Jeff Alt has found his exercise niche. A hiking expert and author of “Get Your Kids Hiking!,” he has walked the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail, the 218-mile John Muir Trail with his wife, and trekked across a 50-mile path of Ireland with his wife, young daughter, and extended family.
In his book, Alt shares some of his tips on how to help keep hiking a fun, safe family activity, with advice for how to include your child in all aspects of the experience.
Start ’em young: Ergonomically designed baby carriers make it safe and easy to carry your infant or toddler with you when hiking. Walk to your favorite park or beach. Bring friends and family. Stop often and let your little one explore. Make your hike a fun adventure and learning experience, something your kids will look forward to.
Let the kids lead! We live in such a fast-paced world. Hiking gives you a chance to slow it down and spend quality time with your family. Play follow the leader, hiking at your child’s pace and distance, and take the time to stop and explore that bug, leaf or rock with them. Tell them about the animals, rocks, trees, and flowers that are seen along the way. The journey is more important that getting to the destination when enjoying your hike, so find ways to engage your child in the experience.
Count down to the adventure: Psych the kids up with pictures, videos, and highlights of the places they will go and the things they will see. Use books, magazines, maps, and the Internet, especially park websites and videos showing the spectacular wildlife and locations they will see.
Suit up in comfort, style and the latest technology:
Footwear: Until your kids are walking consistently on their own, fit them with a comfortable pair of water resistant shoes. Make sure the three and older kids are wearing light weight trail shoes or boots with a sturdy sole, and non-cotton, moisture wicking, synthetic or wool socks.
Clothing: Dress for the weather. Alt suggests non-cotton synthetic, wool & fleece clothing and dressing in layers so that you are prepared for varying conditions. Wear multipurpose clothing like pants that zip off into shorts, or shirts with roll up sleeves. Pack a waterproof breathable rain parka, hat and gloves.
Packs: Get age and size appropriate backpacks that fit each hiker comfortably.
Trekking poles: Get a pair of adjustable, collapsible poles with an ergonomically designed handle for each person.
Safety and communication: Bring a cell phone. For extra safety, carry a GPS unit to monitor your location, and make sure to let someone know approximate time that you expect to reach your destination. Broad-spectrum sunscreen, bug repellent, and a first aid kit that accommodates the whole group are must-haves.
Fresh, clean water: You can get a hydration hose system for your backpack or just use bottles. Pack healthy snacks and hand out needed extra energy and water as needed on the trail.
Pack fun items: Let young children fill their adventure pack with a bug catcher, magnifying glass, binoculars, a camera, a map and compass, whistle, or flashlight. Let your little one take ownership and pack a few items of his own, even if it’s not hiking related.
Other ideas: Create your own scavenger hunt in search of animals, plants and views along the way. Make up rhymes and sing songs as you walk.
For more tips on hiking, visit www.JeffAlt.com
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