Family Hiking: 4 Rules for Avoiding Disaster

The addition of a newborn baby to our family is not particularly conductive to having lots of exciting adventures. These days, I am more likely to embrace another hour of snuggling my sweet girl on the couch than take the steps to get everyone packed up and in the car for an outing. Regardless, the change in weather, and knowing how quickly a snuggly newborn turns into a toddler, makes me excited for upcoming adventures.
It takes a lot of effort to get myself and the three little ones packed up and out the door, but it is truly worth it once we get outside. Even when our outings don’t go as planned, we always learn something about ourselves and each other, even if that wasn’t my primary intention at the outset!

In the grand scheme of things, even the worst problems we may have on a family hike aren’t really that bad. We may get on the wrong trail and get a little lost. The kids may find a puddle and get absolutely filthy. There may even be a spectacular toddler meltdown somewhere along the way. With proper planning and anticipation, we can avoid most of these problems. And sometimes it takes a few disasters to learn what issues there are to look out for the next time we get everyone on the trail.

The following rules are a few things I have learned about preparing for family hikes through our own misadventures. May you learn these things the easier way!

Rule 1: Be Safe
Spending time outside with kids can be one of the most wonderful, most enriching experiences ever. It can also be really difficult and really frustrating. The most important rule is to keep safety in mind and prepare as best you can for the unknown. Just like any other adventure, you should follow the common sense for safety in the area where you are going. Check the weather. Tell someone where you are going. Know where to find help and if possible, have a way to summon it. You may want to carry a small first aid kit and get some basic first aid training. Or maybe for your family, being safe means only venturing a short distance from the car for an outing (remember, adventure can be found anywhere! You don’t need to go very far). Every family is different, but take the time to evaluate your group’s specific safety needs and formulate an action plan for what you will do if something goes wrong. 

Rule 2: Lower Your Expectations

 This may sound kind of negative, but hear me out. When I plan to take my kids on a hike, I begin by lowering my expectations. I try my best to ignore the destination of a hike and concentrate instead on what we can see along the way. We may not make it to the mountain summit or all the way to a waterfall, but we will find some great climbing trees along the way, and maybe there will be a spot along the creek where the kids can toss pebbles into the water. When hiking with kids, enjoying the process is much more important (and more fun!) than achieving a goal. Some days, my goal is for us just to make it to the trailhead parking lot! Once we are there, the only goal is to have fun.


Rule 3: Bring Snacks
Snacks are the key to happiness for my children. No matter how tired or crabby they are, they can always be persuaded to abandon a tantrum in favor of sitting down to munch on some crackers and M & M’s. We bring enough snacks to feed a small army of toddlers on every hike, and somehow it all disappears. Every. Single. Time. 

Rule 4: Have A Backup Plan

With three kids ages 3 and under, our backup plan usually includes bringing and carrying a framed baby carrier backpack and/or a soft structured baby carrier in case one of the kid’s legs turn to jello and they suddenly must lay down in the middle of the trail to rest. For some reason my kids always protest this way?…anyway…my backup plan also usually involves bringing three diaper changes and a change of clothes for each kid as well. Another great backup plan is the plan to TURN AROUND at the very first sign that nap time is rapidly approaching (parents, you know what I mean). Why push it if everyone is just going to end up miserable? Other times, I don’t follow my own advice about bringing a change of clothes, and instead I make my kids walk back to the car muddy and wet because we live in SoCal and it is sunny and they will survive. Sometimes, it’s really okay for us to be uncomfortable. And the best part? No matter how terrible everything seems in the moment, it will make a good story one day…

What are your family’s best misadventures? Do you always have to learn things the hard way like I do??


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