As we approach another hiking season, I thought it would be a good idea to look at some tips that can contribute to a successful outing when hiking with kids. In 2018 my son and I completed a thru hike of the River-to-River trail (R2R). At this time, he was 14 years old. For those of you that don’t know, the R2R trail is an approximately 160-mile trail that goes from the Ohio River at Elizabethtown IL to the Mississippi River in Grand Tower Illinois. We completed this hike in 8 days. I learned a lot during this trip and would like to share some of things I learned during this trip. These are tips that can be applied from day hikes all the way through a multi-day hike. I did some things right, and looking back, there are some things I could have done better.
Know your limits!
First, I would advise to be sure to know your limits and the limits of the children you are hiking with. My son Bob and I were both in good shape before starting the trip. We had section hiked the R2R the year before slowly building up our endurance. We had done one 3-day trip from Eddyville IL to Ferne Clyffe State Park. We also ran many 5k races and had recently completed a half marathon together. I knew our abilities and endurance and felt confident we could complete the mileage. If you are just starting out hiking, don’t expect to go out and crush miles right off the bat. There is absolutely nothing wrong with starting with day hikes. This leads me into my next tip.
Keep it fun!
This is an area I could have definitely done better in. I had a very limited time to complete this journey and we pushed very hard to get it done. We averaged 20 miles a day. Keeping this pace meant it wasn’t always fun. On our second day, Bob twisted his ankle and was hurting pretty bad. I guarantee he wasn’t having fun at this point. We would have been much better served if we could have taken time to slow down and let him heal up a bit before we continued. He toughed it out and we continued, but he definitely would have enjoyed it more if he wasn’t hurting. Also, on the last day of our journey, he became overheated walking on the levee road. We had to even stop and let him rest in the shade for a while. During our seventh day I got somewhat overheated and had a bad day too. It is important to remember it is more about the journey than the destination. I struggle in this area! If you want to have a successful hike with kids, keep it fun! Who would want to go on another hike if the previous one was miserable!
Involve kids in the planning!
I also made sure Bob was involved in the planning of the trip. This is a great way to make sure the kids are interested in the hike. We did extensive planning as far as where we would camp each night, what food we would eat, and how many miles we would hike each day. This can just as easily be done on a day hike. Look at maps with your kids and plan where you will go and how long the hike will be. It’s fun to look ahead and anticipate what interesting things you will see on the hike. When they have a personal investment in the hike, they are much more likely to stay engaged and look forward to the trip.
Invest in quality gear!
Another tip for successful hiking with kids is to invest in good quality gear. If you only plan on short day hikes, almost any gear will suffice. I mean really, do you need a $200 pack for an hour-long hike? I think not! However, if you are planning on longer, multi-day hikes it is well worth the expense to invest in good quality gear. We bought a lot of Bob’s gear on eBay. Most kid’s gear is gently used as they outgrow it rather quickly and can be gotten for a good discount. Bob was small for his age, so we went to REI and got him custom fitted for a backpack. This was the most expensive item we got him for the thru hike. We bought his shoes and all of his hiking clothes off of eBay. I also had to be aware of what he could comfortably carry. He was only 14 and about 100 pounds. I carried all of the heavier items, but he still carried his sleeping bag and food. Again, know your limits!
In conclusion, it can be a very rewarding experience to hike with your kids. We made memories that will last a lifetime and continue to do so on our trips today. If you make it fun in the beginning, kids will most likely continue to grow in their appreciation of the outdoors and in their love of hiking. If we push too hard or expect too much of them, we can just as easily turn them off to the entire outdoor experience. Luckily, Bob was resilient, and I didn’t mess up too much! It’s up to us to foster this love of this great activity. If we do so, we will most likely have a hiking companion for a lifetime. I hope this article has given you some tips you can use to make hiking with your kids an activity that is fun for the entire family. See you on the trail!
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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!
Founder of Two Bob's Adventures
Bob is Big Bob from Two Bobs’ Adventures. Little Bob is his son. The Two Bobs’ thru-hiked the River to River Trail when Little Bob was 14 years old. Both Bobs’ are avid hikers of the Shawnee National Forest and are commonly featured on Hiking with Shawn’s videos!