Hiking with Children
Whether you intend to take the kids on a countryside walk or out along the coast, this 10 minute guide will explain what you need to know to minimise the risks of hiking with children, and keeping your family safe.
If you don’t have 10 minutes or so to read the whole thing, I suggest you read the short version here instead.
Spending just a few minutes of preparation before you go can really make a big difference to the trip. I wholeheartedly recommend you involve the kids in the process.
Telling them where you’re going, what they’re likely to see and explaining the do’s & don’ts is a great start and will help make the trip more of an adventure for them.
My granddaughter loves to study a map of where we’re going, before we go, and she regularly checks our progress along the way. She also loves to help pack everything (including the map), into her own backpack! Her trips are always ‘Adventures‘
Choose a Well Known Route
If you intend to walk or hike with children for more than about an hour, I highly recommend you choose a well known and documented walk or trail. Not only are these generally safer, but they often include interesting scenes and attractions along the way to keep the kids engaged.
A walking guide book for your area is an excellent source of routes and information. They are specifically written with families and children in mind and will include maps, photos and detailed points of interest about the walk and its difficulty etc.
Alternatively there are many online walking sites where you can search for walks in your area.
If you, or your children have not walked before, I recommend you choose a shorter walk, preferably close to home for your first outing.
Is The Route Child Friendly?
Once you’ve decided where to go, ask yourself, if the walk is suitable for your children’s ability and age?
Remember a two year old is unlikely to walk for a couple of hours, and may become tired really quickly, but if the route is suitable you can often take a child’s pushchair or buggy.
Another excellent solution to the dreaded “will you carry me” plea that’s usually posed 5 minutes into your 2 hour walk, is a purpose made child carrier backpack. Basically a regular backpack with a space for babies and young children (upto about 3 yrs) to sit in. These are gaining popularity of late, and I often see parents using them on longer walks.
Go at The Right Time
You should always know how long the walk is likely to take and plan your start time to ensure you can return safely before it gets dark. And, don’t forget to tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back.
“We once got caught out on the Brecon Beacons, after my granddaughter twisted her ankle on a tree root”.
The 20 minutes delay to strap it up meant we had to walk back along a narrow cliff path after sunset. Thankfully we had head-lamps and knew the route well, but my point is this; always allow an extra 30-60 minutes for unforeseen problems!
Savvy Tip: Most guide books and websites will tell you how long a walk should take, however in my experience you should add as much as half that again when you walk with children.
Check Local Weather
Changes in weather account for many of the possible risks you may encounter whilst out walking with the kids. It is therefore vital that you understand the consequences of these changes and prepare accordingly.
Always check the local weather forecast before you set out!
The weather can change in minutes. If you and the kids get caught in a downpour a couple of miles out, without wet weather clothing or some form of shelter, it will become uncomfortable and unpleasant very quickly!
Apart from the obvious health concerns associated with being cold and wet for several hours, the chance of slips, trips & falls is greatly increased. Take extra care in these wet conditions.
It is also very easy to get lost in bad weather, especially on moors and mountain trails where there may be mist and fog.
In the summer, hot weather can be just as bad, so don’t forget sunscreen and plenty of water.
Savvy Tip: Always carry wet weather gear and spare clothing if there’s even the slightest chance of rain, sleet or snow. Nine times out of ten you won’t need it, but the one time you do, you’ll be so glad you did. This is particularly important during the winter months.
In the Countryside
Walks in the countryside and along forest path are an excellent way to introduce your children to nature and are relatively safe as long as you bear in mind some simple guidelines.
Stay on the path! Wondering off into a wooded area or across a random field is an easy way to become lost. Even if you ‘think’ you know where your going you should always follow local signs and information.
When passing close to farms or farmland, be careful of farmyard machinery and farm animals. Cows and horses in particular can behave unpredictably if you get too close, especially if they’re with their young – always give them plenty of space.
Be aware of any ‘escape routes’ if you’re walking long-distance paths and need to cut the walk short. Circular countryside walks often have these shown on the map or in the guide book.
Follow the countryside code…
The Countryside Code (Côd Cefn Gwlad in Welsh)
- Be safe – plan ahead and follow any signs
- Leave gates and property as you find them
- Protect plants and animals, and take your litter home
- Keep dogs under close control
- Consider other people
At the Beach
If you’re walking along the beach or shoreline, always check tidal conditions for the area. Many beaches and attractions have a rapid incoming tide that can cut you off from the mainland and safety.
Always pay attention to local signage, particularly warning signs.
Always follow advice from lifeguards, even if they happen to be a spotty teenager!
Despite their youth they’ll have knowledge of the local hazards and the risks. This is especially important when exploring in and around caves, cliffs and secluded beaches.
You can get tide times for almost every beach in the UK at the The Met Office – Tide Times Website.
It probably goes without saying but, extra care needs to be taken when walking along coastal routes. Especially along cliff paths where the consequences of a slip or fall can be very serious.
A good safe practice is to always keep your children on the inside, away from the edge, preferably with you between them and the edge. As you know children can be prone to sudden rushes of enthusiasm and so holding hands is another good practice.
For even greater safety, there are child wrist links – walking safety straps available to tether you both together whilst walking along high paths and cliffs. At around £2.50 a pair, they are definitely worth having in your bag.
If the path is very narrow or close to the edge – always consider going back. Trust your parental instincts and never carry on if you think its unsafe, no matter how experienced you are!!!
Again, always stay on the path, pay attention to local signage, particularly warning signs and always follow advice from local wardens or lifeguards.
I cannot stress this enough, you must to be extra vigilant whenever you walk with your children around any form of water. Whether it’s the sea, a river, lake or pond the dangers are very real and things can happen in the blink of an eye.
I’ll say it again, always pay attention to local signage, particularly warning signs and always follow advice from park wardens or lifeguards.
Remember, good safe practice is to hold hands and position yourself between your children and the waters edge.
Even if you and your children are competent swimmers, prevention is always better than rescue.
The best rescue is always the one you don’t need to do!
Take extra care when walking along country lanes. Keep close to the side of the road and be prepared to walk in single file. Although you can usually hear a vehicle coming before you see it, the driver may not see you until they’re up close. Don’t assume drivers will stop.
Sometimes, part of a walk may involve crossing a road. As a young boy I was taught to ‘stop, look and listen’ and to ‘look right, look left, look right again’ before crossing, and this is still good advice today. Set an example for them.
If you walk during low-light hours be sure you have reflective material on your jacket or walking shoes, and carry a torch or headlamp.
What to take with you
This is the minimum I recommend you take on a walk with children lasting an hour or more.
- A backpack or small rucksack (daypack) to carry your gear in. It doesn’t need to be capable of carrying 10 weeks supplies up everest, it just needs to big enough to hold you bits and pieces for the walk. I would suggest any pack of around 18-25 litres is ideal. Children love to have their own packs too, these are generally around 4-11 litres.
- A map of the route – a guide book is good to have along, but even a simple printout from google maps is fine as long as it shows the whole route and the surrounding area you’ll be walking in. Learn how to read it.
- Water – staying hydrated is important during a walk, especially during the summer months. Make sure to take plenty of fluids with you. I’d suggest a minimum of 500ml for each of you.
- Food & Snacks – Take enough for the journey, plus a little extra. As you know, kids are always hungry!
- Torch or Headlamp – Just in case. If it gets too dark, you’ll be glad you did.
- A Phone (charged!) – Not having a signal in a wooded area can be frustrating, but not having any battery is a lot worse if you need to get help. I also recommend carrying a small portable emergency power bank.
- Wet Weather Gear/ Change of Clothing – If there is even a small chance of rain, or if you and the kids are likely to get wet – say at the beach.
- First Aid Kit – A small first aid kit with a few plasters, some bandages, scissors and a few wipes is great. You can get small travel/walking kits here on Amazon.
- Suncream – In summer remember to take into account the heat and sun.
Recap & Checklist (The Short Version)
- Know Where You are Going – Choose a Suitable Route.
- Go at the Right Time (be back before dark).
- Wear Suitable Clothing.
- Take Plenty of Food and Drinks
- Check the Local Weather Forecast.
- Check Local Tidal Conditions (if applicable)
- Take the Right ‘What if’ Gear.
- Tell Others Where You’re Going and When You’ll Be Back.
- Take a Mobile Phone – Charged!
- Be Aware of Your Own Capabilities – Don’t Take Risks!
Walking and hiking with children will always require a fair amount of common sense and parental instinct. With a little bit of preparation thrown in, you can ensure your family walks are a safe and enjoyable activity all year round.
Do you have a safety tip to share or have any thoughts on walking and hiking with children? Give us the benefit of your experience in the comments below, I’d love to hear what you think.