Hiking with Kids [Part 2, Longer Distances]

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.

In June, we attempted the hardest hike to date with out kids and another family. 8 miles later and 3,000 vert, we succeeded!

In June, 2015, we attempted the hardest hike to date with our kids and another family. 8 miles later and 3,000 vert, we succeeded! Mount Raymond, Wasatch Range, UT

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:
  1. 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.

    At age 7, my son summitted Mount Timpanogos, Utah. They spent one overnight, hiking 6-7 miles and 3,100ft of vertical gain the first day. The second day they summited and headed home, making for 12 miles and roughly 1,800 ft of gain.

    At age 7, my son summited Mount Timpanogos, Utah. They spent one overnight, hiking 6-7 miles and 3,100 ft of vertical gain the first day. The second day they summited and headed home, making for 12 miles and roughly 1,800 ft of gain.

  2. 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.

    Gear now matters. Trail runners, lightweight and quick drying pants, plus a warm layer like the Terramar Ecolator Fleece are things we use a lot.

    Gear now matters. Trail runners, lightweight and quick drying pants, plus a warm layer like the Terramar Ecolator Fleece are things we use a lot.

  3. 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.
  4. 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.

    Little Wild Horse to Bell Canyon Loop, somewhere between 8 and 10 miles... GPS doesn't work well in slot canyons.

    Little Wild Horse to Bell Canyon Loop near Goblin Valley, UT. Somewhere between 8 and 10 miles… GPS doesn’t work well in slot canyons.

  5. 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.
  6. Be prepared for dark. Packing warmer layers and headlamps opens up more time for safe travel should things not go as expected.
  7. Our kids hike faster and longer with friends along. So invite other adventure ready families!
  8. 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.
    The next day we woke up at 3 a.m.  to hike Huron Peak. My daughter was instantly ill, but in a spirit of toughness she still made it 12,000ft. But we knew making it to the summit was not going to happen when she couldn't keep any food down. But still I am amazed by her resilience.

    The next day we woke up at 3 a.m. to hike Huron Peak. My daughter was instantly ill, but in a spirit of toughness she still made it to 12,000 ft. But we knew making it to the summit was not going to happen when she couldn’t keep any food down. I am still amazed by her resilience.

    Have you taken your kids on longer hikes? What are some of the things you’ve learned?

8 comments on “Hiking with Kids [Part 2, Longer Distances]

  1. Warning: printf(): Too few arguments in /home2/erickson/public_html/wp-content/themes/agility/inc/template-tags.php on line 142

    Great post and I totally agree !
    When my kids were young (under the age of 5) I would focus more on outdoor play and small treks. As they got older we would gradually start to challenge our self as a family.We are going for active day trips every weekend. They might not be extreme every weekend but it is a build up to more hardcore adventures as a family. Last one was 17 km on skis in Algonquin Park and 9 miles in Smoky Mountains. We are currently working on activity levels for backpacking in Northern Norway.

  2. I LOVE THIS! Yes, people often think that either 1. Their kids can’t really do anything or 2. they bit off way more than they are prepared for an the trip is a disaster. I think the key point that you mentioned is good conditioning and training. I know the first couple hikes of the year are always slower and harder but I also know that if I keep with it the rewards will pay out for the whole summer!

  3. I just recently found this site, Alyssa, and I’m loving it. I’m craving getting outdoors more with my kids (almost 1, 4 and 7) especially to hike, but we feel so trapped in the easy hikes. I love your advice and it gives me hope that we could conquer more if we all train for it…at least in a couple years when our youngest is past toddling.

  4. Great post and I agree with your advice! The one tip I’d add is CARROTS! My daughter (age 6) will not be bribed into walking, but if you give her a carrot to munch on, then she will just keep on going.
    Other distractions that get kids involved help too, such as geocaching. Nothing beats good old-fashioned map reading with a compass. Let them plan the route and the breaks before you go, so that they know where they’re going and when they’ve planned to stop for food or a rest.
    If you can’t get your child a real friend to go along, an imaginary friend will do. Our daughter has a monkey that is fairly neglected at home, but never misses out on a good adventure.

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