunhat – opt for a sunhat with a wide brim all of the way around if possible, to protect necks from the sun. These Masocio sun hats come in so many cute designs and have an adjustable chin strap.
  • Sunglasses – when choosing sunglasses, make sure you have some with 100% UVA/UVB protection. I love how colourful Boolavard Kids Sunglasses are.
  • Backpack – start off with a small backpack with something light, like a water bottle inside, before building up to your little one carrying more. These 10l Mountaintop kids backpacks are good basic starter packs. But it might be worth going to an outdoor shop to try a few out before choosing one.

Snacks and hydrate

One thing that hiking with small children will teach you is that their ability to consume snacks is unrivalled! It always amazes me how much my toddler can eat. We tend to take a lot of dried snacks, such as crackers, nuts and raisins. As well as fruit, like apples and bananas.

As well as being vital for energy levels, snacks can also be a good motivation when enthusiasm levels start to flag. 

Hydration is also extremely important when you’re hiking. While this is often easy to remember in hot climates, it can sometimes be forgotten about in colder places. Make sure everyone in the family drinks from separate water bottles. That way you can keep an eye on how much liquid your little ones are taking in.

I hope that you have found this guide to hiking with small children useful. Please let me know if you have any other questions.

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Hiking with small children