My son and I hike often. He recently turned two and has been hiking on trails since he could walk. Now, thanks in part to the 2020 pandemic and limited "safe" activities, we're hiking three days a week. It's been a lot of fun and we've also learned a lot. Here are five mistakes I've made, and how you can avoid them.
1. Mistake: Failed to recognize a poisonous plant.
My toddler meandered a little off-trail (we’re working on it) and two days later his legs and lower back were covered in a nasty rash. He had come in contact with poison sumac. As an east coast native, I’m well versed in recognizing and avoiding poisonous ivy and oak but my knowledge stopped there. Another time I stepped to the side of a trail to give someone space to pass and I brushed against stinging nettle. Ouch!
The Solution: Do a simple google search and learn to recognize poisonous plants in the region you live and always do your best to stay on marked trails. The more you hike, the more natural recognizing these plants will become.
2. Mistake: Trusted a stranger's (friendly) dog.
While hiking on a popular trail, I was letting my son trail behind about 30 feet. We do this to foster a little extra independence. A dog approached, knocked him to the ground out of excitement and proceeded to lay on top of my kicking and screaming child. The owner did tell me the dog was friendly, and he was, but I should have taken a more involved approach.
The Solution: When passing others, keep your kid close enough that you can scoop them up in a hurry if a dog or other animal comes along and is aggressive or just a little too excited. Always ask if it's ok to greet a dog and don’t depend on the dogs owner to know whether or not their dog can interact well with a child.
My tried and true method for passing dogs on a trail:
Ask the owner, "is it ok if we say hi?". If you get an affirmative answer, then, squat down next to your child with your arm around them (ready to scoop them up just in case). Use the opposite arm to very slightly extend a gentle, open palm, for the dog to approach. You can use that same arm, to hold a firm boundary between dog and child. Gently but firmly keep over-excited puppies from too much licking or jumping and simply pick your kid up when they've had enough.
3. Mistake: Let Instagram influencers set the standard.
Hiking with children is not exempt from the pitfalls of social media. As with any aspect of parenting, sometimes the highlight reel of Instagram can leave you feeling like you’re not up to par. I’ve found myself feeling like a failure when our hikes aren’t as easy or as fulfilling as they seemingly are for the mountain-momma influencers of social media. Those women are likely, amazing, kind and very cool individuals who are simply trying to inspire but sometimes, the influence is too much.
The Solution: Give yourself a reality check and try to remember that social media is often a skewed version of reality. Embrace that getting outside is a time to disconnect not scroll.
4. Mistake: Took Someone else's opinion to heart.
We were on a treacherous trail but we were taking it easy, we were well-equipped and being as safe as can be. A man walked by and said, “He’s too young to be up here.” And kept walking, mumbling under his breath. I took it to heart and suddenly felt really guilty for having my little one out there.
Another time, I asked someone how far we were from the trail's destination. They proceeded to tell me, "Oh, it's way too far to get there with him. Especially without a backpack." Again, I found myself questioning our abilities.
The Solution: Set your own guidelines for what you and your child or children can handle. With plenty of snacks, water, sunscreen, necessary clothing, and a cell phone (for emergencies), you can safely hike many many trails. You get to decide what equipment is best and necessary for what you're doing. Honestly, my child and I make it a lot further when I'm not wrestling him into a backpack. Do what works for you.
5. Mistake: Forgot that the destination is not the goal.
We often hike trails that are anywhere from one half to two miles to the destination. It’s usually a scenic overlook or a refreshing body of water, something really cool. Even with such a short distance, we rarely, if ever, make it there. Sometimes turning back just a few yards before the end. I've caught myself feeling as if I've failed having not made it to the destination.
The Solution: Set a simple, easily achievable goal. Example: Today we are going to eat lunch outside. Whether that lunch is had two miles down a trail or 10 feet from the car, you will have succeeded. A hike is a hike whether or not you get to "the finish."
It's not always easy, hiking with kids. Let's be real, sometimes it's not easy or fun! Keep in mind, if you're getting your kid outside for a hike, you've already done something awesome for them. The memories and health benefits will last far beyond a few hours on the trail.
Do you have hiking tips you'd like to share? Email us: Hello@besawyer.com.