Perhaps you don’t own skis. Maybe there isn’t enough snow for snowshoeing but it’s still chilly and you still want to venture out. Winter hiking is a nice option for families as cabin fever sets in and requires no lessons or lift tickets. There is also little or no investment in expensive seasonal gear. So if you’re more of an indoor person, how can you get the family outside for some winter hiking and actually have fun while doing it? Fear not! With some of these tips for successful winter hikes (and outdoor play in general), you’ll be sure to keep everyone in the family cozy while making it fun for the little ones. Read on for my best winter weather hiking tips when little ones will be in tow.
Become an Onion
Yes, you read that correctly. If you “layer up” before heading out to hike in the winter (just as an onion is made up of layers) you will be ready for changing weather conditions as the day progresses. We really like Terramar Sports baselayers (because they work well, don’t lock in smells, and have kids sizes!) There are several brands and fabrics on the market. Just remember: Ditch the cotton! It kills! By placing synthetic fabric next to your skin and trying to trap in as much heat as possible by insulating your body, you’ll be able to shed layers as you warm up. Little fingers and toes are often the first to “go” when it comes to succumbing to cold. Two rules: keep them dry; keep them covered. We love Bogs boots for kids on outdoor excursions (since they keep wetness out AND are warm to boot). We usually bring at least two pairs of mittens per child for snowy adventures.
Appropriate clothing for the climate and weather is probably the number one thing that can derail a fun adventure, making it a miserable trek of tears. Take note moms: you need to think about your hiking logistics and comfort too. For me, if I have a ton on and I’m giving my pre-schooler a piggyback, I’m guaranteed to be a swampy mess of head-to-toe sweat. If it’s just me, I’m still hot-blooded, but I can get by with a few extra layers when I’m not toting an extra 40 lbs. Make sure you plan for your own trekking situation.
Tip: Stock up and plan ahead at the end of winter for clearance deals on gear steals for next season.
Hiking in GREAT conditions makes you hungry. Hiking in the winter only helps to eat up the calories and thus makes for hungry hikers — don’t let the hungry kids turn to hangry kids! People in general that are well fed are happier, plain and simple. Make sure to pack along some high protein snacks with some fats mixed in —
we love to pack protein bars and baggies of GORP (trail mix) — we make our own so that we can add in cranberries, pistachios, and other favorites that the kids love too! Take breaks often to keep everyone hydrated, fed, and happy! Most kids love Goldfish crackers and those melt-in-your mouth “puff” wafers for babies. Carrots and hummus are a favorite no matter the season with our family!
If you have really tiny tots, backpack carriers and travel systems like the THULE Chariot can make life really nice! Even if you are the Sherpa for your little one, make sure to let them get out and roll around and play a bit. These positive experiences outdoors will help build your little trail buddies’ future interest! (It’s also great for their development! The uneven terrain and outdoor obstacles present challenges that indoor environments do not provide!)
Keep it Light
Maybe an activity that keeps children focused on something other than Jack Frost nipping at their noses would be the perfect way to get your hike in without all the whining. I suggest a scavenger hunt, wildlife tracking, or even earning chocolate chips. (We once got FOUR miles out of our three year old simply by offering a chocolate chip when he reached predetermined goals!) Yep, light-
hearted fun is the way to go for keeping kids happy outdoors. However, literally keeping their load light is important too. Kids younger than three or four years old probably aren’t going to tote even a small pack unless they’re uber ambitious. Our (nearly) five year old has a specially fitted, pint-size pack that Mountainsmith makes for kids: The
Warmth, Inside and Out
After the troops are inside, we like to make an Après-hike treat. Usually this means cookies and hot cocoa but it can lead into a completely new activity like stringing popcorn and cranberries by the fire or making pine cone bird seed balls. If you’re staying in a hotel, the coffeemaker does a great job with cocoa too (sometimes the front desk area will even have complimentary cocoa! Or even S’mores!)
If you’ve had to drive any distance to get to your trailhead or park, make sure you have some dry clothing items to change into. We do a parking lot change of at least our wool socks — nothing beats fresh dry socks! Kids seem to be moisture magnets, especially when it’s chilly, so you might want to throw in some “footie pajamas” or an extra outfit to get them warm faster. You can also cover the kiddos in a soft blanket for the ride home (you should have one in your car anyway as part of your winter emergency safety kit!) A thermos of a favorite soup or warm kid-friendly beverage is an option that travels well too!
When you live in rural America, hiking is part of life. Where we live winter is too. So naturally, many months out of the year are spent finding ways to get along with Mother Nature rather than bury our heads in the