Little footprints: Hiking with youngsters can be great adventure for all

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

Some of the best outdoor activities for kids capitalize on their inability to sit still rather than battle it. A hike along a well-marked trail can be a great introduction to nature, one conducted at any pace a child may desire.
Here are a few suggestions for making those first trips a success:
• Know the ground
Needless to say, you want the terrain for small hikers to be something they can handle and still enjoy the walk. Additionally, especially at this time of year, you’ll want to have some idea what portion of the walk is shaded and what, if any, is not.
• Use the buddy system
Have your child bring a friend along. Their imaginations find so much more inspiration when they’re sharing the adventure with one or two of their buddies.
• Get oriented
Give the kids a map of the trail and show them how to use it to estimate time and distance. If there’s no formal trail map, a print-out from Google maps or even a hand-drawn substitute can serve just as well. The map gives them a firm idea of the hike’s goal so they know the work they’re doing is leading them somewhere – the same kind of information any adult hiker would want to have.
• Bring snacks, drinks and more
Make sure you have plenty of water for everyone and get the kids to start drinking it before they get thirsty, and bring plenty of snacks. Further, even if you’re just going for an hour or two, a half-roll of toilet paper or an envelope of baby wipes is a must.
• Be the beast of burden
There are formulas available to show pack to weight ratios but, especially in the beginning, plan to carry all of your stuff and theirs too, water included. The youngsters may want to carry a pack just like everyone else, but don’t expect them to haul anything significant in it.
In fact, expect to haul their pack inside your own after a while as well. Hauling their necessities yourself will ensure their water is with them, not sitting beside a stump two rest stops back up the line.
• Know when to say when
No matter what, it’s critical to know when to call it a day, and it’s important to keep an honest, running assessment of the smallest hikers in mind so you can turn the trip around with enough fuel in their tanks to get all the way back without misery. A forced march is the last thing any kid hike should resemble.

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