You know the 10 essentials for hiking, right? If not, then check out this site by the American Hiking Society; but add a son, daughter or grandchild and things start to morph. Here are some good ideas to start with.
1) Day pack – a small book bag or fanny pack will do for a start. Don’t let them overload it, but do allow each child to carry something so they feel part of the program. A granola bar, small bottle of water, and a rain poncho is a good starting point.
2) Whistle – train the kids that the whistle is for emergency use only, but plan a 5-second “whistle blowing contest” at the beginning of each hike while you go over basic safety procedures.
3) High-energy snacks – granola bars, fruit, fruit juice, etc. One of the best snacks is home-made trail mix which the kids have helped make.
4) Carry plenty of extra water. Children dehydrate faster than adults and a thirsty kid is a cranky kid. BTW, kids love water bottles with built-in straws and hydration systems with hoses.
5) Dress young children in bright colors – makes it much easier to keep track of them in the woods.
6) Dress for the weather and carry rain gear. Inexpensive travel rain ponchos are light-weight and good for the unexpected shower as well as for growing children.
7) Choose your hikes with a visual goal in mind. A beautiful oak hammock, gurgling creek or historic site makes for a great picnic spot where you can relax and the kid’s can explore a bit on their own.
8) Add child-dosage items to your standard hiking first aid kit. Same for insect repellent and sun screen.
9) Emphasize that the quieter the children are in the woods, the more wildlife they are likely to see. The woods are wildlife’s home – we are only temporary visitors who should show respect.
10) Teach Leave No Trace early. Give each child an empty plastic bag and have a litter pick-up contest. When you come across an impacted site or an area the kids consider “ugly”, talk with them about what happened and how they can help prevent or improve it.
Another good idea is to have some games in the back of your head. “I Spy” is always a good one as well as “Treasure Hunt”. Try to include senses other than just sight and make the items they are trying to find easier or harder depending on the age of the children. For example, “Find something as tough as elephant hide”, or “Find 5 items the same color as a Cardinal”, or “See if you can pick out 3 different bird songs”, or “Find something the shape of Florida.” When interest flags on the hike, being able to effortlessly pull out a game can help you all get down the trail to your lunch spot as well as awaken their awareness to the wonderful world around them.
Plan properly for your children’s abilities, remain flexible, bring some good snacks, seize teachable moments and you will probably find seeing the trail through the eyes of a child a tremendously rewarding experience.