Want your kids to enjoy hiking and the great outdoors? “Make it fun,” says Jeff Alt, renowned hiking expert and author of the new book Get Your Kids Hiking! How to Start Them Young and Keep It Fun. Alt is an avid hiker: In addition to walking the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail, he also walked the 218-mile John Muir Trail with his wife and trekked across a 50-mile path of Ireland with his wife, young daughter, and extended family. He and his wife emerged from the church doors on their wedding day wearing backpacks, and his son was taken on his first hike at just eight weeks. Alt has lots of great advice about how to make sure you and the kids have a great time outdoors. “It’s time to get off the couch and hit the trail with your kids,” he enthuses.
Here’s how! Start ‘em young: Ergonomically designed baby carriers make it easy and fun to carry your infant and toddler with you wherever you hike. Walk to your favorite park or beach. Bring a friend. Stop often and let your little one explore. Make your hike a routine your kids will look forward to. Let the kids lead; play follow the leader. Hike at your child’s pace and distance. Whatever your child takes interest in, stop and explore that bug, leaf, or rock with them. Tell them about the animals, rocks, trees, and flowers. Getting to the destination is less important than making sure your kids have so much fun that they’ll want to go again and again.
Suit up in comfort, style, and the latest technology: Take this checklist with you shopping so you get the bases covered. Footwear: Until your kids are walking consistently on their own (birth–3), fit them with a comfortable pair of water resistant shoes. Make sure the three-and-older kids are wearing light weight trail shoes or boots with a sturdy sole. A Vibram sole with a waterproof breathable liner is preferred. Wear non-cotton, moisture wicking, synthetic or wool socks.
Clothing: Dress for the weather! Wear non-cotton synthetic, wool, and fleece clothes, and dress in layers. Wear multipurpose clothes like pants that zip off into shorts or shirts with roll-up sleeves. Pack a waterproof breathable rain parka. Dress for the season with fleece hat and gloves or a hat with a wide brim for sun protection.
Packs: Get age- and size-appropriate backpacks that fit each hiker comfortably with hydration hose capability.
Trekking Poles: Get a pair of adjustable, collapsible poles with an ergonomically designed handle for each person.
Fresh, Clean Water: You can get a hydration hose system for your pack or just use bottles. Disinfect wild water using such hi-tech portable treatment water systems as a UV wand or micro-straining filter.
Communication: Bring a smart phone so you can take lots of pictures. If there’s connectivity, e-mail them to friends and family or upload them to your online blog or Facebook page. Carry a GPS unit to keep you located on the trail and for geocaching.
Other Must-Haves: Pediatrician-recommended suntan lotion, bug repellent containing DEET or picaridin; and a first-aid kit that accommodates the whole group (and first-aid knowledge to go along with it). Bring a compass and map and brush up on how to use them. Learn how to make a shelter to keep you warm and dry. Keep matches and a lighter in a dry place and know how to make a fire to keep warm. Carry a whistle and a signal mirror in case you get lost. Pack a survival knife with a locking blade. Bring a head lamp flashlight, extra batteries, 50 feet of rope or twine, and always have several feet of duct tape for that unexpected repair.