Winter Hiking with Kids: Tips for Happy Hikers
During the summer, it doesn’t take much effort to get kids to go outside. When all you need for a hike is shoes, water, and sunscreen, planning is pretty easy. Hiking from fall to spring is a different story. It takes quite a bit more effort to get out there: more clothes, more gear, more supplies. But trust us, it’s worth it. Winter hiking can be a magical experience. Few other hikers on the trail, animal tracks in the snow, ice glittering in the trees. Don’t let visions of sodden socks and temper tantrums hold you back.
Here are some tips to make this season of cold-weather hiking your family’s best ever.
“Where are we going?”
Your hike will go better if you do some advance planning. To start, scout out some short, flat trails in your area, making sure that any hike you choose is not in an avalanche zone. To get kids excited, read books with them about the plants, animals, and birds they might see on the trail. Remember to keep your expectations in check. You won’t travel as far, or go as fast with kids as you would alone, and that’s OK. Some days you won’t make it past the parking lot or the visitor center area, and that’s OK too. After all, adventure is where you find it.
KEEN parent tip: Consider bringing along a sled so little ones can rest when they need to.
“My fingers are cold!”
Build warmth with multiple layers, for yourself as well as your kids. Start with a breathable, wicking layer like long underwear. Add a warm layer on top of that. Wool and fleece are good choices; avoid cotton as it holds onto moisture and will stay cold and damp once it gets wet. Think about layers that are easy to get on and off: when kids complain that they are hot, a zip-up fleece jacket peels off more easily than a sweatshirt or anorak-style pullover. The final layer should be water and windproof, like a waterproof shell or parka.
KEEN parent tip: Little ones who are carried all or part way need an extra layer or two to keep them warm when they’re not moving. Check on them frequently to make sure their hands, feet, and faces aren’t too cold, since they can’t always let you know.
“Dad! Look at this huge puddle!”
One of the best things about getting out into nature is giving kids the freedom to jump in and be immersed in it. Without warm and waterproof boots, the hike is likely to end quickly with lots of complaining. Boots that are easy to get on start the adventure off on the right foot. Look for boots with a high-traction outsole for reliable grip on trails that may be icy, muddy, snowy, or all three. Not sure which trail shoes are right for your toddler? Check out this guide to buying the best winter boots for your kiddo.
KEEN parent tip: If you’re going to be carrying a baby or toddler in a carrier, add trekking poles for extra balance and stability.
Winter weather can be unpredictable. Be sure to pack the 10 essentials, especially if you’ll be out for awhile or are in a remote area. Extra mittens and extra socks feel great on the way back (especially if the original ones are damp and snowy.) Leave extra clothes in the car as well to change into once you’re back at the trailhead.
“Mom! I’m hungry!”
Cold weather burns more calories, so those little guys are going to be hungry. Snacks that can be eaten with mittens on, like cheese sticks, crunchy granola bars, or wrap sandwiches, are practical and tasty. If you’re going to stop for lunch, bring a waterproof picnic blanket. At the moment that energy and enthusiasm is flagging, bring out the thermos of hot cocoa, apple cider, or ramen noodles. It’s amazing how a delicious hot beverage can give everyone a boost.
“This is fun!”
The success of your hike isn’t measured in mileposts or checklists. It’s in making family memories and creating new family traditions. So slow down and make time for kids to take off their mittens and touch the bark of a tree or follow a squirrel for a few minutes. If whining or fighting is taking your hike in the wrong direction, songs and games are a great way to redirect. Tag, hide-and-seek, or I Spy are great go-to activities in nature. Run ahead and leave little treats on rocks for your kids to find, and you’ve turned the hike into a treasure hunt. And there’s no better place to sing loudly and off-key than out in the woods with no one around. Silly songs like “Kookaburra” or “The Bear Went Over the Mountain” make the time pass more quickly and keep everyone smiling. Before you know it, you’ve made it back! Congratulations on unlocking another level of family outdoor adventure.