Can winter hiking with kids be done? Absolutely. Just make sure you plan ahead and review these tips to ensure your family has the best possible experience.
Hiking is one of our favorite activities to do with our four young kids. We’ve hiked all over our home state of Georgia and can’t wait to take them hiking in other states (once the toddler is a little older!). Though my favorite seasons for hiking are fall and spring, we have made a point of hiking this winter with our kids—no matter the weather.
Though the scenery in winter is much different than other seasons, hiking in this dormant season gives you a greater appreciation of seasonal cycles and a big dose of Vitamin N at a time when many are deficient in it.
Related: Our Prescription for Vitamin N
Last year, we started a new tradition of hiking Mount Yonah locally on Christmas Day. Though my kids are fairly thick-skinned when it comes to cold temperatures, I knew that the forecast called for snow and very low temps (for Georgia). With this in mind, I made sure to prepare a couple days ahead of time for this nearly 4.5-mile hike up and down the mountain.
And thank goodness I did, because we woke up Christmas morning with temperatures in the mid-20s and snow flurries still fluttering down when we set off on our hiking adventure. Here are some tips I’ve learned about winter hiking with kids—from this hike and all our other ones in cold temperatures.
Layers of clothing is one of the most important aspects to remember on a winter hike. Not only does wearing layers keep your kids warm, it also keeps them cool. Depending on the strenuousness of the hike, your kids may be tempted to take off their winter jacket, but if they don’t have appropriate layers underneath it, they will quickly get chilled.
Start with a base layer of thermal underwear or fleece-lined long johns. My daughter and I opted for fleece-lined (so soft!) so she wore this set and I wore this one. Thermal underwear is made of two-ply fabric that traps more body heat than a single layer. This extra body heat insulates you from cold air and protects against heat loss. With our thermals on, we were comfortable hiking in 25-degree weather.
Wear Waterproof Gloves
If you have kids, you know they like to touch everything, especially any ice or water they find in nature. In the winter, this leads to little freezing hands and possibly tears. So waterproof gloves are one way to ensure not only warmth, but dryness. These are the gloves (pictured above) that we purchased more than three years ago for my kids (boys’ version) that have held up great. You can tighten them at the wrist to keep them on better and to cut out any draft.
Waterproof gloves will give your kids the chance to explore the winter scenery such as icicles, snow and frozen water without you worrying about their hands getting wet and cold.
Keep the Head Warm
Whether your kids prefer hats or hoods, it’s important to keep their heads warm. Hats and hoods cover more than just the head, they cover the ears and the back of the neck. Even on a sunny day, winter winds are biting and will nip at any skin left uncovered. Also, children lose proportionally more heat though their heads than adults, so even if you aren’t wearing a head covering, your children still should.
Double Up on Socks and Pack Extra
For our winter hikes, we double up on socks. We have also learned to pack an extra pair for the kids after our snowy hike where snow melted in one of my kids’ shoes. He was miserable with wet feet in such cold temps. Luckily, one of my other sons shared his extra pair with him.
But whether you’re hiking in snow conditions or if your curious kid missteps into some freezing water, it’s always a good idea to pack extra socks.
Pack the Right Snacks
It’s no secret that kids love snacks, so packing them a couple of snack options will earn you major points. Though snacks are a great way to refuel, they also come in handy as a bribe to help that one kid of yours reach the summit.
When you pack snacks in the wintertime, make sure you pack room-temperature snacks. Packing cold snacks like cheese or yogurt packs may only make your kids colder. Some of my favorite hiking snacks for my kids include jerky sticks, rice cakes, dried fruit, nuts and seeds, pretzels, homemade granola bars and homemade trail mixes.
As you can see from my pictures, our kids have their own hiking backpacks that we use to pack their snacks or lunches, water, extra socks, hats, gloves, etc. We’ve had these backpacks for two years and my kids love the independence it gives them. We also love that they spread the load so us parents aren’t carting around all our supplies along with our 35-pound toddler!
Before we set out for any hike, we like to talk to our kids about what to expect. We always mention the length of the hike, weather conditions, possible trail obstacles and the highlight of the hike (ex: a summit, waterfall, lookout, lake, etc.). For our winter hikes, we remind them that the path may be icy or slippery—and to be cautious. As we go along a hard hike, we also like to give them updates of where we are on the trail so that they know there may be a steep section, but the view at the top will be worth it, for example.
Time to Hit the Trails
Now that you have a few tips for hiking with kids in the winter, it’s time to hit the trails. Just make sure your kids are dressed appropriately, have a handful of snacks and know what to expect as you’re hiking in cold and possibly icy or snowy conditions. Luckily, most kids love adventure and their curiosity will keep them going the whole hike (along with that fun snack you packed!).
Do you hike with your kids in the winter?