hiking with kids

How to Hike with Children

“Hey, mom, did we get there yet?” “I don’t like walking!” “My feet hurt!”, “I’m booooored!” Does this sound familiar to you? Well, children don’t just like walking, the physical effort as long it doesn’t interest them, enjoying a view is not their thing. So, how to make you kids enjoy hiking?

Hiking is not only walking, but it’s also, first of all, an activity that combines an “easy” sport, the discovery of nature, the plants and being on your own, testing your limits.
“Hiking is learning about yourself, learning about others” and it’s difficult for a child to see all this.

A child doesn’t naturally know his/her limits, his abilities. He is, on the other hand, open to everything that is new. Hiking helps him get in touch with him and the others, the surrounding world just well.

Hiking should help you make him win his independence but, most of all, get him to like all these discoveries!

Children are not mini adults. As a matter of fact, their abilities differ depending on their age and here are some hints about what they can do, at a certain age.

Up until three, a child should be able to have the chance to be carried by an adult when he’s tired and a hike for this age shouldn’t be longer than 2 hours (on plain ground or rocky one).

Between the age of 3 until 5, a child should be able to walk around 2 or 3 hours on a somewhat rocky trail. You can treat your child with prizes along the way- when he gets to the lake, when he sees a herd…

From 6 to 9 years, the children may even hike on trails with an 800 to 1000 meters height difference. This means they’re open to new great opportunities, like spending the night in a tent!

After ten, the children are still children, but they can hike for several days, and you can also try climbing with them! They still need breaks though and a good motivation to continue!

When hiking with a child, knowing their rhythm is imperative. For a child, this is quite difficult: he runs until he loses his breath, stops for few minutes and begins running again! So it’s very important to give him a regular rhythm as you won’t be able to keep up with him :)

best hiking daypack
Brad and Celia, summer of 2015

The adult/parent needs to get in charge with the hike, especially for the critical zones. After all, hiking with a child means giving him the chance to get more independent.

There are several things to consider when you take the child on a hike, as height problems may appear. Think about the cold and the temperature variations, the fast changes of the atmosphere, the sun, and the mountain sickness.

The children get cold quite quickly, especially on their extremities (head, hands, and feet). So protect them well, but don’t dress them with 10 inches of wool clothes, though! An early departure? Go for it! A small passage to go through? Go for it! A little tired? Go for it! And don’t forget to put on a sweater as soon as the sun sets!

If you take a cableway, or you drive fast up a hill, the variations of air pressure might give you some problems. The difference of pressure between the inner ear and outer one may aggravate the pain… Do not hesitate to climb step by step, avoiding the cableway when your child has a cold or ear problems.

For the small children (0-3 years), when you climb by car, using a pacefire is a good solution but your child may try also to swallow his/her saliva regularly.

Even though the sun is so welcome, but exposing to the sun with no protection is dangerous especially when the altitude is high as the sun rays are less and less filtered!

It’s important to know the specifics of the skin (less colored) and of the eyes (big eyeball) of the children- they get 50 times UVA’s more than an adult! So, never forget a hat/cap, long sleeves and trousers (when possible), sunglasses and sunscreen protection cream with at least 50 UV protection.

The mountain sickness has major risks, no matter the age of your child. First symptoms appear around 1500meters: headaches, nausea, general tiredness, balance problems, sleepiness. These symptoms may appear in the first hours and may come as a simple headache or, in the worst cases, as a pulmonary edema which is lethal when not treated! If you or your child have one of these symptoms, do not panic and climb down as fast as you can!

This is how the risks may come depending on the height of your climbing:
•    Up to 1500 meters: no risks
•    From 1500 meters to 2500 meters: some risks. Pay attention to cold and the sun
•    From 2500 meters to 3500 meters: the first risks of mountain sickness may appear. An acclimatization is required; around 300 meters of positive height difference daily is a good solution
•    From 3500 meters to 4500 meters: big risks for mountain sickness. Don’t go this high with a child younger than 12 years without caring for the acclimatization
•    From 4500 meters to 5500 meters: risks of mountain sickness at all time. This altitude is for children older than 15 years, well trained and acclimatized.
•    Above 5500 meters: definitely a forbidden zone for your kids! Your kids will enjoy it only from your pictures :)