Our tips for long-distance hiking with older children and teenagers

We have always been happy to hike, even when our children were small. But admittedly, in the young years of our parenthood, hiking was always a daytime activity that rarely went beyond this framework. Hiking with (small) children over several days requires sophisticated logistics regarding the transport of equipment, which, with two children of approximately the same age, became a criterion for us to exclude such an undertaking. Of course – one or the other reader will surely contradict now – the distance hiking is also possible with small children, namely if one has basically fixed accommodations, like huts ect., hikes. However, we didn’t really enjoy the experience of hut tours even without children, which is why this was never really an option for us with young children.

Cross country hiking with children

Accordingly, this article is about hiking over several days with camping gear and children or. Young people who are able to carry some of this equipment. Hereby it already explains itself that the distance hiking is possible only with children of advanced age. I planned our first multi-day hike with our two children when they were 11 and 14 years old. The ten-day long-distance hike on the hiking island par excellence, Corsica, was our introduction to the adventure of long-distance hiking with children, and actually gave us so much pleasure that further long-distance hikes followed in the coming years.

In seven years of hiking, we have been able to gather a wide variety of experiences and have learned how cross-country hiking with older children and young people is not only logistically successful, but also how everyone can enjoy hiking. Our tips for cross-country hiking with older children and teenagers are therefore not only of a practical nature, but also include advice on how to motivate your children and teenagers along the way and bring them closer to the joy of hiking.

The right age to start cross-country hiking with children

This question can hardly be answered in a generalized way and depends on many factors, such as e.g. the climatic conditions in the hiking area, the daily route length with altitude difference, the supply possibilities on the way and above all the physical development of the child. The key sticking point, however, when hiking with youngsters is luggage transport. If you want to hike for several days with camping equipment, it must be clear that not only the parents carry all the luggage, but that the children are able to carry as much as possible, or even better, their complete equipment themselves.

According to medical recommendations, children and adolescents should only carry 10% of their own body weight when hiking for several hours during the growth phase. The average weight of a 10 year old child is between 35 and 45 kilograms. As a result, children of that age would be allowed to carry a maximum of 4.5 kilograms on their backs for several hours at a time. Thus, it quickly becomes clear that a cross-country hike with younger children is only possible if the adults carry the equipment of the offspring. But even with older children and adolescents, it will hardly be possible to comply with these strict medical guidelines, which is why it is up to the parents to decide for themselves what they want their children to do.

We started cross country hiking when our daughter was 11 years old. She only had to carry part of her gear at the time and got by with it (incl. of a small bottle of water) to a backpack weight of approx. 5 kilograms.

Ten years old is, I think, a good age to start cross-country hiking with kids if you are not willing (or physically able) to carry most (or all) of your child’s gear on a multi-day hiking trip.

Hiking with children

The equipment for children and teenagers on a cross-country hike

About this topic alone one could write a whole article, but I don’t think it makes sense to do so. In my travel reports on our cross-country hikes I give concrete equipment tips. The hiking area and its climatic conditions are decisive for what you need on the way, which is why general equipment tips are not very useful here. Important for equipment (backpack, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, hiking boots ect.) for the youngsters is that these are of the same high quality as those of the adults. In the outdoor specialized trade there are high-quality hiking backpacks also already for children and young people. From my point of view, it is important for a hiking backpack for children that they have (no matter what size) a good carrying system with a padded lap belt, because especially the lap belt can often be a “cutting” experience for children. With what we packed for our children, the focus was always on the total weight, which should not exceed 15% of the body weight of the wearer, if possible. Therefore, there were not (or hardly) more clothes for the children than for the adults. Games (exception: the own cell phone) did not exist at all on a distance hike for our children and young people. Over the years we have changed many parts of our equipment to UL (ultralight), which is very popular with the kids or. youngsters due to the bad cost-benefit factor is not to be realized. Nevertheless, we have always managed to keep the total weight of our children’s and teenagers’ backpacks far below 10 kilograms.

Hiking with young people

All equipment for each person is weighed individually before the hike, so you can get a feel for the weight and see where you can make savings.

Of course, the amount of equipment also depends on where you plan to hike. In Nordic countries and in the mountains you need much more (and different) clothing than on a summer hike or in southern, low-rainfall areas.

Here is a list of all the equipment our daughter carried on a summer hike when she was 13 years old.

Equipment of our 13 year old daughter during a summer hike

Backpack contents

Total weight of the backpack5.320 g
1 pair of hiking socks 26 g
1 pair of sleeping pants short 34 g
1 set of underwear 46 g
1 sleeping T-shirt 90 g
1 undershirt 64 g
1 T-shirt 84 g
1 skirt 106 g
1 legging 112 g
1 hiking blouse 150 g
1 cap 55 g
1 fleece jacket 200 g
1 tube sling 31 g
1 rain jacket 320 g
1 bikini 120 g
1 shower towel 168 g
1 mini towel 31 g
1 bag f. Clothes 45 g
1 pair of flip flops 153 g
sleeping pad (Therm-a-Rest neoair xlite) 350 g
Backpack (Osprey) 1.500 g
Sleeping bag (Vaude women) 1.635 g

Backpack for children

The suitable hiking area for a cross-country hike with children and teenagers

In my opinion, a suitable hiking area for families offers the following conditions:

  • It’s not too far from civilization (max. a day’s walk from settlements or hikers’ huts)
  • Food replenishment is possible on the third day at the latest
  • The water supply is possible on a daily basis
  • The area is accessible to rescuers
  • The trail can be left by public transport (or by hitchhiking)

For me, these are the basic requirements that a hiking trail should have if you want to hike with kids or. the youngest child is on the way.

Hiking in the Hardangervidda

Planning a route hike with children or young people

I always plan our distance hikes very precisely. Even if we don’t always follow these elaborate plans on the road. It is simply more relaxed to walk if you know the length of the stage, the altitude, the condition of the path or possible resting places in the form of huts or villages along the way. With regard to the daily water supply, precise planning is, in my opinion, even vital. With regard to the daily distance, one always orients oneself to the weakest link in the chain, which is usually the youngest child. How many daily kilometers a child (or teenager) can walk. youth) is able to walk depends on several factors: basic physical condition, the altitude of the day’s stage, the trail conditions, the climate and weather, motivation, backpack weight, daily caloric intake, and the type of overnight stay.

Often you test at home how many kilometers your child is able to walk. However, it is important to remember that it makes a difference whether you walk with or without luggage, or that the weather in the vacation destination is completely different from that at home, that the calorie intake on a multi-day long-distance hike must be much higher than on a day hike, and that being outdoors (sleeping in a tent) for several days is a considerable strain on physical fitness. Thus, for a cross-country hike you should not only consider the area and its climatic conditions for the daily route length, but also have these other factors in mind and rather set the route length a little shorter than for day hikes at home.

rest area on the Rota Vicentina

It’s all a question of motivation

If the hike is well planned, the children and young people know what to expect before the trip. Basic decisions about how the hike will go are made before the trip and not discussed again and again along the way. On the one hand, this gives the children security, but on the other hand, it also takes the wind out of their sails if they start to mutiny on the way. On a cross-country hike away from civilization, the youngsters quickly realize that they have no choice but to continue walking, as there are simply no alternatives. During a cross-country hike, the individual family members become a welded team in which everyone bears a part of the responsibility for a successful outcome. This boosts the self-confidence of the youngsters, as they are challenged to show what they can do. Every now and then parents should take the weaker part and leave the role of leader to the offspring. This is also a huge motivational boost for the youngsters.

Often a good and long conversation between parent and child during the hike, a scenic highlight that makes you forget the previous efforts, or unexpected culinary delights when you happen to pass a pizzeria or ice cream parlor are enough for daily motivation.

Older children and teenagers who are involved in the planning can consider a distance hike as their own project and therefore do not really need any motivation at all. After a first cross-country hike, they know exactly what to expect when it’s time to go hiking again. They can decide for themselves whether they want to be there or prefer to stay at home with their grandparents.

A toast to the island of Corsica

Our route hikes / long distance hikes of the last years

Corsica with children

What hiking tips are missing here, or what information can you pass on to us and our readers? We will be glad if you share this with us.

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