Tips for Introducing Kids to the Trails

With Fall quickly approaching in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I realized last weekend that it’s nearly trail time once again in my life. With the Virginia humidity I typically avoid hiking most of the summer, but as the nights get cooler the itch to lace up and take off gets stronger and stronger.

 I was invited into a trail running group recently, and I found the trails in a whole new light.  This group of guys also avoid the summer heat but recently began meeting again on early Sunday mornings for a 3-4 mile trail run, followed by a 3-4 beer IPA swap and tasting.  But I’m getting off subject; this post is about getting your kids on the trails comfortably.

Last weekend my wife was taking by daughter to a local photographer for a toddler photo shoot, leaving my boy and me alone.  He had been pleading to go on an adventure and this appeared to be the perfect time.  I took a few precautions, and also learned a few things along the way.  Here are some tips to make the first adventure for your youngin’ more enjoyable for you and them.

The Right Gear

The first step is before the day of your adventure.  Make sure your kids have the right gear.  Not only will it make the trip seem special to them, but it will make them more comfortable.  Keep in mind that small children will take twice as many steps as you will, and they are also likely to be new to walking on uneven terrains.  Keen makes kids shoes with the same materials and ruggedness as their adult line, and my boy has grown up in them.  They are his adventure shoes, and he walks with “big kid” pride when he hikes in them.  Seriously, it’s a big deal to kids to have the same gear as grown ups.

Start Early

If there’s one thing kids are great at, it’s waking up early on weekends.  Take advantage of this in late summer/early fall and beat the heat.  Foggy mornings also add to the mysteriousness of the adventure.  Driving through the early morning fog can appear to be soaring into a cloud to a young mind.  Getting an early start also ensures there’s plenty of time for that afternoon nap that you will both earn.

Prepare for the Elements

There’s plenty of things to potentially derail your trip, so control what you can control.  If it’s still summertime, use bug spray.  There are natural and kid-safe options available, so make sure you’re protected from the insects of the outdoors.  Protection from the sun is also important.  With all of the UPF clothing options available these days, this protection doesn’t necessarily need to come from a bottle or can.

Let Them Lead

Any kid who has spent time in a school, preschool, or daycare knows the prestige of being the line leader.  By letting them lead, it allows them to set the pace and ensure they aren’t wearing down too quickly.  It also provides a great teaching opportunity for you to point out blazes or markers, and stress the importance of staying on track.  I can’t stress it enough- the key is to make it as enjoyable as possible for them.

Bring Snacks

Snacks make everything better, right.  When we went, my son had two jobs. The first thing was to pick out the best snacks for hiking, which apparently are goldfish, gummies, and a PBJ.  I can’t say I disagree.  The second job was to pack them in his backpack and carry them on our adventure.  When we finally stopped to eat our snacks, he made sure to remind me that I had snacks because he carried them for me all day.  Thanks buddy.

Have a Plan for the End

It’s a parent’s job to know what’s best for their kid, and sometimes that involves trickery.  My boy thinks he could hike all day, but I know if he tries I would end up carrying further than I already did.  My plan for the end of our adventure was to find treasure.  I was lucky enough to “find” a spot where two sticks crossed to make an X, right off the trail where I happened to be taking a break.  My son said that “X marks the spot”, and would you guess there was a gold coin under that X?  That meant it was time to head back to truck so that we could show Mom his treasure.  That gold one dollar coin is on the shelf in his room, and will be a reminder for years to come of his adventure with his dad.

Make It Fun

This was the formula for a great day with my boy, but every child is different.  The key to an enjoyable day out with your kid is to know what they enjoy and make it fun for them.  If they are comfortable and having a good time, I guarantee you will enjoy it as well.  Make it about them and everyone will have a blast.  Get out there, have fun, and be safe!