Summer vacation is well under way, and with a lack of recess and physical education, parents may be looking for different ways to get kids outside and staying active. A great way to keep children from becoming couch potatoes for three months is to go for a hike.
“For a parent, taking their children hiking is one of the best opportunities for teaching moments there is,” says T.J. Fraser of Big Bear Lake, California, who’s been a backpacker for about 25 years. “The trick is teaching without preaching and always keeping in mind that hiking should be fun.”
The right routes
Preparation is essential for a successful hiking adventure, of course. Add in research and planning, and pretty soon the kids will be hiking like the pros.
“Kids come to the trail with a lot of the built-in components that makes for a good hiker, curiosity being the big one,” Fraser says. “What kids don’t necessarily have is patience, particularly in today’s world where instant gratification is a constant. As hiking is a marathon and not a sprint, parents will need to keep their kids engaged.”
Lakes, waterfalls or anything particularly visual gives kids the motivation to reach a goal, he says. And when you get there, you can surprise with a favorite snack that you packed, Fraser says. Families should also plan ahead and choose a hike that is well within their comfort zones, says Rudy Dunlap, program coordinator of the leisure and sport management program at Middle Tennessee State University.
“Choose a route that is appropriate for the ages and abilities of your children, considering both distance and elevation,” he says. “Be prepared for the fact that children may stop often to explore and investigate things they find along the route, e.g., bugs, sticks, water, etc.”
Pack, snack, observe
Don’t forget to pack the essentials, too, Dunlap says. This should include plenty of water, a rain jacket, an insulating layer (depending on the season), sunscreen, a hat, a flashlight, snacks, a small first aid kit, a cellphone and a map.
“Substantial footwear is a must,” he says. “Too many people go hiking in flip flops or something flimsy, which will bring a hike to a halt as soon as it blows out.”
As for snacks, bring ones with carbs for immediate energy and ones with protein and fat for endurance, Dunlap says.
Parents should also consider hazards in the environment, and it’s just as important for kids to “be extremely aware of their surroundings,” says Jake Mazzone, a self-described “avid outdoorsman” who works for a public relations company in Boca Raton, Florida.
“In areas that are heavily populated with venomous snakes or poisonous plants that they may come in contact with, large, carnivorous animals or dangerous terrain, it is not a good idea for kids to hike alone,” says Mazzone, adding that keeping a watchful eye is his No. 1 safety tip.
“It all depends on the level of maturity and the knowledge and awareness of being faced with a natural/wild environment. The key to surviving in nature is to use all of your five senses to the best of your ability, especially your vision and hearing.”