As young grandparents, 🙂 we look forward to the time when we can take our grandchildren on the trail to experience the beauty that we’ve seen. Perhaps you are parents and are wondering if it is safe to take your little ones out on the trail. Should you strap on the child-carrier and head to the backcountry? It depends. Here are some things to consider.
What is the earliest you should take a child hiking?
Well, you can pack an infant into a child carrier if you are comfortable with that. Toddlers may not do so well in carriers. We’ve heard a few toddlers crying their way up the trail in those things. It didn’t look like much fun either. Toddlers also can’t walk very far so the 5 mile hike may be a bit extreme.
In my opinion, the ideal age to introduce a child to hiking is around 6-8. One idea is to start out car camping and combine it with day hikes near the campground. The earlier the better, you’ll get less whining that way! We have seen children as young as 7-8 on long backcountry trips. Just remember, those little legs have to take twice as many steps as we do. On a 10 mile hike, an adult takes approximately 20,000 steps.
– Many trails have wild animals that can present a real hazard to children. While mountain lions are rare, coyotes are not. A child who startles a female bear with cubs is in real trouble. Heck, if an adult surprises a bear, it means trouble. Rattlesnakes are common out west and often do not provide much warning. Back east you have rattlesnakes, moccasins and more. The venom may be more potent on a small body, so consider the risks. If you take the little ones into the backcountry, keep them close at hand.
– Terrain can present significant challenges to children. It may be too risky to take them where a fall can cause serious injury. Start out with easy treks to build up their trail legs and confidence. Stream crossings can be dangerous – use common sense here.
– Hydration is critical. Water is heavy, so plan your hike accordingly. The hydration bladders that fit in packs work best because kids can sip as they walk. Monitor their water intake to avoid dehydration or heat stress. Avoid sodas or drinks with a lot of sugar.
– Nutrition is important too. A good breakfast and plenty of snacks for the trail. Trail mix, energy bars and food with protein like beef sticks. Sturdy fruits like apples and oranges are great on the trail.
– Sunscreen is important as is a good first aid kit. If your child is allergic to bee stings, the epi-pen is the first thing you pack. If not allergic, a credit card is a good way to get the stinger out. Just scrape with the edge of the card-it works better then tweezers. It’s good to keep a topical cream for bee stings in the first aid kit. Just ask my wife, it works within minutes. Ticks can be a real problem. Be careful if you use bug repellants like permethrin on small children. Otherwise, light clothing is best. Always check the kids at the end of the day for those pests. Ticks will gravitate to the head, armpits, groin. Have some tweezers in the first aid kit and ensure you get the critter’s head if you pull them out. Use an alcohol pad to clean the bite area and watch for any symptoms like fever, spotted rash and lethargic behavior. If you remove the tick before it gets too embedded, it should be ok. By the way, ticks freak me out, I hate them.
When nature calls:
– Keep a baggie with some single ply toilet paper, hand sanitizer or handi-wipes. Carry a cat-hole shovel if appropriate. Teach kids early about leave-no-trace (LNT) practices and how to properly bury waste. Don’t bury the handi-wipes, they don’t degrade easily. Believe it or not, they will adapt quicker to going outdoors than most adults. Keep them in sight for safety reasons.
– A pair of trail shoes, small backpack, hydration bottle and a hat are a good start. As you progress, a set of trekking poles and maybe some gaiters on those dusty trails.
Hiking presents amazing opportunities to teach young ones valuable lessons on wildlife and being good stewards with our beautiful land. You can talk about survival, navigation, meteorology, geology and so many other life lessons. Give it to them in small doses or you will bore them quickly.
Hiking is a great way to spend time with your children or grandchildren. It can lead to an appreciation of nature and our national parks. It can teach young people how important it is to be good stewards of our environment. So, take a hike! – with your kids.