I’ve done a lot of hiking over the last few months – some with our unit, and some with my family. I’m always a little surprised when people express shock that I would even CONSIDER hiking with children, especially Sparks. “But kids are so slow! You never get anywhere! And all they do is whine about when it’s going to be over!!!”
I don’t know about you, but this has definitely not been my experience of hiking with children. In fact, I find it refreshing. While adult hikers are often focused on the goal (where they are going to end up, or how far they are hiking that day), for kids, it’s all about enjoying the journey. I admit that this viewpoint appeals to me – I’m an amateur photographer, so going a bit slower and enjoying the view is something I love.
But I also admit that there are things you can do to make sure you have a great hike with the little people in your life. Here are some of my suggestions for hiking with kids:
1) Prepare, prepare, prepare! For Girl Guides, this comes naturally. It is our Motto, after all. But especially with young hikers, the more you prepare ahead of time, the better the experience will be. If you can, scope out the trail in advance. If that’s not possible, do your research, read the maps, and learn about the terrain and what to expect in that area. If the adults are comfortable and able to be focused on the kids (instead of worrying whether you’re on the right trail or reading the map or GPS), everyone has a much better time!
2) Pack the right gear. Make a list of all the things you’ll need, a week or so in advance, so that you can add to it as you remember items. You can also keep a pre-stocked bag specifically for your hiking trips (our family has a backpack we keep in our kitchen, so that if the mood strikes, we can head out without too much extra preparation). What you pack will depend on the trip. If you’re going out with young hikers, I’d suggest a fully-stocked basic first aid kit (don’t forget the kid-friendly band aids!), rain gear, snacks and lots of water. Even young kids can help carry gear – invest in a very small pack and they can carry their own snack and drink. As a unit, we’ve made Be Prepared kits (including everything from donated insulated lunch bags to large pencil cases with a carabiner clip), and then everyone can carry their own supplies!
3) Be Safe. Even if it’s a short hike on a well-marked trail, make sure you have a plan and someone knows where you are going, who is with you, and when you’ll return. For unit trips, make sure you have completed and approved Safe Guide forms, health forms, and contact information for everyone with you (including adults). Make sure the group knows basic hiking safety rules – stay with a buddy, stay on the trail, and stay within eyeshot of the group. It’s also a good idea to go over safety rules about the wildlife in the area, especially if you have new hikers with you.
4) Start slowly, and build skills gradually. The assumption that kids can’t hike longer distances or set more extensive goals is not accurate. But, those goals can’t be reached in one day. Build up to longer hikes by starting with a slower pace and shorter distance. Try out different terrains and types of trails. And take the interests of your hikers into account – find out what excites them, and they’ll be leading you down the trail in no time!
5) Stay positive, and be realistic about the abilities of the hikers. Kids are very perceptive – and if the adults aren’t happy about hiking, the kids won’t be either. If you don’t want to hear whining, keep an upbeat attitude. Stop for rests when needed, and take your time on the trail. Better to plan a shorter hike with lots of time to enjoy it, rather than have grumpy, tired and sore hikers. Our unit, which includes girls of very different ages and abilities, sometimes plans a two-stage hike – we all start out together, and do a short hike. We then split into two – one group and the appropriate number of Guiders head back, while the other half continue on for a longer hike. We let the girls (with some adult guidance, if necessary) set their own goals and decide which hike they prefer.
6) Take time to smell the roses (and find the salamanders)! One of my all-time favourite hikes was with a group of Guides a few years ago. We didn’t get very far in terms of distance, but we found a salamander under a rock, discovered a small waterfall and some giant wooden structures in the woods, and searched for Geocaches. That hike was part of a unit camp, and I actually came back feeling MORE relaxed than I did at the beginning of the weekend (and if you’re a Leader, you know that’s no small feat!)
Being out in nature has so many benefits – relaxation, an appreciation of our environment and the many other plants and animals we share it with, and a life-long love of physical activity in the outdoors. Enjoying a hike with kids can bring an enthusiasm and fresh perspective that you might not otherwise experience. So get out there and get hiking (and don’t forget to take some pictures along the way!)
By guest blogger and Guider ‘Glowie’, aka Megan Gilchrist. Megan is the Contact Guider for the 7th St. Catharines Guiding (multi-branch)Unit. Read Megan’s other contributions to GirlGuidesCANBlog: Inspiration to Guiding, I Bee-Lieve in Camp, Geo-What??? Or How to Hunt for Treasure in Your own Backyard, Hands-on History, Every Penny Counts, and “Multi-Branch” Means More Fun!