Summertime hiking is an easy way to get the whole family outside and moving. However, the heat of the summer is also nothing to be taken lightly, especially with kids. They’re less able to be aware of what their body needs, are more susceptible to heat problems, and seldom have the capacity to let someone else know if there is an issue.
Children’s smaller bodies generate more heat for the same amount of activity and they sweat less. Most important to note – the younger the child, the less developed the internal heat-regulating system. Just like adults, children need to be well-hydrated and have enough electrolytes and calories for their body to work effectively on the trail.
A hike is always more enjoyable AND successful when everyone is comfortable and happy. Just like the winter, having the right gear (primarily adequate sun protection) is crucial. Be aware of the possibility of changing conditions — just because the day starts off cloudy and cool doesn’t mean it will stay that way.
Best tips for happy and safe hot-weather hiking with kids:
- Go early. This one applies to everyone. Get on the trail first thing to beat the heat. Try to stay out of the direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Use sunscreen where necessary, but rely heavily on loose-fitting sun-protective clothing. Not only does it cut down on the use of a material you will have to replace, it also reduces the amount of chemicals on your skin and eliminates the danger of forgetting to reapply every 2 hours. Adult-like hiking clothing is available in sizes small enough for the youngest of hikers. It’s a worthwhile investment, especially if you plan to hike often.
- Quick-drying clothing can also be moistened and worn to keep cool on the trail (via a natural water source or water you bring along.)
- Besides just shirts and pants, bandanas, scarves and hats are great for kids too — get them wet for a quick cool down.
- Wear light and protective sun hats. Choose ones that are packable and have a wide brim.
- Bring kid-carriers especially for toddlers who may want to walk AND ride. Most come with a sunshade too that doubles up their protection when they are on your back.
- Don’t skimp on the water at all. Plan on way more than you think you could drink normally. Drink in small doses often. Your body can only absorb 1 qt of fluid per hour, so drink ½-1 qt every hour.
- Older kids (~4+) can wear hydration packs so they are drinking constantly. If they aren’t having to pee on the trail, you know they aren’t drinking enough. Also note that if you/they FEEL thirsty, you are already dehydrated.
- Be aware that in dryer climates, you may not realize how much you are sweating because it evaporates so quickly. Salt rings on your clothing is a great indication you are indeed sweating.
- Pack high energy snacks to refuel and eat often. In the heat, salty snacks are essential. Nuts, granola bars (that won’t melt), pretzels, etc. Plan on eating TWICE as much as normal.
- Take breaks in the shade if possible and encourage eating and drinking, especially in children.
- Resist the urge to push young children on who are dragging, especially if it is out of character. Rest, refuel and re-evaluate. Safety is your number one priority.
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