Hiking is one of the few activities which can include the whole family, bridging the generation gap. Children are born explorers and naturally curious but maintaining interest is an ongoing challenge. Be patient and sensitive to your child’s needs. Building confidence and a love for the outdoors takes time. Rediscover the world through the child’s eye. Plan flexible outings and be prepared to modify your goals. Tell them it’s okay to get dirty and give up trying to keep them clean. Usually a dirty face is a happy face!
CLOTHING AND EQUIPMENT: Clothes Even though most hiking stores stock appropriate children’s hiking gear, it may be a good idea to look for good second-hand clothing. Dress them in bright, warm clothing. Layering clothing can be time consuming but it is necessary.
Do not forget sun/woolly hat, mittens or gloves.
BOOTS/SHOES: Children’s boots are hard to come by. Comfortable sturdy running shoes with high tops for ankle support, and well worn in, are the best alternative. Take along a pair of water shoes as well.
BACKPACKS: To choose a backpack. Children less than three years old should not carry anything. Be prepared to carry their gear and, possibly, the child as well! Children as young as 5 or 6, can carry a whistle, book or water bottle in a well-fitting backpack. Always be prepared to take the load or, if necessary, turn back. Older children should carry clothing, whistle, light snacks and drink bottles in a light backpack. Don’t forget to pack a favourite book or stuffed animal.
FOOD AND DRINKS: Young children frequently need to top-up energy levels. If a child is hungry before a scheduled break, stop and give them a snack. Keep muesli bars and chocolate readily available and always carry food your children to enjoy. Take a few surprise treats along as well and do not be disappointed if they are more interested in the goodies than exploring their environment. Encourage children to drink enough fluids.
HOW FAR OR FAST CAN WE GO ?: First hikes should be short to avoid boredom and also build up stamina. Pushing a child too hard will put them off forever. Always walk at the pace of the slowest child unless bad weather is on the way and you need to get out of the bush or to a shelter. Give the older or faster children tasks to slow them down.
SAFETY: Children are unaware of hazards and must be closely supervised at all times. Have one adult up front and one at the back and teach children not to run ahead and to always keep an adult in sight. All adults in your group must be responsible, flexible and prepared to turn back. The other thing to remember is that the wind whistling through the trees or a branch cracking can frighten young children who are out of their comfort zones. Children cool down quickly so do not forget to check their heads, hands and feet to ensure they remain warm.
ACTIVITIES AND RESPONSIBILITY: Activities Keep children busy. Give them responsibilities, like reading a map or compass, leading the group, timing each step or even planning the meals beforehand.
HAZARDS: Teach them to look out for overhanging branches, tracks that may slip away or protruding roots, staying away from rivers and streams; how to identify landmarks and how close to the edge is too close (two large adult steps back).
LOST: Teach them to stop and make a lot of noise and how to use their whistles properly.
Remember - it’s free for children (5-17 years) to stay in huts and campsites on Great Walk tracks. Children under 15 years must be with an adult.
Although the alpine sections of the Routeburn Track are not recommended for children a great overnight alternative is to walk in and stay at either Lake Howden or Routeburn Flats Hut.
Stay overnight then return same way.