Body Wise

Take a Hike!
Here’s a planning checklist for family outdoor adventure.

by Jacqueline Bodnar

Spring is in the air! There’s no better time of the year to gather the family and go hiking. Keep this list of tips handy to help make for a happy hike.

Plan Ahead. “Use common sense when choosing a hike for kids,” says Robert Barron, owner of Texas Hiking (texashiking.com). By planning ahead, you will have time to gather supplies, learn the hiking environment and talk to the kids about safety. For example, kids should always be within adult eyesight. You might give a whistle to smaller kids. Explain that if they somehow get separated, they are to stay put and keep blowing on the whistle until they are found.

Hike Length. “Too many people bite off more than they can chew and find themselves far from the car and too tired to carry on,” says Barron. Start out small and work your way up to longer hikes. Ideally, children ages 2-4 can hike up to two miles, with rests. Children ages 5-7 can usually hike from one to three hours on easy terrain, with breaks.

Know the Environment. Do homework on the hike location. Many nature centers and parks post information on their websites. For example, the Silver Lake Nature Center in Bristol, PA, has a trail map on its website, www.silverlakenaturecenter.org. The New Jersey Audubon Society’s Rancocas Nature Center in Mount Holly features a trail guide at www.njaudubon.org/Centers/Rancocas.

Get Packing. Backpacks are fine for adults and older children. Small kids might not be able to carry one. If they insist on carrying a bag, talk them into something light, such as a belt pack. Although you want to pack light, you could need sunscreen, sunglasses, wipes, a small first aid kit, flashlight, compass and a lightweight camera.

Food and Water. “Don’t consider a hike of anything over a mile without something to drink,” explains Barron. “A general rule of thumb is to drink half to one quart of water per hour, but more could be needed in hotter weather.” Make sure to take some salty snacks and trail mix. Another good option is electrolyte drinks such as Gatorade. Drink frequently rather than waiting until you are thirsty. By that time you could already be dehydrated.

What to Wear. Think layers. You want to easily stay warm if it’s cold and cool down if it’s hot. You can peel off a layer as you feel the need. Hiking shoes or boots are always a good idea. Don’t forget to have everyone wear a hat.

Break Time. Everyone needs breaks when hiking. Take frequent rest periods. Not only will breaks keep your group energized, but they make the trip more fun. Breaks are a great time to snap some pictures.

Respect the Trail. Hiking etiquette is good for kids to learn. Always carry out what you take in; leave the area as you found it, if not better by removing someone else’s garbage. Stick to the trail to avoid straining the environment. Never feed wildlife. It can be dangerous and can cause dietary problems for the animals.

Look around you. “Real hiking takes place in nature, even if it’s close into the city. Watch for animals, listen to the sounds closely, try to see the differences in the plants along the way,” says Barron. “Soon enough you’ll be able to identify some of what you see and gain more appreciation for the natural world around you.”

Jacqueline Bodnar is a freelance writer.