Ever wanted to take the family hiking but were unsure how to best go about it or where to go? A little planning and preparation can go a long way to making sure everyone has a stellar experience. Successful experiences can be repeated and before too long you'll have everyone hooked.
The kids will soon be pestering you on where you're hiking to next.
The images and video in the post are from our first family hike to bag a Wainwright in the Lake District in February 2018. As you'll see, the weather was cold, but stunningly gorgeous with blue skies and sunshine throughout the entire day.
We learnt a lot on this adventure and I'm happy to share some insights in my 5 tips to rock family hiking like a boss.
This is probably the most important element of any hiking trip, especially if you're not familiar with the area you'll be walking in or it's a long way from home.
If you've not been hiking with the family before, it may be helpful to choose a short accessible route that can be easily followed, possibly close to home.
A quick Google can give a whole host of options. The National Trust or your closest National Park authority can be a good resource for maps, directions and information. There are also a number of freely accessible walking guides/blogs online that can offer good resources. Be sure that the instructions are clear and easy to follow, with sufficient detail to enable you to easily navigate. Printing the instructions or taking photos with your phone can give you a handy reference. Please note: Even if your phone is sufficiently charged, weather conditions can affect your phone's performance, so it's best not to solely rely on your phone. Have a paper back up if possible. Alternatively, the Ordinance Survey have a range of navigation resources to help with hiking adventures.
What are the parking options? Are they free, is there a dedicated carpark or is it roadside? Do you have a backup available should your first choice not prove fruitful? This will often happen in the summer months, when lots of people are out taking advantage of the better weather.
Weather can also impact your trip, so be sure to check out what the forecast will be for the day of your walk. Is sunshine, rain or snow forecast? This can affect conditions and the equipment you may or may not need.
Will it be windy? Wind speeds can vary with altitude and in exposed areas, so take this into account, especially with little people.
* Have a plan and try to stick to it. It means you're less likely to get lost.
* Check out the National Trust and your local National Park authority for family friendly walks in your area.
* Don't rely on your phone. What happens if it dies and you've not got access?
* Make sure you've got change for parking if you have to pay.
* Check the weather forecast. It will help with a lot of your planning.
* Make sure everyone's been to the loo before you start. Funnily enough, there's a shortage of loos on the side of a mountain, unless you're up for a 'wild wee' ;)
Just like you choose tyres based on their performance and reliability for driving in different conditions, so should your shoes reflect the conditions you'll be walking in. High cut walking boots are always a good choice, especially for hill walking, providing extra support and comfort on uneven terrain. If you prefer or have to go low cut, then trail specific shoes will tick the box. Wellies may also be an option if things are damp under foot, but ensure that you have socks that will protect feet over longer distances and be sufficiently warm enough for the weather.
You don't have to spend a fortune on footwear, but if you're going to make it a regular event, then get the best shoes you can afford. Sometimes it's a case of waiting for a sale. My current Berghaus boots are a great example. I was able to get them at 50% off their original price and they've been the best walking boots I've owned, having carried me hundreds of miles up hill and down dale.
Avoid ventilated trainers and flip flops (thongs for my Aussie friends or Jandals for my Kiwi friends). Closed toe, waterproofing of some kind and off road treads on the sole are all good options to consider because even in high summer, sections of tracks can be boggy and you may have to cross small water runs or creeks. Choose the wrong footwear and you can end up with blisters, twisted ankles and wet feet. I suffered this result just recently, after wearing a pair of wellies with a low cut sock (#rookiemistake). My blisters are still healing! Choose wisely and rock your footwear!
* Choose trail friendly shoes, suitable for the time of year and conditions. If you have to wear trainers, then make sure they're in good condition.
* Make sure you have the right socks for the shoes you're wearing.
* Wear high cut boots if you can, your ankles will thank you for it.
I've already mentioned weather, and your choice of clothing should reflect this. Rain, hail, snow, sunshine and altitude are all factors to consider.
Altitude is often overlooked when it comes to the peaks and fells. You're more exposed to the wind and elements, which means it's colder, so dress accordingly.
Layers are important. Everyone will vary how many they require. I could potentially get away with 2-3 layers, even in cold weather, but my wife wears more and can still feel cold. The kids will end up in 3-4 layers and will want to strip them off. You know your family. Work with the clothing that you have rather than going out to buy a bunch of new stuff. That can come later.
The main points: consider where you're walking, what the weather is likely to be like, how many layers will you need and be comfortable.
* Layer up depending on the season.
* Everyone have a waterproof jacket. Precipitation is not a matter of 'if', but 'when'! It's another layer if cold and protection when it comes down.
* Take a spare change of clothes for emergencies and in the car. A small overnight bag or hessian shopping bag will do.
* Don't wear your walking boots in the car, have a second pair.
We all know that hydration (drinking water) is important, but do we do it? Generally, we are advised to drink around 2 litres of water a day to replace lost fluid. So what about hiking? Please be sure to take plenty of water with you. At least one bottle for every person. A small backpack per adult is essential for carrying supplies.
Like Scooby Do, having treats/snacks are essential for keeping energy and motivation levels up for the family. The higher you hike, the more energy you're going to expend, so make sure you take a bit of food along. It doesn't need to be a full blown picnic, but things like fruit, nuts, crisps, biscuits and even a little chocolate are good to take along. They can also fit easily into backpacks without adding lots of extra weight. They can be great motivators to get the little people a bit further down the trail if they have something to look forward to. What are your favourite hiking snacks?
* Drink plenty of water the day before walking.
* Avoid too much caffeine as it tends to dehydrate you.
* Carry at least one decent size bottle for every walker. 750ml - 1litre is good. More if you're walking longer distances.
* A good backpack of around 20-30 litre capacity is good for taking on shorter day hikes. External bottle nets are a good quality on most packs these days.
* A carabiner can be a handy little helper attached to your backpack.
Walking with little people can be super rewarding. It can also be painful! While it's great to finish the walk or bag a Wainwright, it's also important to remember that the group is only as fast as its slowest member. The kids won't often be as fast as us. Setting a goal to reach can improve motivation and participation and provide a chance to stop and take in the view, especially if it's a mountain or hill you're climbing.
Pausing can also be a good time to have a snack and drink. The longer you go without nourishment, the more like the Hangry Monster is likely to appear.
Interaction with siblings can improve too. We were concerned about how the youngest would go as he doesn't like going up hill. Despite a few complaints early on, he soon settled in with his sister and started chatting and soon forgot about the fact that he was climbing a mountain!
Encourage your kids for every milestone or achievement they hit during your hike. Positive reinforcement goes a long way to making that stellar experience.
Remember, the end goal is about spending time together as a family. Relationship should be the focus. Summiting is a bonus.
* Set a point to aim for before stopping for a breather or snacks. Make it something attainable. While walking uphill, why not count 20 or 30 seconds and then stop for 10 seconds can be a good way to help little ones along and they can get some maths in as well). Adjust as needed.
* Research the area you're visiting. Are there animals or landmarks you can watch out for? Is there a summit you're aiming for? Can the kids spot them?
* Observe. What's going on around you: What are birds doing? Is the moon out? What affect is the wind having? Why do people and objects look smaller when we are up high? These are just a few questions to consider.
* Encourage the kids. It will make their day and spur them on to do more.
* Talk to the kids. Ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer.
Get out and stay out because an active family is a healthy family. There are so many positive physical and mental health benefits to be gained, I can't recommend it highly enough.
Sometimes it won't be easy, but anything worth having or achieving costs you something, so go for it.
If you're just starting out hiking with your family, then these 5 tips provide a useful base to build on. As I mentioned, there's no need to go out and buy a bunch of kit. Start with what you've got and build on it from there. The more you hike, the better you'll get to know what your needs are, allowing you opportunity to acquire the right kit to help support your family hiking adventures.
Our family hiking goal for this year is to climb three mountains. We've conquered one so far and are looking forward to the next one soon.
Let me know your top family hiking tip or experience in the comments below.
From April onwards I'll be offering short walks suitable for families at well known Peak District locations. All participants will get a group and individual family picture included as part of the experience. Interested? Then please register your interest here.
Matthew Couper Photography - capturing life as it happens