I get asked quite frequently if hiking longer distances flies right out the door when you become a parent, along with most your money, good sleep, and sick days.
The truth is yes, and no.
At first, your new infant is easily packable. The only limits are how far and how much weight you want to carry.
But then toddler-dom hits. The days of 15+ miles a day might be over for awhile. And most your hikes will creep down to the 1-2 mile range, mostly because they 1. want to walk themselves and 2. now weigh quite a bit more and aren’t as easily carried.
However, there is no reason that 8-10 miles with elementary age kids shouldn’t be possible with appropriate conditioning. If you have been hiking quite a while with your kids and are looking to take on some more serious objectives, this post is for you. If you are new to hiking, and/or your kids are new to hiking, visit Hiking with Kids, Part 1.
Honestly, I don’t feel all that qualified to write about hiking long distances with kids. There are others who do so much more. Like Michael Lanza and his son hiking Mt. Whitney. Like this mom who took the summer to hike part of the Appalachian Trail with her twins, age 5, and son, age 11. Like this boy who is looking to hike the tallest mountains on all seven continents, and Everest is next on the list.
Over the last year or so, we’ve embarked on longer hiking adventures with our kids. And we’ve learned a bit through our successes and failures. Below are our tips, as well as some examples of the longer hikes our kids have done (shown in the photos).
Tips for hiking longer distances with kids:
- Time is your friend. I have no silver bullet for figuring out how to calculate the time needed for certain hikes. But we error on giving ourselves as much time as possible. Like mentioned in my previous post, our general rule of thumb is 500 ft of gain is similar (in exertion and time) to an extra mile in distance. And many of our 8-10 mile hikes have taken in the 6-8 hour range. Things get rough when you are trying to beat a storm or some other time restraint.
- I mentioned before that special gear wasn’t needed to hike with your kids. But when attempting longer distances, gear now matters. We still prefer a sneaker or trail runner with good traction and pair them with a wool hiking sock like Wigwam socks. Some of our kids prefer lightweight hiking pants or shorts like those found at REI but we’ve also had good luck with soccer shorts and kid’s yoga leggings from places like Old Navy. We prefer to stay away from cotton, as it does not wick or dry moisture well. We also have had to play more attention to comfort, as often certain clothing chaffes after spending multiple hours on the trail. What works for each kids has been found through trial and error.
- Get those map skills polished and know your routes. The truth of it is, there isn’t much margin for error when your kids are along.
- Because, often perfect planning doesn’t ensure a flawless adventure: Keep yourself in shape and still stay within your own comfortable fitness zone. If you’ve never hiked longer miles (or haven’t recently) don’t push yourself to the edge of your fitness with your kids along. I take comfort in knowing if someone gets hurt, etc, my husband or I can carry them and/or run the rest of the way out to get help.
- Bring even more food and even more water. And then pack more. We will bring a water filtration system or Aquamira tabs to ensure we have enough water throughout the day.
- Be prepared for dark. Packing warmer layers and headlamps opens up more time for safe travel should things not go as expected.
- Our kids hike faster and longer with friends along. So invite other adventure ready families!
- Always be willing to turn around. Last year my daughter and I attempted our first 14er in Colorado. She woke up not feeling well and started throwing up on the trail! We made it decently far, but it became obvious that the summit was not in reach that day.
Have you taken your kids on longer hikes? What are some of the things you’ve learned?