Children on hiking: what to do and what not to do


Can we continue hiking once we have children?

Before you, more than one have dropped their arms. Too complicated, too dangerous, too restrictive …

However, in hiking, we often meet groups or families with children for whom everything seems to be going well …

But then how do they do it? What is their recipe for successful hikes with children?

As you can imagine, there is no magic bullet, but the few tips that follow will help you make the right choices and organize your hike so that your children or grandchildren appreciate it too.

So here is all I can advise you to do and do not do with children hiking.

We will talk first of all about young children, the “little walkers”, and then the big ones who, from about 7 years old, can access new capacities.

But by the way, who am I to talk to you about children and hiking?

The great lover of nature and open spaces, my name is Emilie and I am 35 years old. I am nature animator, schoolmistress and mother of a little girl. I have had the occasion to frame mountain walks and homelessness with children, in mobile camps, discovery classes or when I was a teacher in the Vercors. I know well the difficulties that one can encounter in hiking with children, and especially the tricks so that everything goes at best!

Hiking with a small child (3 – 6 years)

Between 3 and 6 years old, we are in the critical age for hiking … The child becomes too heavy to be worn, but his small legs still struggle to climb the mountains. Moreover, endurance activities are not frankly the cup of tea of the youngest. Do we have to give up our hiking projects?

Keep in mind some educational principles, and your common sense and you should find an interesting compromise.

1) Ensure the safety of the child

Weather: With a young child, it is better to multiply our vigilance to the weather
  • If it is too hot: you can walk in the cool, early in the morning or in the evening, or in the undergrowth. Because even with glasses, hats and sunscreen, hiking in the middle of the dungeon is rarely a good idea, or even on very short distances.
    And always ensuring that the child drinks enough!
  • If it is too cold: especially if there is wind, it is better to choose a very short course and well wrapped. As the walk progresses, the child will be asked if he or she needs to find out, because younger children may not understand why they feel bad, whine, when they are just too hot or too cold … we help them understand!
    The best is never to get too far from a hot spot, inn, refuge or car …
  • If it’s raining: if you want to shorten the ride and find a suitable outfit, the rain should not make you give up your outing … Because children love to play in the rain and walk in the water, provided they do not be cold!
    On the other hand, if there is a risk of thunderstorms I absolutely do not want to venture on the trails with a child.
Risk of falling – precipice – torrent

One day I saw a 4-year-old girl running on the trail, putting her foot next to the path and rolling into the precipice. Thanks to some miracle it did not have the slightest scratch but it could have ended badly.

In order to eliminate this type of accident, you must act jointly in 2 ways:

  • First: at the start of the ride, state the important safety rules :
    • In the mountains, no stones are thrown into the void.
    • When walking on a trail, you stay close to an adult (this is true until you can trust the child, usually around 7 years, which can vary greatly from child to child. the other).
    • When there is a vacuum or there is a risk of falling, you give your hand to an adult (but in practice it is you who will ask the child to give you your hand as soon as you terrain is dangerous).
  • Second: during the march, enforce these few rules

Hiking with a young child requires some vigilance, because at these ages children do not have the same perception as we do of the risks and the consequences of their actions. They sometimes want to test things that seem aberrant, just to see … it’s up to us to intervene at the right time when it poses a risk!

In any case, I invite you to be more vigilant if you are in a group … because you know like me that when you are numerous, you talk, you are less attentive, you think that others will manage … is not always the case!

2) Respect your comfort

The needs of young children are different from ours. It is therefore necessary to anticipate a little …

  • In case and picnic: keep in mind that a child has fewer reserves than us. It is preferable to make several small breaks during the day to nibble (dry fruits, chocolate bar …), even in small quantities.
    In addition, this can represent a motivation to do a few meters more! (“As soon as you reach the rock, you stop to nibble!”)
  • Footwear: Small feet do not necessarily need to be enclosed in big shoes … If the sole needs to ensure good grip, the whole shoe should be as light as possible!
    An address that I like very much to equip children: Les Petits (No, I’m not paid to spread this link, it’s really a shop to know for our little fellows!)
  • Portage: You may be able to carry the lightest children. It depends on their weight and ability. If this is the case, the child will be able to rest while you are walking. On the other hand, do not impose a motionless day on your back, think to make it walk and stop to explore, at least half the time!

3) Adapt to its capabilities

Each child has its own abilities. I made the crossing of the Vercors with a small of 4 years who walked like a big one while 12 year old children are reluctant to move forward.

The best I can advise you, before embarking on an ambitious hike, is to do a walk-test. It is up to you to adapt what you propose to the capacities of the child.

What is the length of a hike with a small child?

You understand, it all depends on the child. But as an indication, I recommend you not to exceed the following distances:

  • At 3 years: 1 Km (the rest of the ride will be done in portage!)
  • At 4 years: 1,5 Km
  • At 5 years: 3 Km
  • At 6 years: 4 to 5 Km

To adjust obviously according to the unevenness and the steepness of the terrain.

Does the child carry a backpack?

At this age, the child still has a weak musculature and fragile bone. So there is no question of making him carry weight.

On the other hand, if it pleases him, you can quite equip him with a small bag. The child can put his blanket, his tube of compote or why not a small gourd. But if it hinders him, commit yourself to carry this bag yourself!

I invite you to wait a little before “empowering” the child by making him on principle carry his material himself. First make sure that he enjoys the hike, only after you can add “constraints” (always adapted to his abilities of course)!

In any case, choose a backpack to the size of the child and with the shoulder straps that snap together to prevent the bag from bouncing. It is not necessary, however, that this backpack has a belt, since there will be no weight in it …

Are there sticks to the child?

Why not !

The child can learn to walk with sticks (there are for children) and feel that this is an aid to him. But again, I recommend you do not force the child and carry the sticks yourself when the child does not want any more.

Psychologically, when you equip the child with technical equipment (and this is the case with the sticks!), It is better to be prepared in advance for the fact that quickly this will clutter the child, and therefore he will ask you to carry this material yourself … He will not do that to bother us, but he will actually need time to get used to it.

So the sticks before 6 years, yes, but for fun, and in small doses (unless you have a model of child who loves to walk with his sticks!).

4) To satisfy its need to explore

We have reached the point that I believe will make your project successful: learn to set up times during which the child can explore his environment freely without having to walk.

On the other hand, if you are planning to walk all the time, chances are that you will be able to disgust the child from the hike in a sustainable way. Admit it would be a pity …

I advise you to book at least half the time of your hike to breaks. But do not consider them as breaks but rather as wonderful moments during which the child will have the opportunity to explore things that are extraordinary to him and will excite him:

  • Climbing small rocks,
  • rummaging in the undergrowth,
  • play in a creek,
  • etc.

The little child has everything to discover and in hiking, you are in a rich environment that offers him a sensory cocktail to flourish. Be aware that in these moments of free play, the child really makes good stuff and builds a strong bond to nature, to the mountain … and so to the hike!

5) Be encouraging and caring

Everything in your posture must make the child confident, content and motivated.

You have set a clear framework, you are watching for its safety, but your words are encouraging and make the child want to go further:

  • Set small goals to achieve rather than ambitious goals,
  • recognize the efforts of the child, even if they are very small,
  • strive to be playful and understand what really interests the child,
  • finally, banish any negative speech, threat or blackmail.

And if it is preferable, know to turn around rather than to advance at all costs!


The Hiking Itinerary Update

Although it is a little technical to organize, the itinerant itinerary is quite conceivable with a small child. Provided you succeed in finding a place for every advice you have read above!

Here are a few more ways to compete for the success of your hike.

1) A donkey to help you


I have for years trekking with donkeys. And experience, I can assure you that the donkey is an ideal companion for the child, from 3 or 4 years:

  • It can carry more than 30 Kg, which allows you to carry a little comfort, without loading.
  • The donkeys are usually very attentive to the children, so they can guide them to the loin even if they are as tall as 3 apples.
  • A child who guides a donkey almost forgets that he is walking … I have often been surprised by the distances traveled, in joy and good humor!
  • You can also make the choice that the donkey carries the child. For that, the donkey will give you all the necessary advice and your cabbage tip will be proud as a chef from the top of his mount … How many memories will leave such experiences!

Of course, bear in mind that the presence of a donkey will be at the center of your hike: it carries weight, it delights children (and not that!) But it needs to be properly built, healthy and led with a little tact. Again, the donkey will give you all the necessary advice before you leave.

2) A broom car to carry the big equipment

This is the option I chose last year to go around Mount Lozère. My daughter was 2 years old. It was a real treat, from A to Z!

The whole thing is to organize at best:

  • Who is driving the vehicle?
  • Which vehicle to choose (car, van …)?
  • Take into account that the bivouac sites must therefore be located close to a road or a road.

Note that hiking agencies offer this type of service. This information is usually found in tourist offices.

3) Gîtes and shelters with half or full board

This option is probably the most comfortable of all: you do not carry food or tent. The conviviality of the places of lodging will leave you without doubt of wonderful memories!

Keep in mind, however, some difficulties related to this choice:

  • With a child, it is better to book (and therefore to book in advance), because if the shelter is full, you will not be able to afford to go back to plan B (another shelter or downhill). valley…).
  • Sharing a night in a dorm with a small child is sometimes tricky, especially if the child is sleeping lightly or restlessly.
  • You will not be able to shorten a step too long. Better to plan short stays and why not walk away after strolling your business at the gite …
4) Watch out for wrong ideas

Some of you will be tempted by the idea of managing on your own, without a donkey or a broomstick. The advantage is that you will have more autonomy and will be able to go practically everywhere. The disadvantage is that it will be difficult for you to carry the child when it needs it … because you will already be too busy!

You will then have to show a GRANNNNDE flexibility, stop you even if you had not planned, to plant the tent by the side of the road while you wanted to go to the lake, etc. Otherwise, your circuit may turn stormy and will jeopardize the future of your family hikes. Oh no then!

I have friends who thought they had found an intermediate solution. They had taken a porterage system equipped with a wheel, sort of a trail of rando and that they took turns to shoot. Their idea was that their child could rest on it or even take a nap while they walked … But the furnished bed turned out to be too uncomfortable and the shocks caused by each step prevented the child from sleeping …

Hiking with a larger child (7 to 12 years old)

Between 6 and 8 years old, most children become a little more vigorous and especially develop an early maturity that allows them to initiate themselves to a beginning of effort management.

At this point, all the tips in the previous section remain valid. You will however gradually evolve them, to the extent of the new abilities and desires of your child.

The advice that follows will also allow you to arouse his enthusiasm, to enjoy all that hiking and nature discovery can bring him beneficial while avoiding some inconvenience.

What to do:
  • Make the child successful: begin with short steps and gradually increase the difficulty.
  • Give a goal (accessible … and motivating!) To the hike: go to the lake where there are newts, or up to the beech wood in which we can climb, to the shepherd’s hut in which we sting -Nice, & c.
  • Invite the child to achieve small exploits: climb a summit, get to the pass for the sunrise, carry out a (short) stage of night … and value these exploits, talk about it later in the presence of other people!
  • Equip the child with small accessories: once it is a pair of binoculars (with which one will try to observe chamois or an eagle …), another time a compass, an opinion, a magnifying glass … In short, an object which will enable the development of new know-how.
  • Invite a buddy or girlfriend to share this particular moment.
  • Encourage, value, be positive … and know to leave it alone if necessary!
  • Take advantage of it to discover nature, geology, cartography …
  • From time to time, organize a game, a treasure hunt, a quest to conduct during the rando, a game of orientation.
  • Play with toponymy when it suits: children will love to go to “Trembling Stone”, “Bear Cave” or “Cul du chien”!
  • And why not keep a logbook, give the child the task of taking pictures and then write with him a small account.
  • Finally, you can associate your child with the preparation of the circuit: choice of stages, itinerary, points of fall … and gradually introduce it to the reading of the map!

You will understand, by giving a character a little playful to your hike and allowing your child to be valued and recognized for what he or she knows, you risk that the hike soon becomes his preferred option for family outings!

Be careful though to avoid some pitfalls …

What to avoid:
  • Load the child with a bag too heavy: wait for the child to be addicted to hiking (and vigorous enough!) Before he can carry weight.
  • The new shoe shoe: as for you, make him a bit of his new shoes by wearing them to the maximum the days before the hike.
  • Give in to a whim and let the child go badly equipped: in small shoes, in flip-flops, without a hat or with a garment really badly adapted. Or worse, loaded with a useless toy that will take the whole ride!
  • If your child makes his own bag, do not hesitate to check that he has taken enough water, that he has a rain and sun clothing.
  • In any case, I can only encourage you to banish any word “toxic”: reproach, blackmail, words that devalue … Even if sometimes the attitude of the child pushes you a little within your limits!

To conclude: any hiker can share his passion with his children!

I hope that the few tips in this article will convince you that a child has a perfect place in hiking, provided a few adjustments within everyone’s reach.

Of course, you will sometimes encounter difficulties. But by creating a place for your children in hiking, you open especially a door to extraordinary satisfactions that are worth a few concessions or adaptations:

  • Spending time in nature has innumerable virtues for children (better health, better endurance and agility, greater ability to concentrate, memorize, less stress and agitation, better sleep …)
  • the countryside and the mountains offer a multi-sensory cocktail that stimulates the capacities of the child,
  • you will experience strong moments of sharing that will strengthen your complicity,
  • there is a good chance that you pass on your passion for hiking,
  • in any case, you sow small seeds, to make nature love the child, who will know all the better to understand it and to respect it … Is not it essential today?

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