Last week we talked about the many benefits of hiking as a family. Hiking together presents opportunities for fresh air, physical strengthening, and spiritual/emotional growth. We can all use more of what Richard Louv calls Vitamin N (for nature).
A most family-friendly aspect of hiking is that it is an inexpensive hobby. I’ve had sticker shock in the aisle of the outdoor store too. Trust me when I say that you don’t need a ton of fancy and expensive gear to hike with your family. You can get started with a few basic supplies that you can likely find around your house today.
This week we’ll talk about starting small on an easy trail. The Rail-Trail system is a tremendous asset for family hiking. Then I’ll tell you how to work up to a day hike and what to put in your backpack.
Why Utilize the Rail-Trail System?
I don’t know who came up with the idea to use decommissioned rail-road lines as trails for walking and biking. But that person has my eternal gratitude! The Rail-Trails are perfect for starting your hiking habit because they are mostly flat and usually have well-groomed surfaces.
Hiking doesn’t need to be an arduous uphill climb. There are myriad lovely scenes to see along the Rail-Trail that are accessible to most people. It is also easy for small children to walk on a well-surfaced trail with no steep inclines.
Working Up to Longer Hikes
The hiking community generally considers a day hike 3-10 miles covered in one day. You will modulate your goal based on the ages of your family members, your hiking experience, and your fitness levels.
I think it is best to take an approach similar to a Couch to 5K program. You set small, achievable goals that build upon your past successes. Before you know it, you can run the whole distance without taking breaks to walk.
Let’s assume that you have small children, so it’s been quite some time since you could work out in any meaningful fashion. I’ve been there! Find the nearest trail that is flat and has a well-groomed surface. Download an app like Strava that tracks your distance and then take a half-mile walk. In a few days, take another half-mile walk.
Gradually increase the distance as you and the kids gain the stamina to do more. Remember to bring along water for everyone and a small first aid kit. You’ll bring more supplies as you increase your hiking distance.
Go For a Day Hike
Now that you have worked up to about three miles at a time on your trail outings, you can plan for longer hikes where you will bring a small pack with supplies other than the basics.
There are two kinds of day hiking. You can find a trail that makes a loop that will begin and end in the same place. The start/endpoint is usually the parking lot trailhead. Or you can thru-hike. In Thru-hiking, you will begin at one trailhead and end at another. In this case, you’ll have to arrange a ride back to your starting point.
What to Pack For a Day Hike
- Water for each family member
- First aid that includes blister care supplies
- High-protein snack or meal for everyone
- Extra socks for each person
- Light ponchos or umbrellas
- A flashlight
It seems like over-preparation to pack a regular day pack for three miles. Do I need to carry all this stuff? Yes, because you want to practice being prepared for any situation that could arise as you take longer, more arduous hikes. No, because kids can usually carry some of their stuff.
Enjoying a family hike might seem like a dream at this point. But every journey starts with the first step. We hope that these beginner guides to family hiking will help set you out on the adventure of a lifetime.
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