Yes! Absolutely. Taking children out into nature is a key part of their personal development as they grow up. Picking the right route and day to get the best weather is important. Make sure to keep it interesting and take plenty of breaks. Sometimes a little bit of bribery for the picnic at the top might be required.
In this post, I am going to look at hill walking with children of various ages. As a dad of three, I have a little experience when it comes to this. Now my kids are not mountain goats, they haven’t done 20 Munro’s by age 9, but they all have been out in the hills with me at some point. I know that many people wonder “what is the right age to take them out?” or whether it is too early or not, so here is my opinion from my experience.
Hill Walking with a baby (0-1 years)
Climbing hills with a baby can be thoroughly enjoyable and a great day out for you and baby. However, there are several pitfalls and things to consider when planning a day out with the little one.
First off babies are unpredictable. They might all of a sudden in the middle of the walk decide that they no longer want to be in the carrier and start screaming until you take them out. Now you are left with a crying baby in your arms, half way up a hill miles from anywhere, not ideal. To combat this, I have always started with small walks using the carrier (we use an Osprey carrier, which is great) around the local area. Once we have managed half an hour without a melt-down, I would then maybe try a visit to a local country park or something for up to an hour. If there are no issues, I would then go a bit further and a bit longer until they are completely happy in the carrier.
Babies also need to be fed often. This can add time onto your carefully crafted route card and proposed start/end time. As with everything to so with children, things take longer. Make your peace with this fact and move on. Babies also cannot regulate their body temperature particularly well and you will need to be sure to check them regularly to make sure they are not too hot or too cold.
In summary, hill walking with a baby is possible, but in my experience, detracts from the possible enjoyment of the day. Having a small baby at home is hard enough, but couple that with the outdoor environment and it can be too much for some. I would suggest keeping things local so you can bail out and get home easily for at least the first 6 months.
Hill Walking with a toddler (1-3 years)
In much the same way as babies, toddlers take a lot of looking after outside. Whether that is on uneven ground, or racing off too far ahead or even the fact that they have no fear, you’ll need eagle eyes if you are heading out with a toddler. I’ve seen reports of kids as young as 3 years old climbing some pretty serious hills (the Cobbler is the one that surprised me the most) but in my experience, you are still introducing them to the wonders of the outdoors at this stage.
As the child get more comfortable on their feet, small walks to the shops or walking the dog etc is going to be enough for most. My daughter (now 3) can handle relatively hills walks of up to an hour. Any more than that though and she starts to moan. So for me, this stage is more about woodland walks, exploring, adventuring and generally building confidence in the outdoors, rather than peak bagging. I am fortunate enough that where we live, there are hills ranging from 100m up to 450m or so easily reachable. That gives a nice level of progression up the heights and severity to the higher hills a the top end of this bracket.
Hill Walking with small children (3-7 years)
If you like mountains, then this is the stage where things get interesting. We took our son walking in the borders at this age and he loved it. The hills we selected were small enough to be manageable, but challenging enough that it was an achievement to reach the top. The focus here was on picnics at the summit, lots of laughing and playing games on the way. As they get quicker up hill, you will be able to focus more on the act of hill walking rather than distracting them from it!
We also started giving our children a rucksack to carry at this point too. Nothing too heavy, but maybe a light jacket and a bottle of water. We also gave him the map, so he felt fully invovled in the day and could start appreciating the navigational aspects of hill walking and decision making. Our son really got into the responsibility of carrying the map and would force us to stop for regular map checks. I remember one forced stop when we could see the trig point!
But the one thing I do remember, was that these breaks were important. Without them a couple of hours walking could have been boring. But we used the regular stops to top up on snacks, take layers on/off and generally keep things light hearted through out the day.
Hill Walking with children (7-13 years)
This is the top age bracket that I will talk about here as this is where my oldest currently is. Our walks now are all about discovery and adventure. The question is not now do you want to go for a walk, but do you want to go on an adventure. Who doesn’t want to do that!
We try to choose routes that have interesting features on them. A ruined building, cool rock formations, Roman ruins (where I live, there are some of these to be found) canals/rivers to try and find different wildlife etc. We will always try and set ourselves a mini treasure hunt type thing to find 5 different types of birds or similar. The other option is to go Geocaching, which is great fun too.
I’m writing this in February, and there is quite a lot of snow around, but this summer I plan on taking our eldest our for his first Munro or Corbett. We will see how we get on, but one thing I do know is that we will have a lot of fun trying. I’ll probably look to one of the hills I have written about in my post on hills for beginners.
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