Toddlers to Teens on Trail
With five children, ages 1-18, we really do have all the ages and stages, and emotions and needs, and varying levels of skills and abilities on a daily basis. Our hands are full, always, and there’s never a dull moment that’s for sure. But, what we have learned along the way is how to balance it all out on trail. Yes, when people ask us how the heck we hike with kids from 1 to 18, we respond by saying how the heck could we not? Honestly, getting out into nature is our saving grace. Connecting in with the natural rhythm of our earth and the cycles of the season, as well as the lunar cycle, helps keep us all aligned. We can be having a tough tough day or week, and as soon as we hit the trail everyone evens out. Knowing this is why we hike so often. It soothes anxiety, helps harness excess energy, calms the nerves, and helps with any mental unload that is necessary when there is a lot going on or someone in the family is carrying extra stress or worry.
But, how to balance everyone’s different needs while on trail. The teens find their place on their own quite easy by going at their pace, it gives them space to think, practice grounding and mindfulness by connecting in with nature while on trail, and process some things on their own. The littles either have to be carried or we slow down for their pace, and often get to see lots on trail that we might otherwise miss, bending down to pick up a flower petal, noticing the ants crossing a rock, just love their perspective. Plus, there is room for whoever needs it to run or climb or get their feet wet or rub their hands on a smooth rock or even roll in some leaves. When we connect back in to our senses we reset our nervous system to the natural rhythms that our bodies are used to. It reminds us as parents what their bodies really need, it helps us remember to slow down and feel it all, it gives us time and space to get out of our heads and back to our hearts. Every single time the trail connects us back to what matters and to each other.
So, what do we take on trail and what do we leave behind. Phones may be carried for photos, but are not on, we leave the wifi behind. Well fitting, comfortable shoes are necessary to really enjoy a full hike and so little feet don’t get uncomfortable. We love our KEENs, always have, for their durability, versatility, and fit. We also love that we often can pass them from kid to kid because they last so long.
We wear comfortable clothes that can move easy and add layers based on the weather or season, especially when hiking mountains as the temperatures can change drastically with elevation and from morning to evening. With five kids we always shop consignment. We find it best to gather up what doesn’t fit and sell for the next season in order to have cash to buy what they need. In this way we are reusing clothing rather than buying new, saving money (sometimes even making some cash), and getting clothes that are durable enough to last a few kids. The few items we may buy new we always try and buy with a purpose, meaning supporting small handmade artisans, buying organic or hemp, and voting with our dollars by buying from conscious and sustainable businesses.
We usually carry two packs between the adults and big kids, one for diapers and diaper wipe solution, a change of clothes for the littles, our natural first aid kit that we put together, Dr. Bronner’s hand sanitizer and small soap packs, and it can carry both littles’ water bottles, plus one more. This pack for us is a North Face day pack with a laptop compartment (where the diaper changing pad goes) and that we chose particularly because it opens flat and we can use it as a diaper changing station. It has three main compartments with smaller ones in the front and two large water bottle nets on the side. The other pack, just a standard Jantzen backpack we found at a thrift store, we fill with food and more water and any extra layers the big kids may need. With two packs we can take turns carrying if someone gets tired and it means the younger ones don’t have to carry anything and can be more free to run and climb with ease. If we are doing a really long, all day hike, we may have everyone carry a small hydration pack so we can carry enough water for a longer trek. Plus, we will carry our Katadyn portable water filter so we can filter water on trail if we run out. We love our Katadyn and can’t emphasize enough having an ability to filter water! Once we were on trail and had to fill up everyone’s water when we ran out, plus we helped a dehydrated hiker who had also run out of water. The other things we carry are enough snacks, usually bars, apples, and if we are carrying lunch we will either carry peanut butter and rice cakes or avocados and rice cakes to make quick sandwiches. And, other than that, we keep our packs light, because usually we are also carrying littles and need to save our energy for the climbs!
Much of what we use we have bought on sale or at consignment and thrift stores. And, we want to emphasize this because we believe hiking with your family is for everyone and no one should feel that they can’t afford it. Use what you have, invest in the quality items as you can, and make sure to carry light and dress comfortable. Then, just get out there! Start small, go further as your kids build up their endurance, and have fun! Stay tuned for a shop to link up some of our favorite brands, and be sure to ask us what questions you have about hiking with kids. We will also be setting up workshops on our Tour this year to talk about this, and group family hikes, as well as teen hikes, so if you are on our route, or close to it (because we can be flexible on the road), reach out and invite us to a local park or school or trailhead. Lets hike together! And, get out and explore with your kids!