Wondering whether your children are ready for their first multi-day hike? Are you worried it won’t be a success? Tackling those first multi-day hikes with children can be a bit daunting, but it can be done.
My children, Amelia (10) and Joe (12), and I went for an overnight hike for my birthday during the week. It was my birthday present from them to me. I couldn’t have asked for a better present. Except maybe if Jack White had turned up too.
With a bit of planning and a bit of know-how, multi-day hikes with children are such rewarding and enriching experiences. Plus it provides the perfect distraction-free bonding opportunity.
Tips for tackling those first multi-day hikes with children
Plan, plan and plan some more
When it is just you or a group of adults, not as much planning needs to be done. Multi-day hikes with children, however, a bit more planning needs to be executed.
- The difficulty of the track
- How long it will take you. It pays to add on some extra time for stops and a slower pace
- Where you will sleep and what type of conditions you will be in
- What you will eat
- If the children are older, what they can comfortably pack in their bag
If you can, a hut is great for those first multi-day hikes with children. There is less gear to carry and it will be slightly more comfortable until they get used to living out of a bag for a night or two. The Department of Conservation have dotted over 900 huts around New Zealand. You can be sure to find one near you.
We stayed at Rangiwahia Hut as it’s the middle o’ winter here in wee ole En Zedd and it is the kids first multi-day hike. Over the summer we will go wild camping (once Amelia’s memory of the hills have faded).
Also a Top Tip:
Involve your children in planning your multi-day hike. Build anticipation and excitement around the trip by looking at pictures online, discussing the trail and what they can expect, putting together a gear list together and getting them to help pack their bags.
You might have to change plans when hiking with children. They may get tired, the weather changes or the track might be a bit more difficult than expected. That’s ok. Don’t stress if you have to change plans. The trail will still be there next time. The main thing is everyone has fun.
This teaches children to not stress if something doesn’t go to plan and that it is ok if it doesn’t. An important skill that will help them later in life.
Have a backup plan in place just in case. Think about alternative trails or camping spots closer to the start of the track if needed. Hopefully, you won’t need them but be like a boy scout.
Allow children to take responsibility
Children love being in charge and having responsibilities. It helps them take ownership and feel important. On our hike, Amelia was the leader. This boosted her confidence immensely as she is not a confident hiker, especially on loose terrain. Having her lead the way and work out which way we went next was good for her. Joe was in charge of helping boost Amelia’s confidence over the tricky bits which helped him feel useful and Quite Important. He rose to the challenge, calmed her when she was feeling overwhelmed and handed out high-fives when she made it.
Things children can take responsibility for:
- Collecting firewood
- Carrying a small pack. Pack the bag according to their age and size. Amelia carried a small pack with just her clothes, drink bottle, a few bits of food and the card games. Joe carried a decent sized pack with his clothes, a sleeping bag, some food and drink bottle and I hauled everything else up the hill. They were surprised at how light their packs were the next day sans food
- Helping plan, prepare and cook the meals
- Reading the map (just make sure that you are also looking over their shoulders)
- Being the leader – younger children love being the leader
Make the most of teachable opportunities
There are so many opportunities to teach children about our natural world, survival skills, backpacking skills and looking after our environment. Teach them to wonder. To be in awe. About the magic of the world around us.
Take the opportunity to teach them life and survival skills such as map reading, identifying which plant to avoid and unique wildlife and plants in your country.
Natural skills and teaching opportunities include:
- Map and compass reading
- Different types of flora and fauna
- Camping/hut etiquette
- Depending on age, how to build a fire safely
- Looking after our environment and the Leave No Trace principles
- Which plants to stay away from
- Wildlife that resides in the area
- How to put up a tent and prepare a site (also how to pack away the tent without getting grumpy at it. I need to learn this too)
- Camp cooking
Pack extra supplies
Extra socks, extra food and extra water are all good spares to chuck in your bag. A first aid kit with lots of plasters for blisters is a must with children, especially if they aren’t used to hiking long distances.
Handy Extra Supplies:
- Water and food
- First aid kit fully stocked (check out these 27 Hiking Hacks for more tips on what to pack in your first aid kit)
- Socks and warm spare clothes
- Sweets or chocolate as a reward when you get to your destination
- Activities to do in the downtime such as cards
- Can I say wine for once the children are in bed?
Hikes are always going to take longer with children. They have shorter legs and get distracted easily by their surroundings (actually, that sounds a bit like yours truly….). Be prepared for your hike to take a little bit longer than if you were by yourself or with adults.
Let them stop and look around. If they need to rest, let them have a quick stop. Children feed on your moods and will pick up frustration. This, in turn, makes the hike a little less fun for everyone involved. Cajole them on with enthusiasm, praise at how well they have done already and excitement at whats to come instead of frustration and sighs.
Plan for it to take longer than expected to get to your destination. What is normally a 2-hour hike can easily turn into a 3-hour hike (like ours did with all the stops).
Another Top Tip:
Even if it does take a little longer, get them to do things themselves. This will boost their confidence and give them a sense of pride. Let them do things like help set up the tent and prepare the meals.
Enjoy the surroundings
Nature is beautiful and awe-inspiring. Just sit and be. Watch the birds flit from tree to tree. Admire the views and listen to the sounds of nature. It sure beats the sound from the telly. Depending on the weather and your destination there are multiple ways to make the most of your surroundings. From swimming in the waterhole to having a snow fight (hiding under the hut bunk).
Pack activities for downtime
Many rounds of Exploding Kittens and Kittens in a Blender (spot a theme?) were played. Card games are great to pack on multi-day hikes with children. They don’t take up much room and you have a variety of games to play.
- Card games
- A pen and paper. Write about your trip, make up ghost stories, draw, play games such as hangman and naughts and crosses or write a letter to someone to send when you get back
- A good book
I love multi-day hikes with children. It provides the perfect environment with no distractions to just chill out and spend some quality time together. Hiking boosts children’s confidence and helps them gain important life skills. Not just the tangible skills of maps and identifying trees. Other tools such as being flexible, going out of their comfort zone and facing fears are just (if not more) important for later in life. Hiking helps bring these out.
You can find more tips for hiking with children on this mega list. There may also be a guide on how to tackle your first multi-day hike. You can find it here.
Would you add any more tips to the list? Leave them in the comments below
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