I would call myself a hiker. I am most at home in the mountains; I feel totally comfortable in myself when I put on my boots and head out. But if there’s one thing that living a stone’s throw from Snowdonia National Park has taught me, it’s that kids can absolutely be hikers too!
A lot of people seem shocked that my kids have been on some long and challenging hikes at such a young age, so I thought I would share with you my experience and tips for adventures with little ones. I hope this short guide will answer some logistical questions about getting into hiking with kids and give you some reassurance that with the right planning and expectation management, it’s perfectly possible to have the most incredible times together in nature.
This is probably, for me, the most important part of this whole guide. It goes without saying that the not-so-secret to a successful hike is the right clothing and plenty of it, especially with kids. Of course, what I pack depends on the time of year but I am, without doubt, always the person with the biggest backpack when we are out hiking in the mountains (or anywhere for that matter).
The right shoes are key. Trainers are fine for a meander on flat, even terrain but if you’re thinking about heading into the mountains, as soon as your kids are big enough to come out of the carrier, invest in some hiking boots. You don’t have to spend a lot. Places like Go Outdoors and Mountain Warehouse often have some great deals for kids’ hiking boots and they really are a vital bit of kit.
I have been on hikes where I have seen kids (and adults actually) in all kinds of unsuitable footwear. Not only is it not overly comfortable to scramble in flip flops; it’s also dangerous. A sturdy pair of boots will protect ankles on rough ground.
Get some thick, anti-blister hiking socks too and fasten the boots properly. This is something that isn’t talked about enough. There’s nothing worse than descending a mountain with your feet sliding forward in your boot and experiencing that friction on the front of your foot. Working to minimise the chance of any discomfort is so important when encouraging kids out on adventures.
Next, we move onto clothing. For my kids, the most important thing is comfort and wearing what they feel good in. The last thing you want is items of clothing that rub in the wrong place or cause any kind of sensory overload (the reason you’ll rarely see me in jeans!).
On a summer hike, we would normally go for soft shorts and a T-shirt and pack an emergency outfit plus some warmer joggers and a hoodie or fleece. It’s easy to get cold if you stop for a picnic so it’s always a good idea to take layers.
In the autumn and winter we always go for some comfy joggers, good thick socks (plus a spare pair in case your little ones spot a muddy puddle). All of these are available at most outdoor shops and, once again, layers. It’s always better to be layered up and be able to remove them if you get too warm.
Some good waterproof trousers are useful. My two quite like wearing all-in-one snowsuits that keep them warm and dry in most conditions. Have a look around and see what works for your kids, and don’t forget a warm hat and gloves too.
Finally, you’ll need a coat. And I mean a proper, waterproof, warm coat. Again, you can pick these up at a great price in most outdoor shops, especially toward the end of the season. A good tip is to pick up the next size (or 2) up when you see one on sale for a good price.
I don’t care what time of year it is. If it’s snowing or if it’s 40 degrees: take a coat. The weather in the UK is well known for being indecisive and this is especially so in mountainous regions. You can start a day in bright sunshine and end it in fog and heavy rain as you ascend. It is always better, especially when out with kids, to overpack your kit and be prepared.
If you’re already into the outdoors, then I’m sure I don’t need to tell you to watch the weather, but, again, this is all about creating the best experience for your mini adventurers.
Look ahead at the forecast; look on local forums on Facebook and get an idea of the predicted conditions for the day. You’ve already got your clothing packed, so you’re sorted for a sudden change in the weather, but always have an idea of how the weather is ‘supposed’ to be.
Of course, in the UK we can never be sure, but the best advice I can give is: wherever you are and whatever walk you have planned, it will still be there next time. I understand it is frustrating if you travel somewhere with a planned hike in mind and the weather is suddenly less than favourable. Still, the mountains will be there next time and you will have a better experience if you wait for a good day with optimal conditions.
If it’s just you or a group of adults, you can make your own decisions about conditions, but if you have kids with you then it is even more important not to take any unnecessary risks. We have turned back on several hikes before. The most notable was an adventure we had on the Watkin Path up Snowdon. We were splashing in the beautiful, picturesque waterfalls when, all of a sudden, the black clouds started rolling. Right then we made the decision to head back down to shelter. Safety first, always.
I learnt this one the hard way. For our first trek up Snowdon in April 2021, I naively packed a ‘normal’ picnic. Well, by the time we reached the iconic halfway house on the Llanberis path, I realised my mistake and we had to turn back and head straight to a cafe.
Pack more food than you think you will need. Prepare sandwiches and substantial food, but also go for quick sugary snacks that you can have on the go for a sudden burst of energy.
You’re all going to get thirsty so take as much water as you can comfortably carry. If the kids can, have them carrying some water for themselves in a backpack. I can guarantee you that full bellies and quenched thirst will give you a greater chance of completing your hike with kids.
This advice is aimed more at those who are heading out on mountainous hikes rather than more straight forward walks. Wherever you are going, it’s important to have a plan and talk to the kids about the plan. Plan everything from the basics like where to park, to the more extremes such as what you will all do in case of an emergency.
Hiking with kids can add a lot of stress as you have other people to look after but knowing you are prepared will take some of that pressure off.
There are some great websites and apps designed to make your hike easier, allowing you to look at other people’s routes and plans. I personally prefer to have written instructions on my phone whenever I am doing a new route, with landmarks and identifiable features highlighted to help navigate. Others prefer to just have a map.
Often, there will be detailed guides to the most popular UK routes that you can have a look at. If it’s your first time on a certain hike, think about doing it without the kids first so you can gauge whether or not you think it will be suitable for them and don’t forget: if it’s too much you can always turn back.
Another important one with kids is to have goals along the way. Whether you’re planning a 1-mile meander or a 10-mile trek, having little targets and goals helps break your hike up into bite sized chunks.
Share the plan with the kids; show them online what there is along the way. Good things to head for are waterfalls and streams, where they can (depending on conditions and accessibility) have a break and a paddle which is always fun for the whole family.
Famous landmarks and views are also good points to stop and have a breather. I think with kids it’s always good to have a circular walk planned so there is always something new to see and you know you’re heading back to the beginning. It can often be a bit disheartening if you’re on a walk that requires you to follow the same path back down, so keeping it exciting and fresh is the main aim here.
If you have a smart watch then it’s always fun (for us at least) to use the mileage tracker as a source of encouragement when you’re over half way. My kids especially love to know how far they’ve walked. I also find the promise of an ice cream half way round or toward the end helps to keep their spirits up when they start slowing down.
A short but important point is to manage everyone’s expectations. I will admit that I have been disappointed before when my kids haven’t quite been feeling it or haven’t made it round an entire route and we’ve had to head back. But I soon learnt to manage my own expectations and realise that when I’m out with my kids, the goal isn’t to see how quick you can get up and down, or how many miles you can cover in a set time. The goal is to have a good time and make memories you can treasure forever.
Don’t expect too much of your little hikers, especially when they first start out. A mile for us feels a lot longer for them and just getting them out and exploring the world is an amazing achievement. If you’re a hiking family though, nothing will top the feeling of pride when your kids get to their first summit!
This is what it’s all about: getting kids out into nature, exploring our beautiful planet and feeling the long term benefits of hiking on your physical and mental health. Getting kids started at a young age will teach them that there’s a world out there to see and how to do that safely.
Play games along the way; stop and take a look at new or unusual plants and bugs that you see; jump in muddy puddles (as long as you’ve got spare socks); climb and tumble. Who cares if a one mile walk suddenly takes 2 hours as long as you’re safe and having fun together.
I don’t take my kids out to hit any targets, I take them out to teach them about the wonders of the world and the beauty we have on our own doorsteps if we just take a moment to look around.
So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags, lace up your boots and whether it’s a short walk or a weekend of hiking, stay safe and have fun.