Just as there’s no age limit on trekking, there’s no minimum age requirement either. “As soon as they can walk, you can take your kids out into nature,” explains trekking guide Johanna Ankarloo Tarestad. And she should know. Aside from guiding adults through nature’s trails, she’s also a mother to twin daughters.
“We had to adjust what we did in nature when we had kids, of course, but it didn’t stop us from getting out and enjoying ourselves in the great outdoors. We just took things down a notch or two.”
We asked Johanna to share her top tips for trekking with kids, based both on her experience as a trekking guide and as a mum.
When taking kids on a hike or trek it’s always important to keep in mind why you are doing it – is it for your own sake or is it to give your children a good experience? No matter what age, the kids’ needs always come first. If you want to explore by yourself or climb that challenging mountain, do that another time. It’s better to have low expectations or, better yet, no expectations at all. To introduce your children to nature, trekking and outdoor life it’s important to take it easy, do it for your children, not yourselves and take it at their pace.
If you’re carrying your son or daughter in a baby carrier make sure that they stay warm, dry and have enough to eat. Stopping frequently to snack and experience the small things around you, isn’t just fun, it’s also really important to ensure everyone stays happy and energised.
Don’t just put your child in the carrier and forget about them. Let them play now and then, include them in what you are doing, tell them what you see even if they are not able to talk – they will notice. For older children, stop and play games, talk about what you see. Remember to ask them how they’re feeling and if they’re enjoying themselves.
Have the same routines as at home, eat and sleep at the same time. Just remember to add a few extra snacks and treats to keep the energy level up.
If the weather is bad, turn around and do something else, play something, have a snack, and go hiking another time.
Bring a change of clothes and take plenty of layers for if the weather changes.
Always take a first aid kit. Anything and everything can happen in nature and you want to be prepared.
Bring a map and maybe a compass, too. Look at the map together. Discuss the route. Tell them what the symbols mean and visualise the landscape together. Soon they’ll want to plan the route you all take on your next hike.
If you plan to stay in tent, make a basecamp close to a hut, your home or your car. Set up the camp together. Give them responsibility for something. Then make the tent feel like home. Take games you can play inside the tent if the weather turns bad, but also things you can do outside. A frisbee and cards don’t take up much space but are great ways to pass the time. Once you have a basecamp set up you can embark on shorter hikes from there; perhaps you can go swimming, fishing, even mountain biking and running. Change things up and keep active – this is key to making sure everyone stays happy.
Involve your kids as much as possible. Can they help with the planning and packing? Can they carrying their own gear in small backpacks? Our girls have their own Mini Kånkens for their toys and snacks. All this helps to make them feel important and part of the team. Let them bring what books and toys they like (if it’s not too heavy).
And finally, it’s always better to turn back and try another time if you feel from the beginning that this was a bad idea today. You don’t need to let your kids know this – distract them with something fun instead. Remember that nature will still be waiting for you and you can return any time.
Text: Sarah Benton & Johanna Ankarloo Tarestad
Images: Johanna Ankarloo Tarestad