Outdoor Skills and Advice: Ten Tips For Enjoying the Outdoors With Your Kids

Photo: Hiking with kids
Photograph by Mikolaj Kamienski, My Shot

The Internet is replete with tips for parents who want to maintain an outdoor lifestyle with their little ones. And there’s good reason, too. It’s one thing to be told your life will change irreversibly once you have a kid; it’s another thing to perch your kid precariously on a rock at 10,000 feet to change his diapers as wind gusts threaten to blow doo-doo right into your face. So here are 10 more tips to enjoying the outdoors with a tot in tow.

By Contributing Writer Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin, Faculty member and Diversity & Inclusion Manager at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS)

1. Get used to the family tent.
Spend the night in your backyard in a tent (I even got my son to help me stake it out).

2. Use the right kid carrier.
Test out some kid carriers around town for comfort and fit before you commit to schlepping your kid in one up a mountain. We tried three different carriers before settling on the Deuter Kid Carrier II.

3. Don’t be ambitious.
Plan your days for short hikes and plenty of time on either end. Learn from your kid as he stops for hours to admire a rock or a bug—at least he is living in the moment! So why can’t you?

4. Pack animals.
And no, I’m not talking about you (as much as you might feel like a pack animal with a kid on your back). If you’re planning on a multi-day trek, rent pack llamas or pack goats, which can carry your gear while you heft your kid.

5. Toys and books are key.
I like to end my hiking days sitting on a rock by a river admiring the sublime sunset. My son likes to end his days pushing dirt around in toy dump trucks and going to sleep to his favorite stories. So pack some books and toys, lest your sublime sunset turn into tent tantrums.

6. A cool water bottle helps with hydration.
My husband and I carry either Nalgene bottles or a Camelbak. Boooooring! Find a cool water bottle in bright colors and emblazoned with your child’s favorite cartoon character to encourage him to hydrate.

7. Kids love company.
Adults are useful when it comes to things like carrying you and feeding you and reading you books. But when it comes to throwing rocks in a river or playing with plastic dinosaurs, other kids are more fun. Make family time quality time by traveling in a pack with other families with kids.

8. Stay low.
Alpine cirques are majestic, but depending on their altitude, can be dangerous to your child. Children are more susceptible to altitude-related illnesses, so if you can, stay under 10,000 feet.

9. Bring yummy snacks.
I’m a picky eater in the front country, but when I backpack, food is fuel. Kids are as picky in the backcountry as they are at home, so pack some fun snacks like fruit leathers and animal crackers.

10. Pack an extra layer—your kid’s favorite costume.
I don’t know about you, but “performance” layers on my kid do not necessarily improve his performance. The most technical fleece and down layers might keep him warm, but don’t help him hike any faster. But donning his Batman costume, my son suddenly transforms into a super hero, leaping from rock to rock and flying uphill with the aid of his grappling hook. It’s cheap and lightweight, so pack a costume if your kid is into that thing.


  1. Kayak Guy
    March 1, 2012, 12:42 am

    To kids, camping can be a wonderful adventure. Wouldn’t it be a memorable bonding experience showing your child first-hand the wonders that nature has to offer? Certainly better than getting stuck indoors in front of the computer all day!

  2. brapp714
    March 1, 2012, 1:53 pm

    Much needed advice. Parents push their kids too hard. Let them enjoy and you too will enjoy the experience.

    Don’t forget safety supplies!

  3. Johan
    March 1, 2012, 11:33 pm

    Where is this palce very beautiful.

  4. The Hiker Mama
    March 2, 2012, 1:28 am

    I agree with these tips 100%. I hadn’t thought about the costume part! My oldest wasn’t really into costumes, but my younger is, maybe we need to pack the cape or the unicorn head for our next hike. Thanks for the inspiration!

    My kids definitely do better with other kids along. It cuts back on the whining and bickering. And they have rebelled against death march trips. We have a much better time when we keep the hike short and the play time long.

  5. DoctorMom
    March 3, 2012, 3:50 pm

    I’m an older parent (i’ll be 72 when they graduate college). Kayaking has been a fantastic family experience. My 9 yo kayaked for the first time last summer, It took him less than 10 minutes to master the basic strokes and he was off and paddling…to the edge of the lake to jump out and chase the ducks. Then it was on to racing each other across the lake. On another trip, we sat silent about 15 feet from the bank where a young fawn was nibbling its breakfast. Priceless memories for me and for him.

  6. Donna Ruelas Semasko
    Washington State
    September 5, 2012, 6:23 pm

    Great article – re the packgoats – they are perfect for families – easy to handle – give a goat lead to a child and the next thing you know you’re at the camp area and the child is saying “we can’t be there yet!” – We even have saddles for the goats made for smaller children to ride on – surefooted and mellow these packgoats are great for hikes – then mom and dad don’t have to be the packers and can enjoy the hike as much as the little ones.

  7. Mikolaj
    February 2, 2013, 4:23 pm

    This photo was taken in Karkonosze Mountains, Poland, Perfect mountains for family adventure!