Words :: Feet Banks // photos :: Todd Lawson.
To a rational person, hiking with your children makes sense for a lot of reasons—to share and instill a love of nature and adventure, to promote physical activity, and to enjoy some quality and undistracted time together away from screens and devices…it’s a healthy list.
To a child, however (perhaps not all children, but most…and certainly mine), that’s crazy talk. “Why would we spend all day walking up a mountain to look at more mountains I can see from right here?”
Stay calm! It’s important to recognize that these heart-piercing arrows of juvenile perspective come from a place of innocence—to a seven-year-old, the entire world is fresh and new. Watching a van lifer urinating on a dumpster behind the 7-Eleven holds just as much visual stimuli and impact as a slowly receding glacier or a partially revitalized ocean fjord with a fresh, new government-subsidized liquified natural gas export facility tumour-ing itself into existence on the far shore.
Try as you might to explain that “Life is a journey, not a destination” (or whatever other lifestyle influencer platitudes you had to scroll through that morning on the toilet), the truth is, kids don’t think about the future, they aren’t interested in building character, and they can be a real pain in the ass on hikes—both day or overnight.
Fear not, we’re here to help. So, in what looks like a headline ripped from those crapfest clickbait internet content amalgamation sites, Mountain Life is proud to present our first ever:
Guide to Hiking with Children
Sure, sure. As responsible, outdoorsy parents we ought to be teaching our kids that sugar is a terribly addictive substance that’s been pushed on us by the same evil social geniuses that got kicked out of the tobacco industry in the 1960s.
We can point out the well-documented and devastating health effects sugar has had on almost every global Indigenous culture exposed to it in the past 150 years and explain to them that the “energy” we think we feel after a bag of candy is quickly offset by a crash that stresses our organs in almost the same way as riding a BMX into a concrete wall…but a quinoa biscuit with carob bites never inspired anyone to do anything, so pack the largest bag of Sour Patch Kids you can find, throw some chocolate in for good measure (milk, not dark…you heartless beast) and let the magic of addiction and a culture built on sugary rewards do its thing.
Ditch the Siblings
Oh, you say you want quality time with your kids? Time to walk the talk, separate the siblings, and take your kids hiking one at a time, especially on overnighters.
This isolates the whining to just a single source and chances are the kid will appreciate the break from being annoyed or abused by their sibling, and have more fun. (This also cuts down on the amount of candy you have to pack. Unless you let your kid bring a friend, which doubles the candy again, but gives you more quality time—with yourself.)
Get the Right Gear
This goes beyond ensuring the little menace has decent rain/warm layers and footwear (ask me about the time the sole on my son’s New Balance sneaker totally delaminated on day two of the 30-kilometre Howe Sound Crest Trail). Proper gear is especially helpful on those first hikes with your new baby—that baby backpack from the 90s might look like a good deal on marketplace, but the vintage nylon might also chafe all the skin off your child’s chin as they bounce/cry/bleed down the trail while you wonder what the hell could be wrong back there (this happened to me).
The new backpacks have sheepskin chin pads, sun shades, and a hip pocket mirror you can use to see what’s going on in the back. Five out of five stars recommend.
Kids love sleeping in tents (who doesn’t?), so an overnighter holds more appeal than a day hike. Kids also love danger—fires are always a hit (let your kid light it) and so are pocketknives (get a lockable blade and always cut away from yourself!), axes (legs wide, both hands on the axe) and camping on the edge of a big cliff (maybe avoid this…).
If you make your adventure an actual adventure, chances are the kid will have more fun. (And nothing piques a kid’s interest like watching you strap a 12-gauge shotgun to your backpack in the garage.)
Kids get sick of you telling them what kind of bark and needles each species of tree has, but tossing some information cards or a book about local plants, animals, and birds into their backpack is not a bad way to sneakily get your kid to learn about wilderness without realizing it.
Little Beasts of Burden
How much gear you expect your kid to pack is up to you, but there’s a pretty basic weight-to-whining ratio. For kids under eight, a small pack with a water bladder and some snacks is probably good enough for longer treks. After that, see what your kid can handle, we’re pushovers here at Mountain Life and we like to carry as much of the load as possible to keep the kids going.
(And if you can’t muscle a 60-pound pack over 8-12 kilometres of mountainous terrain can you really even call yourself a provider?) Regardless of how much your kid carries, make sure to leave extra space in your pack because odds are you will end up transferring some of it over eventually.
This one is tough because we all know half the reason half the people even take their kids anywhere is to get an epic photo for Instagram so they can underhandedly (or subconsciously) boast about their perfect outdoor lives and offspring to their (not real) friends and followers. Nothing wrong with taking photos, it’s the immediate urge to post that sucks. Because the truth is, your kids are in your life to serve a higher purpose than just “prop” so if you can disconnect from all the bullshit on your phone for even two days it goes a long way towards showing them what is important in life (i.e. being together).
HAVING SAID THAT…kids generally need to go to bed earlier than adults, and they wake up earlier too. Having a video or some simple games on your phone can be a good way to wind kids down at night or occupy them in the early hours when they pop up raring to go and you are still battling last night’s fireside whiskeys. This is personal preference however, for some kids a book and a headlamp work just as well.
Enjoy It While You Can
The sad truth is, by the time your kid truly appreciates hiking, they’ll probably want to do it on their own with their friends (everyone knows ‘camping’ to teens just means escaping parental supervision to go French kiss [or worse] in the bush). So, cherish these childhood hikes and outdoor adventures as much as you can, even if they are a challenge.
Because guess what? When you run out of water and your kid uses their superior hearing to locate a tiny stream of snowmelt coursing through the scree that’s deep enough to slide the water filter hose into so you can fill your water bottles and ‘save’ your lives…the kid will remember that forever.
Hiking with children can test your limits (and theirs) but patience is a virtue—and remember: our kids are not here to give us what we want, they’re here to give us what we need to grow and evolve as people. So, lace ‘em up and get going! And if you think it’s hard getting a kid to walk up a mountain, wait till you try to get ‘em to pedal up one…