Facing down a trailhead can feel intimidating, even when your family is by your side. Many parents dream of becoming a hiking family but might feel like the learning curve is as steep as Canada’s Mount Thor. In reality, getting into hiking doesn’t have to be difficult or confusing.
Heading outdoors together can serve as an excellent bonding experience for you and your family, as well as any other hiking groups that you venture out with. To set the scene for a fun and fulfilling time, do some research before going out for the first time. While there are many helpful hiking tips in guidebooks, the truth is that everyone’s perfect beginner’s guide will look slightly different.
There are indeed some rules and tips that are fairly universal, but you have to consider your family’s individual needs. Thinking about you and your kids’ likes and dislikes, whether you have any pets to manage, and everyone’s fitness level is all-important.
With our guide on how to start hiking as a family, even the most newbie hikers can find themselves ready for the big time before you know it.
Make Sure You Have the Hiking Essentials You Need
One of the biggest considerations when it comes to a safe and enjoyable trip into nature is coming stocked with the optimal hiking gear.
Again, what exactly you need will come down to each specific family, but here are a few of the most common and essential items you will need to get started:
Natural Bug Repellent
An otherwise wonderful adventure into the great outdoors can quickly turn sour if too many bugs get in the way. That is why we here at The Natural Patch Co. made it our mission to keep both kids and adults comfortable so they can enjoy their days to the fullest.
Whether you and your family are going on your very first hike or if you’re seasoned pros exploring a national park, bug protection is a must. When in a natural and scenic environment, your insect repellent should match your surroundings. Luckily, there are alternatives that keep bugs at bay, Mother Nature’s way — no harsh chemicals needed.
Our BuzzPatch Mosquito Repellent Patches harness the powers of nature to create a sticker that will be right at home on your next outdoor adventure. These adorable patches utilize a citronella blend complete with other essential oils that will have mosquitoes buzzing off in no time. Citronella oil has been used to ward off pesky bugs for generations; it’s a tried and true remedy.
For kids under two, simply stick the patch on your child’s t-shirt, and let it get to work. Kids between the ages of three and five will typically need a patch on their torso and one on their legs. Kids and adults above that age will need between two and four patches, depending on how many limbs are exposed.
If it’s a bit too late for these patches and your family has already been bitten, there are also natural options for you all to find relief.
Natural Itch Relief
Mosquito bites usually begin to feel itchy within minutes or hours of initial contact. This means that bites received at the beginning of your excursion could easily become itchy by the end, if not sooner, depending on the length of your journey. No one wants their hike to be cut short or disrupted by uncomfortable itching, but that doesn’t mean you want to expose your family to a barrage of chemicals either.
For a chemical-free option, the MagicPatch Itch Relief Patches have you covered (literally). Instead of using harsh and potentially irritating chemicals, these patches use an innovative Grid-Relief technology that allows your lymphatic system to drain itself better. From there, itchiness can become little more than a distant memory.
As adults, we know it’s important not to scratch at an already irritated bug bite. At best, this scratching will cause the bite to become even itchier as time goes on. At worst, scratching could cause tears in the skin that lead to infection. Even armed with this knowledge, we can sometimes have trouble remembering not to irritate the bug bite site.
When it comes to kids, it can feel almost impossible to properly convey the message that they shouldn’t scratch. In their minds, the issue is incredibly simple – if something is itchy, it should be scratched. To prevent the bite from worsening or any more severe consequences to more irritation, be sure to use these patches as soon as possible.
Sun Protection and Sunscreen
At one time or another, the vast majority of us have experienced the horrors of a sunburn. Days spent bathing in aloe vera are never ideal, but even when that initial discomfort fades, that sun exposure still has long-term effects.
Many people think that proper sun protection and sunscreen are only necessary on longer hikes, but they are crucial to have during a short hike as well. The truth is that signs of a sunburn can appear from as early as just 11 minutes of sun exposure. Since it takes such a short amount of time for the effects of sun damage to set in, it’s recommended to wear sun protection when venturing outdoors.
Sun protection can take a few different forms, so it’s wise to mix and match and determine what works for you and your family. Common examples of sun protection include hats, visors, and more. This should be a relief to new hikers, as the vast majority of us have a cap or two tucked away in the back of a closet somewhere.
Remember that sun damage can occur in all kinds of weather and at any time of year. Even if it’s cold or cloudy out, UV rays can still make their way to your skin.
Long-sleeved shirts and pants can also be helpful in blocking sun damage. During the winter, this might seem like a given. In the summer, though, wearing this base layer might not be the right move.
No matter the season, sunblock may be the most important form of sun protection. You should apply sunblock to any exposed skin and be sure to reapply often, especially if sweating or an impromptu lake swim are involved.
Lots of Snacks
This is where we can have a little bit of fun before the day even begins. Preparing and choosing the right snacks to bring along on your trip can create a sense of excitement for you and your kids. Feel free to get in the spirit by buying or making your own trail mix.
You can also ask your kids to help gather the snacks for your excursion. This is an excellent way to help kids feel agency over their trip and to encourage them to make healthy eating choices. A hike inevitably involves a lot of cardio, and you should keep that in mind when packing your family’s snacks.
Snacks high in protein are best to bring along on your trek. Space is likely to be at a premium in your backpack, so go for food that has a big nutritious punch in a small package.
Nut butters like peanut butter, almond butter, and more pack a lot of protein and are often beloved by kids and adults alike. Peanuts, cashews, almonds, and more can also be enjoyed not in butter form for a helpful hiking snack.
Those with nut allergies, or people who simply do not enjoy nuts, will be happy to hear that there are plenty of other options. Fresh and dried fruit will help keep blood sugar up, and various kinds of meat jerky will keep you fueled up while trekking through the wilderness.
Keep in mind that elevation gain can increase the rate of our metabolisms. In this case, we will need more food to make the most of a hiking trip through the backcountry.
Plenty of Water
No hiking guide would be complete without emphasizing the importance of hydration. Dehydration is a real possibility, especially in the hotter summer months.
Having just one water bottle might not be enough, so having a variety of water sources is probably wise. However, despite your careful planning efforts, unexpected situations can arise when outdoors. As a result, it is always safest to have more water rather than less.
A Fully Stocked First Aid Kit
Despite all of our best efforts as parents, we all have to recognize that accidents can happen. Even if you have planned each and every step of your hike to the fullest, new and unexpected obstacles can arise.
In some cases, these situations can even be fun or an opportunity for problem-solving with your kids. For the obstacles that are not as fun, it’s necessary to have a first aid kit on hand at all times. “Fully stocked” can be a bit subjective when determining what you need in your first aid kit. When figuring out what you need, consider how long your trek will be.
Are you only going out for a short day hike on a well-marked and popular trail? If so, you might only need basic items like antiseptic wipes, band-aids, blister treatments, gauze, and a few other necessities. However, if you’re planning a more involved trek into the wilderness, or perhaps even a camping trip, you will likely need a wider variety of items.
Beginner and more experienced hikers alike agree that sometimes a pre-made first aid kit is the way to go. These will come stocked with all of the necessities you will need in your daypack, so you can go about your hike knowing you have what you need. Do your research to ensure the first aid kit you choose has what you need, and feel free to make adjustments as necessary.
Proper Hiking Boots or Other Hiking Shoes
Depending on the hike you and your family are going on, you will need certain kinds of shoes and hiking socks. You might need anything from trail running shoes to a good pair of full-out hiking boots. No matter what, double-check that your shoes have proper arch and ankle support.
Talk to Your Kids About Safety in Nature Ahead of Time
Nature is a magical place, but it must be respected. Both kids and adults can use a reminder of this from time to time, so make sure everyone is on the same page before going on the hike. Your kids should understand that it is essential to treat both nature and the people you meet along the way with the utmost respect.
Make Sure They Understand Trail Etiquette
Hiking is one of the most effective means of reconnecting with nature. Especially nowadays, when everyone is constantly busy and on the go, a trip into the woods can be just what we need to recenter ourselves.
In fact, studies have shown that being in nature reduces our stress levels. If all of this wasn’t already enough, going on a hike with your kids has some other tangible benefits as well.
Teaching our kids to respect their surroundings is a necessary lesson. Whether they are in the classroom, at home, or on a hiking trail, our kids need to understand that a space should be the same, if not better, than how they found it. This is the guiding idea behind the Leave No Trace Principles.
These principles teach us to admire and appreciate nature and largely leave it alone. Do not touch or move anything unnecessarily, and allow anything from rocks to leaves to any other natural materials to remain where it is. Any and all trash should be disposed of properly and never littered on the ground outside.
Not only are these lessons critical for having the best hiking experience possible, but the general themes of respect will transfer to all sorts of settings.
Be Respectful of Fellow Hikers
When on a hike, you might encounter all sorts of different people. You can expect to run into those set up with trekking poles, bikers, and people of all ages on your trip. Talk to your kids about being quiet and respectful when interacting with others during an unexpected meetup.
Make sure that everyone knows who has the right of way. This will lessen the odds of collisions or awkward situations while on the trail.
Plan a Hiking Trail That Works for Everyone’s Fitness Level
First and foremost, hiking should be an enjoyable experience. If we plan a trip that is too far out of our comfort zones, then we run the risk of crossing the line from fun to overwhelming. Think about your personal fitness level, and also consider your kids’ abilities and preferences (including attention span based on age).
Review the Weather and Trail Conditions
Even if every aspect of your hike has been predetermined, the weather will still have a mind of its own. Before heading out on the trail, check the weather forecast for what to expect for the day ahead. You might not have cell phone reception when on the trail, so be prepared for multiple different possibilities.
Wear the Right Clothes
What to wear hiking is a decision to take seriously. Depending on the intensity of the hike, your average clothes might not cut it. So instead, look for moisture-wicking apparel. This wicking will likely be more comfortable and can prevent chafing on longer hikes.
Move at Your Kids’ Speed
During a hike, there might be moments when your kids have seemingly endless energy, and they are ready to move forward at a rapid pace. Meanwhile, their movements might begin to slow when they are ready for a snack. Unless you’re on a time crunch, it’s often best to let them set the pace.
Climbing Mountains, Building Memories
Thankfully, as long as we are prepared, we can have a delightful and stress-free day for ourselves and our loved ones. While being in nature is immensely beneficial to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we still have to take some precautions ahead of time.
Kids who love nothing more than playing outside will likely be overjoyed at the prospect of taking a hike with you. As long as you do research before heading out on the trail and make sure you have everything you need, this can be a bonding experience you’ll never forget.
Sunburn | Better Health Channel
Does High Altitude Really Help You Lose Weight? | Huffington Post
How Does Nature Impact Our Wellbeing? | University of Minnesota
What It's Like To Climb Mount Thor, The World's Steepest Vertical Face | The Travel
Leave No Trace Seven Principles | US National Park Service
Trail Etiquette & Safety | California Department of Parks and Recreation