Being outside under the sun and clouds is a balm for anyone, children especially, but also adults. Sometimes just hiking around your home feels like enough, but going further afield can be a wonderful adventure. I once asked a friend what her best childhood memories were, and she replied, "Taking trips around the state with my family." Memories start early, and what happens in childhood can help shape a lifetime.
As a lover of the outdoors and a mother, but also a somewhat lazy gal who doesn't like to carry more than necessary, I have compiled a list of what I think are essentials for any hike with a child, of any age. With things on hand that are listed below, my kid and I could explore the outdoors anywhere.
Seven Essential Tips for Hiking with Kids of All Ages
1. Cut a sheet in half and bring it as a picnic blanket. It can get filthy and stained on your hike, but who cares since you can wash it later.
2. Water and snacks, of course. Great foods that don't need to be kept cool for a day hike include nuts, raisins, fruit with skin to peel, celery sticks, dried fruit, dried seaweed, full sized carrots, rice cakes, salami and cheese. A friend suggested frozen blueberries. Another friend suggested freezing half a bottle of water overnight, then filling it up with fresh water before setting out.
3. Sun protection in whatever form you like best. I wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. My kid refuses to wear a hat, but she accepts a colorful handkerchief folded in half and worn like a babushka.
4. Comfortable shoes. This doesn't mean big boots with major ankle support, though some people swear by it. My husband and I walked a pilgrimage trail for days across Spain in running sneakers, but these days we wear synthetic sandals, like Tevas, for day hikes as they keep my feet cool.
5. A small garbage bag. Pack it in, pack it out, is the philosophy, whether it be orange peels or gum wrappers. Perhaps more importantly, we can instill in children the idea that throwing trash on the ground is lame. There are many, many times I wish I had brought a garbage bag to pick up other people's litter.
6. A handkerchief. Instead of disposable napkins, a handkerchief works great to wipe snot or drool. It also doubles as a hat (see tip #3).
7. A pocketknife. If you or your partner don't own one, they are one of the most useful things to carry on your person. My husband has a Leatherman on his belt, and he's constantly using it to open wine bottles, cut cheese and more. You can use your handy handkerchief to clean it (see tip #6).
Three Tips for Hiking with Babies
Babyhood is a great time for hiking-take advantage of the fact your kid is still small enough to be carried. Soon you won't be able to go far at all. Taking a baby on a three mile hike on a weekend afternoon can be the best date you and your partner have had in a while. Here are a few tips to make a walking adventure extra smooth.
1. A baby backpack with an internal frame gives ventilation for you and the baby, as opposed to a long piece of cloth or a traditional baby carrier, which keeps the baby right up against your hot, sweaty body. You can also duct tape or tie a small umbrella to a baby backpack, providing ample shade.
2. Carry two or three extra diapers, and a bag to carry the dirty ones in.
3. Using dental floss or string, attach little toys to the top of the baby backpack.
Three Tips for Hiking with Toddlers
1. Learn a version of "The Three Little Pigs," "Goldilocks" or some legend you like. When your toddler gets crabby and needs to be carried, a dramatic rendition of a story will captivate him or her for the span of at least half a mile. Believe me, this works, but you may need to make loud, funny voices.
2. Choose a short hike. You can't get too far with a toddler. (If you can get far, tell me how you do it.)
3. Pack light but essential (see "Seven Essential Tips for Hiking with Kids"). When your toddler gets tired, you'll have a thirty pound backpack of live child to carry back to the starting point.
Five Useful Websites for Finding Hikes
1. Hill Babies
2. Red Tricycle
3. Examiner Hub for Hiking with Children in the SF Bay Area
4. Bay Area Hiker
5. Best Hikes for Children in the Bay Area by Laure Latham
About Jessica Erica HahnJessica lives in San Francisco, with her partner and their toddler daughter. They've traveled to several countries and around the state, by foot, plane, canoe, bus and car. Jessica writes about hiking with children on her blog, Hill Babies, and at Examiner.com. She is currently writing a novel about seafaring expatriates.
~ Readers: What tips can you share for hiking with kids? ~