I can regularly be found walking in the hills with at least some of my children in tow. At the time of writing, they are aged 19, 16, 8 and 6, and all have been regularly walking from a very young age. The youngest two currently have three multi-day walks under their belts: the Weavers’ Way, the Cumbria Way and a 54-mile stretch of the South West Coast Path. The eldest two walked the Pennine Way and Wainwright’s Coast to Coast at a similar age.
Here are ten tips on how to make walking with young children safer, more accessible and less stressful for everybody – whether you’re planning a day walk or a multi-day adventure.
1. Wait for the right weather
Of course we check the weather forecast before we set off. However, when we’re walking with the children, we are prepared to postpone the walk if the forecast is poor. It took us a year before we got the magic combination of school holiday and decent enough weather to walk the Cumbria Way. (It finally came along in an October half term 2018).
The odd rain shower isn’t a problem. as long as the children are dressed for it. Nothing kills a walk quicker than cold, wet children. The main weather considerations are wind speed, wind direction (ideally we want it on our back) and night-time temperatures if we’re camping out.
2. Get decent kit
We spend as much consideration on outdoor kit for the children as we do for ourselves. However, we need to balance this against our low-cost philosophy, and the irritating thing about children is that they grow out of things so quickly!
There are ways to make this more cost-effective:
- Look after the stuff and pass it down to the next child. We have two boys and two girls, so anything we buy has to work for both genders. No pink, sparkly items!
- Spend money on the gear that really makes a difference – decent waterproofs, boots and sleeping bag.
- Look out for suitable walking clothes in charity shops. Trousers need to be quick-drying and light, and you can nearly always find second-hand fleece jumpers.
- Buy gear bigger than they currently need it – even boots. A pair of thick walking socks can counter-balance the bigger size.
- Check adult sale rails for XXS sizes. These are often the last items to sell, and can fit a child with a bit of creative rolling-up!
- Sports Direct is a great, low-cost place for walking socks, trousers, gloves and hats.
3. Get child-sized backpacks
When our children first started walking, we carried all their gear. However, it wasn’t long before they wanted to carry their own bits and pieces.
We started off with waist packs for them, and they just carried their snacks and gloves. Now they’ve graduated to their own backpacks, and it’s important to make sure that the pack fits them. We’ve found that the bags designed for running are a great size for children. Check the waist strap can be tightened enough!
Isaac is now using the Outdoor Research Isolation HD backpack, and this is big enough for him to carry his waterproofs, sleeping bag, drink, hat, gloves and snacks. It fits him really well – he’s a tall 6 year old. Isaac says, “it’s very comfortable and I can fit lots of things in the rucksack.”
Rhiannon, a tall 8 year old, is using the North Face Banchee 35. This is a brilliant lightweight rucksack that will last her for years. Rhiannon says, “it’s very useful as it takes weight off my mum and dad when I can carry my own things. It has a comfy shape when you’re wearing it.”
4. Feed them!
OK, this sounds obvious – but I am always amazed by how much my children can eat during / after a long walk.
I will order an adult portion of a meal for them, thinking I can then finish off any leftovers, but there never are any!
Pack LOADS of snacks. My children particularly enjoy being in charge of their own snacks, and being allowed to choose which one they eat when we stop for a break.
If it’s a multi-day walk, I tend to allow them to eat anything they like as they are burning so many calories. It also serves as an incentive to go walking. Salt and vinegar hula hoops for breakfast? Go ahead.
5. Build resilience
This means taking every opportunity to walk. To school, to the shops, to the swimming pool… walk everywhere.
I appreciate this is made easier for us as we live on the outskirts of a small town. However, we found that getting the children fitter really made a difference to their resilience on a long walk – and their enjoyment of it.
The more the children got used to walking as something we do all the time, the easier it became. It can be frustrating at the start, though – walking my two-year old to nursery and back used to take FOREVER. But I worked on the principle that if he never walked it, he’d never get quicker so we stuck it out! Food bribery helped (see tip 4)
So there you are – no rocket science, I’m afraid, but hopefully a few practical tips that might help someone else to get out into the hills with young children. Make sure they’re warm, dry, well-fed and fit enough, and they will enjoy every minute.