Every outdoor parent’s dream is to raise a little hiker of their own, but too many missteps out of the gate can cause your kid to hate heading outside the rest of his life. There’s no better way to introduce him to the beauty of nature than that first hike. To make sure he enjoys himself so much that he wants to do it all the time, keep these tips in mind.
Get him his own pack
Children, even the small ones, love feeling like they have a little autonomy. Your kid will enjoy his first hike more if you give him a toy to take along in the form of his own backpack. There are plenty of kid-size varieties available and you can make a game of it by allowing him to help pack his own bag before you go.
A lot of folks try to take on too much their first time out the door with their kids, which can turn them off to hiking indefinitely. Focus more on having fun than completing a challenge. Shorter, level hikes that don’t take too much out of them are perfect starters that’ll help make them want to push a little further the next time out.
Work in rest stops
Children wear out quickly on long hikes, so make sure you add in time for extra pit stops along the way. You don’t want to end up carrying your toddler half the trip, so help him stay on his own two feet by working in rest stops every mile or so, or whenever he lets you know his legs need a break.
Bring their friends
As much as we all want our kids to think we’re the greatest, most exciting people in the world, it’s a sad fact that they tend to get bored of our old-people antics pretty quickly. To help keep him entertained try inviting along some of his friends. They’ll keep each other occupied while you can relax a little on the hike.
Camp close to the trailhead
In case of emergency you want to have an easy exit plan. Rather than choosing a campsite way off the beaten path make sure you stay within a mile or so of the trailhead. If your child gets himself into trouble in the middle of the night you’ll have an easier path out to get him help.
When setting up camp for the night make sure to include the kid (or kids!) in the fun. Have him help set up the tent, maybe cook a little dinner or just collect wood for the fire. The key is to make him feel included and like he’s contributing, otherwise he’ll just feel like a nuisance and wonder why you brought him along if you didn’t want his help.
Give him a whistle
Safety is tantamount to a good hike. It’s okay to let your kid wander around on and off the trail a bit, exploration is part of the adventure, but give him the tools to keep himself safe if you’re going to let him off leash, so to speak. A whistle is a great way to give him a little space. If he stumbles upon something dangerous he can blow it and you’ll know to come running. It’s also great for him to have on hand in case something happens where you get separated, or you’re injured and he needs to make noise to draw in help.
Practice at home
Before heading out onto the trail you should practice camping at home to get your child used to sleeping in a tent. Some kids are uncomfortable resting their heads anyplace other than their own bed, so camping out in the backyard will help him get used to the idea. Plus, if you teach him how to set up camp at home that’s less you have to do yourself on the trail!