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Hiking a trail with the kids can be a win-win

Think having kids means the end of your days on the trail? Think again. You might need to change the scope of your hiking adventures, but getting kids in the habit of exploring the great outdoors can set them up for a lifetime of fun and good health.

Sissy Kimbrell teaches outdoor classes at REI in Greenville. She also puts those teachings to the test with her own family, including her children, ages 14 and 9.

“My daughter is my backpacker,” Kimbrell said. “She likes to go out for multiple days.”

Keeping children happy on the trail starts with the adults, Kimbrell said.

“A lot of it is going to depend on their age, your comfort level and experience and making sure mom and dad are happy,” she said. “Start, as we say in the business, low and slow.”

That means starting with local parks that are well within your comfort and fitness levels. Boyer recommends talking with park rangers in advance. She said Paris Mountain, Camp Croft and the Clemson Experimental Forest can be good choices.

“Planning and preparation is such a big part of it,” she said. “If parents are stressed, they’re not going to be having fun. Set yourself up for success.”

Kids can have a lot of stuff and a lot of waste, so learning – and passing on – Leave No Trace principles is important. Boyer said parents will likely need lots of Ziploc bags for waste.

“We want to make sure that whatever we take into a natural area, we take back out,” she said.

Bring plenty of water and bring snacks that you know your children (and you) like.

Dress for the weather, in layers and with proper raingear if needed. If your little one will need to use a carrier, get in some practice at home.

“Make sure it’s not the first time you use it,” Boyer said. “If you choose a backpack style carrier, make sure you have adjusted it and worn it in advance. Practice with it.”

Know where you are going, including the length and challenge level of the trail, and make sure someone knows where you will be going and when you will return. Carry the basics (see REI’s 10 Essentials at including a first aid kid and sun protection. If children are old enough to use it appropriately, make sure everyone has a whistle in case of emergency. Boyer said children should be taught that coming to a trail sign is like coming to a road: don’t proceed without an adult.

“Once you get out there, let the kiddos set the pace,” Boyer said. “Take a minute to think about what it’s like to be your child and what they are seeing and experiencing. When I started backpacking with my daughter when she was 4 or 5, I planned for two entire extra days. This is a time to unplug from the rest of the world and plug into your kids.”

Ready to hit the trail?

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Sign up for family outdoor classes at Many are free.