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How to go hiking with kids (giveaway)

For me to teach kids to walk long (or average) distances is extremely important. Last time we went to Russia, we hard such hard time walking to stores and around town just because my kids are not used to walking beyond one or two blocks in the neighborhood. “Grandma, could you carry me”, – my four year old would ask, when my Mom took her on a walking trip to a grocery store.

This is why I was glued to the screen when I saw tips to teach kids to enjoy hiking from Jeff Alt, an outdoor enthusiast extraordinaire and author.  “Start early and make it fun” is his motto. 

“Getting kids outside is more important than ever,” he says. “TV, computer and video game addictions are replacing outdoor play time. Passive inside entertainment is contributing significantly to the national obesity epidemic! It’s time to get off the couch America! Get the kids outside!” 

Jeff is an avid hiker.  In addition to walking the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail, he also walked the 218-mile John Muir Trail with his wife, and trekked across a 50-mile path of Ireland with his wife, young daughter, and extended family. He and his wife emerged from the church doors on their wedding day wearing backpacks, and his son was taken on his first hike at 8 weeks

Jeff has lots of great advice about how to make sure you and the kids have a great time outdoors.

Below you will find useful tips how to hike with kids PLUS an exclusive interview with Jeff for My Busy Children.

Jeff’s tips are educational, simple, practical, and comprehensive.

Start Early-Develop A Routine:

Give your kids a healthy dose of “Early Outdoor Intervention.” It will pay off later.  

Start hiking with your newborn: 

  • Infants and children weighing less than 15 pounds should be carried in a front body carrier or a sling. 
  • Children weighing 16 to 40 pounds can fit into a child carrier backpack. 
  • Children weighing more than 30 pounds might be ready to hike short distances and carry a  little daypack.

Let the child lead.  This helps you focus on what they’re interested in and keeps you from leaving them in your dust. 

Get outside every day. Take a walk with the family once a day. Walk around the block, go to the park, go to the beach, and river.  Get maps and books and search out and find new places to go. See new places all the time.

Save money and stop driving everywhere. Walk to the grocery store. Walk to your local restaurant for dinner and back. Walk to the library.  Make walking and hiking as routine as brushing your teeth.

Bring the outdoors inside.  Educate constantly to generate interest and enthusiasm. Take lots of pictures of the kids and places you go. Make posters for the family and living room and for Christmas cards.  Get magazines, videos, and artwork that show places you want to go. Rent movies about faraway places. Use the Internet together to look at maps, and photographs of the wildlife, environments, and spectacular scenery you will be visiting someday.

Go high tech.  Bring on the gadgetry! Turn your computer game nerds on to the adventure technology. (e.g. GPS, pedometers headlamp flashlights, geocaching) and teach them all about how these incredible devices are being used for fun, like scavenger hiking in the Shenandoah & Great Smoky Mtn Ntl. Parks.

Take the kids to local orienteering course and learn how to use GPS & compass together. 

Involve the kids in planning out all trips and adventures. Older children can use the computer to research your destination or sport.  (all national parks and most other destinations have websites chock full of facts & info., maps, wildlife).

Let the kids (especially teens) bring along a friend. Get permission from parents and make it a club adventure.

Prepare your family for your adventure: 

Preparation is the key to a successful hike.  Many of the same equipment decisions that you make for your own adventures can be applied to outfitting your children.

Research the destination & activity (Have your youngster help you with this-google, park websites, library, bookstore travel section, outfitters, etc.)

You’ve got mail! Send for maps and guidebooks of the area, and check with the local travel experts on hiking, rangers, guides, etc. Have the packages sent to your child or children.

Attend local slide shows or lectures (outfitters/libraries/bookstores) every chance you get.

Plan ahead – especially when you have younger children.  Choose a trail that offers easy access to domesticated amenities.  Having a base camp or prearranged lodging allows you to be a parent, not a Sherpa. 

Check into transportation options.  You should have a plan for what to do if you need to get off the trail. 

Identify the restaurant and grocery amenities.  Not only is it good to know what’s available before you arrive so that you’ll know what to pack, but if the weather turns bad, you can have an instantly viable backup plan.

Prepare and plan what you need based on what you find. What kinds of wildlife can you expect?  Will water be available? What are the weather and terrain like?  You want to avoid hiking in freezing temperatures, lightning storms, and extreme heat. You want to identify and find swimming holes, wildlife, enjoyable views, and great places to boulder, look at flowers, spectacular trees, and wildlife.

Acquire the Right Gear. Get everyone properly fitted into essential gear particularly boots and packs.

Clothing- NO COTTON [read on to find out why]! Dress in layers (synthetics, fleece, wool, and waterproof breathable items.  Bring what you need for the weather and conditions you will encounter

  • Rain jacket
  • Hat
  • Shirt
  • Socks
  • Shorts/pants
  • underwear
  • Deet Free bug repellant (Nutrapell, Coleman, etc.)
  • Children’s sunscreen

Train at home in your neighborhood with your kids before you go into the wild.  Practice carrying your child in the child carrier. This will help you adjust to carrying the pack, and your child will acclimate to the routine.  Take older children (age 4 and older) on weekly walks so that they are physically conditioned for the journey. Wear your boots and all your gear on your training hikes to condition you and make sure everything fits and works before you leave town.

Think Food – Think Fun:

Pack your kids favorite snacks.  Desirable food will help encourage your kids to eat and stay energized.  Pack more food than you think you will need.

Try out your food and your stove at home before your trip. Make sure you can cook food the kids will enjoy. When preparing your food, think compact, lightweight, and filling. Bring items that are easy to prepare or ready to eat.

Select foods that just need a little bit of water to prepare. Plan for two pounds of food per person per day. Eliminate bulky packaging; condense food into plastic bags. Pack an extra day’s worth of food.

Freeze-dried meals

  • Pasta/rice/beans
  • Foil-wrapped meats such as tuna or chicken
  • Dehydrated fruit and veggies
  • Sliced apples, grapes, bananas, carrots
  • Energy bars or granola bars
  • Peanut butter
  • Cheese and sausage
  • Bagels, crackers, candy bars, nuts,
  • Tortilla & cheese sandwiches
  • Energy bars for kids (e.g. Cliff’s zbar for kids)
  • Oatmeal of dried cereals

Depending where you go, remember to bring a food bag and rope to hang 10 feet up in a tree so the bears can’t get to it.

Learn First Aid and be prepared for trail emergencies:

Carry a first-aid kit, and brush up on child first aid and CPR. Learn about the dangers of hypothermia, and monitor children for signs. Pack all of your child’s medication.

Know the location of the nearest medical facility for you and the children.

Learn how to use a compass and map or GPS. Learn how to make a quick shelter to help keep you warm and dry. Keep matches and lighters dry and in a safe place. Know how to start a fire to keep warm.  If you do get lost, make yourself as visible as possible. Place a bright item (e.g. item of clothing or gear) in the open. Make distress signals and make noise. If you brought a cell phone, check periodically to see if it works. Leave a copy of your itinerary with a friend or family member.

Keep the journey fun:

The driving priority with children is to make sure they have fun.  Let them lead the way and tell you what they want to do.  Whatever animal or rock your young child takes interest in, stop and explore with him or her. Talk to your child about what you’re seeing.  Label the animals, rocks, trees, and flowers. Tone down your mileage goals to the comfort level of your child. 

Engage older children with trip planning, animals, local history, or anything that applies to what they are learning in school.

Teach your children good backcountry ethics.  Kids can learn to pack out trash, take nothing from the woods but memories and pictures, and proper backcountry toileting at a young age. 

Jeff also agreed to answer some of my questions about teaching my kids to hike.    

Question: Why do you recommend “no cotton”? I always dress my kids in cotton, no polyesters since cotton is so absorbent and breathable

Jeff: Cotton retains moisture from rain and sweat which clings to your body.  Wet damp cotton clothing pressed against your body can lower your internal body temperature and cause hypothermia.  Children are more susceptible to hypothermia than adults.  Hypothermia is a very dangerous medical condition and you should brush up on signs and treatment. Synthetic layered clothing will wick the moisture away from the body(fleece, polypro, etc.) and help keep you warm even when you are wet. The outer layer is a waterproof breathable rain jacket or rain suit.  You don’t have to spend big bucks on synthetic clothes for kids.  You can find inexpensive ‘non cotton’ children’s clothing at most retailers.  For hard to find children’s items like synthetic long underwear, try a specialty outfitter, like REI.

Question: How do I get my kids to stay on track? They always get distracted and walk to the side, stop, or even walk backwards whenever we go on walks (they are 2 and 4)

Jeff: You may need to walk alongside your child to model staying on course.  But, never pass them and go at the slowest kiddos pace.  You may not get a personal work out in.  But, spending time going at your children’s pace will keep it fun for them and they will want to hit the trail with you again.  Use common sense when you are hiking near a potentially dangerous area (cliff edge, rock scramble, etc) and assist or restrain your child as needed. 

Question: Do you recommend taking strollers at all to “easy walking” trails? What does he think about jogging and double strollers for that purpose?

Jeff: I’m not opposed to strollers.  They are great for the easy graded “handicap accessible” trails.  As a matter of fact, we selected a specific trail in Ireland because it was well suited for a stroller.  We brought an umbrella stroller along to use when my four-year old nephew grew tired.  We took turns pulling it along with us and he took a daily Siesta in the stroller.  But, some trails are to rugged for strollers and may limit your ability to explore.  Conditioning your child to a body sling or child carrier will allow you more flexibility for family adventures. 

Question: My kids would not wear hats. They just take them off constantly. I know it is a silly question, but I was wondering if he knows of a sunscreen or a spray I can use on their heads.

Jeff: A wide rimmed hat is the best sun protection for your head.  But, a good child safe lotion or spray will do the trick.  Look for the pediatrician recommended labels like (e.g. 50spf Coppertone water babies sunscreen, lots of other brands).

Question: Do you recommend kids their sunglasses on sunny days? If so, what age should they start wearing them?

Jeff: Sunglasses are one of the items on my list of hiking gear for two year old.  My kids love wearing sunglasses and they provide protection. 

About Jeff Alt

In addition to walking the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail, Jeff Alt has walked the 218-mile John Muir Trail with his wife, and trekked across a 50-mile path of Ireland with his wife, young daughter, and extended family. He and his wife emerged from the church doors on their wedding day with backpacks.  His son was taken on his first hike at 8 weeks. 

Alt is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA). His adventures have been featured in media nationwide including: ESPN, Hallmark Channel, the AP, CNN-Radio, NPR, and more. Alt’s award-winning books, A Walk for Sunshine and A Hike for Mike, have been reviewed in Library Journal, Chicago Sun Times and more.

For more information visit www.jeffalt.com

The Giveaway:

Jeff Alt is generously giving away a copy of his book A Walk for Sunshine to one lucky reader.

Jeff’s book A Walk for Sunshine, available on Amazon, takes you along the Appalachian Trail for a noble cause—with Life Lessons from the Trail—now includes gear lists & hiking tips for the beginning hiker and the whole family.

This giveaway is open to U.S. addresses only.

To participate in the giveaway, you could do any or all of the following:

  1. Leave any topic related comment (1 entry)
  2. Join Jeff Alt on Facebook. Leave a comment here with your Facebook name. (1 entry)
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  4. Leave a comment on any of my posts. Leave a comment here with a post name. (1 entry)
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  9. Follow me on Twitter. Leave a comment with your Twitter name (1 entry)
  10. Submit this giveaway to any sweepstakes site or giveaway Linky. Leave one comment with a link each time you submit. (1 entry per submission/link)
  11. Tweet about this giveaway.  #win Jeff #Alt book Walk for Sunshine (includes #gear lists & #hiking tips); enter #Giveaway @MyBusyChildren  http://bit.ly/etVVbm   Leave a comment here with your Twitter name. (1 entry per day)
  12. Subscribe to My Busy Children by email here or via Feedburner. Or subscribe to the RSS feed. Leave a comment indicating how you subscribed (1 entry)

This Giveaway ends on March 28, 11:59pm EST, 2011. The winner will be chosen randomly. I will email the winner, who will have 72 hours to contact me or a new winner will be chosen.

This giveaway is closed.

The winner is #30 – Jason; Jason says: Facebook Fan Parker OZgood

Review/giveaway disclaimer: I received no monetary compensation for this review/giveaway. This post includes affiliate links.

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