Have you thought about taking your family hiking? The first step is to decide. Make the decision that it is the right thing to do for mental and physical health, family relationships, and for love of the earth, and then start planning.
Here are some questions I am asked most often:
How do I find good places to hike?
Check out some “Easy Day Hike” or “Hiking with Children” books at your local library. Call your local Division of Wildlife Services and ask them about hiking trail maps. They should have free maps for your area. Pick up a cheap backpack to get you started as you carry water and snacks for a short distance. Look at pictures of beautiful places to visit in your area, or visit your local outdoor outfitter – try REI – and talk to people who love the outdoors. They will almost certainly have some good spots for you. Google “Hiking” and your area. Someone will have blogged about a trip you can follow. Then choose what you are going to do first.
Some other things to consider as you plan your hikes for distance are:
How much weight (water) will you need to pack? Parents are packing for kids, so sometimes packs can get heavy with water even on a long day hike.
How much elevation change is there on this hike? A hike with a big elevation change will require a lot more time than a level hike. For example, when we climbed Mt. Loafer, with nearly 5,000 feet of elevation change in 12 miles, we hiked 12 miles in about 9 hours. When we walked Cane Wash in the San Rafael Swell, with barely 300 feet of elevation change in 7 miles, we hiked 14 miles in 6 hours.
How much exploring time will we want? If an area has interesting mineral deposits or rock formations, if there is good climbing, or swimming holes, then we will want more time than if we are just hiking.
We rarely plan to hike more than 2 miles an hour. That is our safety zone. We don’t want to run out of light, even if we have our headlamps in our packs. If we get back to the car with an extra hour of light, that is fine. We usually are tired out anyway.
What do I need to buy?
Try to use what you already have at first. Buy gear as you discover what you like and need.
Check everyone’s shoes, socks and toenails. Make sure your toenails aren’t so long that they will cause problems if you are going downhill. Shoes don’t have to be fancy hiking shoes for day hikes (I often hike in my worn out running shoes) but they do have to be comfortable. Socks should not have seams that will rub.
We always ask, “Are those good hiking pants?” before we head out the door. Although we usually hike in jeans and t-shirts, not technical clothing, we don’t want seams to rub. Make sure the pants have been tried out on some kind of a walk before you wear them on a hike.
Sweatshirts or jackets should be carried along in a backpack, just in case the weather turns cold. Sometimes when you are hiking, you are cold just sitting in the shade to rest even though the weather is fine. A sweatshirt is a good safety measure. If the weather is iffy, I carry hats and gloves for the whole family in my pack. I also carry a ziplock bag with dry socks for everyone.
Small backpack for at least the adults. Put in enough water for everyone to have a good drink at least once an hour. Snacks are nice. This is one time we relax our “no garbage” rule for the family and buy candy, potato chips and other junk. We also like string cheese, boiled eggs, hummus and pitas on our longer hikes. Gatorade is also excellent for a pick-me-up when feet get draggy.
Whistles for everyone. Put a whistle on a necklace around everyone’s neck before you get started. Strict instructions were necessary for one of our children, “If you can’t see an adult, that means you are lost (even if you don’t think you are lost.) Blow your whistle and stay exactly where you are until someone finds you.” We have never actually put our whistles to use, but they are more audible than voices if ever a situation like that should occur.
I put a ziplock bag with ibuprofen, bandaids, and an extra shoelace in my backpack, and a small flashlight if there is the slightest chance we will be out after dark. If it is a short hike that we have done before, sometimes we leave the sweatshirts and flashlight in the car.
Camera. Get pictures of yourself and your loved ones in the beautiful spots you work hard to visit. Review those pictures and good times to help you get ready for the next trip.
How do I get my family motivated?
As I said in my post yesterday, we started on short hikes with a beautiful destination. Most of us like being able to meet a goal, not just walk “so-many” miles. Head for a waterfall, a cliff-top overlook, or a swimming hole. When you get there, take time to enjoy the view, (and a break and a snack) and then turn back. My family also enjoys having special hiking foods that we don’t eat at other times. Red licorice, beef jerky, and trail mix are some of our favorites. I often buy a special surprise candy treat that the younger ones can get out of my backpack at a specified time on the trail.
One of our most successful backpacking trips began with a trip to Einstein Bagels for breakfast. Everyone felt “treated,” and we were able to start off well fueled and in an extra good mood. Sometimes we plan a special meal out, or I plan a special dinner, at home. It is more difficult to have a special dinner at home, because mom is tired, too. Try to have most of the basics prepared the night before.
New gear is also a great motivator. For the little ones, I promised to buy them equipment to go backpacking with us if they proved they could do well on longer day hikes. Now they say, “Only ten miles?” and are often the ones racing down the trail when the rest of us are worn out. I also do not expect them to carry hardly any weight (or any, if we don’t need the extra space.) I just want them to enjoy themselves. I am always prepared to strap their backpack onto mine and carry it.
Should I be afraid of wildlife?
We have been hiking far and wide for about 5 years now. This fall was the first time we have seen a rattlesnake. It was cold, and just wanted to get away. We saw another rattlesnake on that same trip. It had half-swallowed a chipmunk, and could not have hurt us if it had tried, so it was really afraid. Snakes sense vibrations in the ground, so having an adult lead the way on the trail should give them enough warning to get away before you even see them.
The only larger animals we have seen are elk and moose. I was afraid of the moose – I walked right up to its butt with my baby in a backpack on my back and my two year old by the hand. I thought, “That’s a very tall – NOT A HORSE!” It didn’t help that my sister-in-law had been treed by an angry moose for several hours only a few months before. However, my moose didn’t even blink, I think – I was out of there very quickly. Usually, since we hike with our children, we make enough noise that no wildlife stays for us to see – let alone to be frightened of. If you are making noise, even larger animals get out of the way. Use good sense, but don’t let fear keep you indoors.
Coming soon . . . more tips on camping gear and food for hiking and backpacking. Hope you will tell me about some of your great trips with you family soon. Please leave a comment.