Hiking with kids at any time of the year is brilliant and rewarding but it can also be problematic. Even during warm summer months with long hours of sunshine on your back kids can be fickle. They can become irritable and bored at the drop of a hat, which can make planning and executing longer walks pretty troublesome. However, add to that mix the dangers of bad weather and cold temperatures and you could have a real issue on your hands. Here we share some top winter hiking tips for keeping them (and you) happy and safe out on the trail. That way, you won’t have to stay indoors watching Peppa Pig on repeat every time Jack Frost comes calling.
Firstly, winter hiking, regardless of whether or not you have kids, requires special consideration and respect. Just a few days ago, following the putting back of the clocks, a family with a 4 year old child had to be rescued after becoming benighted on Skiddaw in the Lake District. They had no torch with them and had no way of navigating their way back down in the pitch black. If it hadn’t have been for the mountain rescue team and search dogs this could have ended tragically.
So just what do you need to consider when winter hiking with kids? Firstly, and as this story perfectly illustrates, you need to plan accordingly. Check the weather forecast to ascertain what sort of weather you can expect. That said, always be prepared for the worst and pack gear and clothing in mind of this. On a recent hike I was promised clear skies, sunny spells and no rain until approximately 3pm. As it turned out what we actually got was four hours of non-stop rain! Fortunately, we were prepared.
Kids are far more prone to the extremes of hot and cold than adults so ensure that they are layered adequately and are protected from the wind and rain/snow. Also pack enough spares to account for any dramatic changes in conditions or those wee little accidents that kids can sometimes have. That dribble down their leg might feel warm at first, but it’ll soon turn very cold!
Always let other people know where you’re going and what time you estimate you’ll be back. Every year, when the clocks go back, hikers get caught out. However, by leaving your plans with someone they’ll be able to raise the alarm should you not return within a designated time frame. There’s a cool app that’s available called ‘Cairn’ that allows you to input your hike data, set up emergency contacts and then it’ll send them a text message once you’re out of your estimated timeframe.
When planning winter walks it’s imperative that you set off at such a time as to ensure you’ll be back before the sun begins to set. Also allow yourself a bit of a cushion, that way, if you find it necessary to stop at any point on the trail, you’ll still have more than enough time to make it back before dark. On a recent 6 mile group hike we were a full hour slower than I anticipated we would be due to a combination of poor weather and the needs of the group. Despite this we still made it back long before the sun began to hide behind the mountains.
Always be mindful of emergencies. As such, carrying a torch, whistle and bothy (emergency shelter) is always good practice. Nobody likes to think it will happen to them, but even a sprained ankle can severely impact your ability to get down from a mountain or hill. Having items such as these will enable you to raise the alarm and stay warm long enough for somebody to find you. Furthermore, if you do get caught out by the fading light a torch, map and compass (that you know how to use) will give you the best chance of getting back to your car without upsetting the local mountain rescue team.
You also need to adapt to the pace and conditions on the trail when winter hiking. Before our group hike I had mentioned to another group member about the possibility of adding a little detour up to a ridge for a great vantage point. This would have added approximately 30-40 minutes to our overall time. However, after assessing the early pace, I simply scratched the idea of this detour regardless of how nice the view would have been. After all, it’ll still be there next time!
Winter hiking can be a beautiful. Frost and snow on the ground can make for picture postcard scenes. Trails are also comparatively deserted so you won’t have to go far to get that great sense of escape. However, walking in winter deserves respect. Know your limits and stick to them. Nobody wants to be another newspaper story.
Clothing and Footwear
Waterproof hiking boots
Warm socks (sock liners are optional)
Fleece or wool hat
Gloves that are waterproof and insulated (liners are optional)
Waterproof and windproof jacket with hood
Insulated jacket with hood
Fleece jacket or hoodie
Insulating/thermal base-layer top
Waterproof and windproof over-trousers
Trail or softshell trousers
Spare clothes (for you and the kids)
Microspikes (if you’re hill walking over severe frost or light snow)
Gear to carry
Daypack and/or child carrier with waterproof canopy
Water Bottles or a hydration system (just be careful this doesn’t freeze in sub-zero temperatures)
Torch or headtorch