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Ask the Expert: Hiking & Camping for Families With Kids

Yes, you did read the title of the article correctly – I am talking about hiking and even camping with kids. And I don’t mean teenagers, but young kids, toddlers and even infants.

Hiking in Glacier National Park. Photo by Memorable Jaunts.If you have a sense of adventure and a positive attitude, you can have an enjoyable experience of hiking in forest preserves, state parks and even national parks. Camping is just as easy with a few simple rules and guidelines. You have to prepare a bit more for a camping adventure but the rewards are just as great as a good hike. The objective of this article is to give you basic hiking tips, how to prepare for an outing of this nature and what to pack so that you may try it out and yearn for even more adventure. Look for my camping tips next week.

Hiking - Get Up and Go

Dictionary.com defines the word “hike” as “to walk or march a great distance, especially through rural areas, for pleasure, exercise, military training, or the like.” 

Our family loves it. We love to go for long hikes “for pleasure” in state parks, national parks and even local forest preserves. We love hiking in summer, in winter and even in the rain. We have done short hikes as well as alpine hikes gaining 1,500 feet in elevation. It’s an amazing feeling and our kids have a blast looking for different wildlife, flora and fauna. There is very little you really need to prepare for if you want to hike. If you can walk comfortably, you can hike. That being said, it doesn’t hurt to follow some basic rules and prepare for a great experience.

If you are hiking short distances and within local areas: 

  • Good walking/hiking shoes
  • A day pack. This can be a regular back pack. Pick one that you can carry comfortably on your back while you hike.
  • Track pants/waterproof pants. I find it very uncomfortable to hike anywhere in jeans. They are not as breathable and in the event of a sudden downpour, they get extremely uncomfortable when they get wet!
  • A child carrier (based on the age of the child.) I really love my Kelty carrier. It has worked for the past five years with my oldest and now with my youngest. I have also taken it on international trips and it has performed really well.
  • Some snacks like cereal bars and nuts. Divide them into portions so they are easier to carry and can be distributed among back packs if traveling in a group.
  • Small notebooks and pencils so the kids can doodle what they see -- a great educational took for kids as well as it keeps them occupied during car rides to and from the hike.
  • Water (a general rule of thumb is one 8oz bottle per person)
  • A small torch – great toy for the kids especially if hiking in the evening/dusk hours
  • Manual compass. I love this. It is a great educational tool plus serves as a navigational unit in case your GPS battery runs out!

Hiking in Wisconsin's Northern Woods. Photo by Memorable Jaunts.If you are hiking in a national forest or away from local areas and want to go for longer distances, then you would need some additional preparation: 

  • Invest in good hiking shoes and hiking socks (cotton is not as breathable). Keen and Merrell make really great shoes that seem to last forever.
  • Dress in layers and always carry a light jacket. For kids, make it functional by having a rainproof jacket. Weather in the mountains or forests tends to be much cooler than at lower elevations.
  • Child carrer. Definitely try this out before you head out for a long hike, not just for how your child responds to sitting in it but how long you can carry it.
  • As much water as you need plus one extra bottle. It never hurts to have more water.
  • Snacks. Pack snacks with the thought that you want to nibble every few hours. Cereal bars, nuts, crackers, etc., make great snakcs and provide much-needed energy while hiking.
  • I recommend one daypack per adult for weight/food/water distribution.
  • Notes books or even disposable cameras/inexpensive cameras (for older kids)
  • A good map of the area (including elevation markers especially if hiking in the mountains)
  • Electronic GPS unit (solar or battery operated) and torch
  • Bug spray
  • Perhaps the most important one of all: A Positive attitude. If you are happy and excited to do this family activity, kids will pick up on your positive energy

If you are a novice hiker start small; take a short hike at your local forest preserve. Pace yourself, pack a small day pack and carry snacks and water. If you are an experienced hiker, way to go! Challenge yourself and extend your hike by an hour, a few hundred feet in elevation or even a different location than what you are used to. Either way, you are in for a treat!

If you are intrigued by what you have read and are motivated to try this out but are not sure if you want to do this alone, join me for a Group Hike being planned in conjunction with Geneva's Peaceful Parlour. The hike will be at Starved Rock State Park on Saturday, Oct 8Starved Rock State Park is in Utica, about 90 miles from Chicago and less than 60 miles from Aurora. We will hike some the park’s trails as a group and stop for a group lunch. Expect to be out and about for a couple of hours. The colors in Starved Rock are beautiful this time of year! You can sign up either on Facebook, by contacting Peaceful Parlour or via email karthika@memorablejaunts.com

Karthika Gupta lives in Naperville with her two kids (both under the age of 6). She is an experienced hiker and camper and has hiked and camped domestically and internationally with her family. Her daughter recently hiked a 5-mile alpine trail in the southern Colorado Mountains starting at 7,000 feet and gaining approximately 1,500 feet in elevation. Karthika Gupta's boutique family adventure travel company, Memorable Jaunts, creates custom hiking and camping trips for families.

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Reader Comments (1)

Hiking definitely sounds like a great way for the entire family to spend time together and a chance for kids to learn so much about nature.

Icemule Cooler

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

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