A Camper's Checklist for Hiking with Children

In a world where many of our youngsters experience nature by watching the Discovery Channel, taking your children on an easy hike will introduce them to the way nature is intended to be experienced. Whether you hike in the forest, along a lake, or up a small mountain, it’s a memory that they — and you! — will keep forever.

Here are some tips on what to bring on a hike with children.

Naturally, you’ll have to modify your hiking goals, depending on the age and physical abilities of your children. Walking an entire day along the Appalachian Trail probably isn’t going to be a happy day for you or your children if they’re younger than 10.

So, the first item on your hiker’s checklist should be to lower your expectations and increase your flexibility. Remember, they’re slower, they have a shorter attention spans and a different way of looking at time than adults (“Are we there yet?”) But they also have a great sense of wonder and will delight in looking for bugs, dew drops on leaves and tadpoles in streams.

What to Bring on a Hike with Young Children

There’s nothing that says you can’t go for a hike or a long walk with a young child — you’re just going to need to bring extra gear. You’ll need a backpack and, for a baby, a good baby carrier.

Be sure to lather up the entire family with sunscreen. Young children are especially susceptible to sunburns because their skin is thinner than adults. Bring plenty of water and be particularly attuned to heat exhaustion if hiking during the summer months. Although bugs are fun to look at, it’s not fun being bitten by them. For children, opt for a low DEET insect repellent or dress in light pants and a long-sleeve shirt. Finally, if your child is still in diapers, have a bag in which you can put the soiled diapers. Never toss or even bury soiled diapers while on your hike. Remember, if you pack it in, you need to bring it out.

If your children are older, perhaps the most important item on your hiker’s checklist to bring is patience. You’ll need to be aware and sensitive to your child’s energy and behavior. Be flexible enough to know that as much as you’d like to get to the viewpoint (1.5 miles away), your child may be done and it’s best to turn back to camp. You’ll find that some children are eager to lead the way and make it first to the top, while others will dawdle. The trick is to know your child, push him or her a bit, but not overdo it.

Regardless, even just a short walk along an easy nature path is better than sitting in front of the television!

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