With long summer days and vacation time in the forecast, it’s a great season for families to share time together in the great outdoors. However, for parents just introducing their children to hiking, camping, backpacking, or other outdoor activities, the task can feel a bit daunting. In addition to planning gear, snacks, and safe routes, parents sometimes need to flex the power of persuasion to get little ones excited about long walks in the woods.

If you’re a new parent planning your first hike with your kids or a parent simply looking for new ideas for engaging your children in the outdoors, we’re here to help! We asked our staff and brand ambassadors at Gossamer Gear to share their best tips and tricks for getting kids outside. We hope their ideas inspire your next adventure.

1. Center Snacks, Breaks, and Sights

Carrie Fritsch, part of the Gossamer Gear design team, recommends bringing lots of snacks on outdoor adventures with kids. Additionally, “singing or pretending while on trail can banish the whining—or at least help!” she said. 

“Take lots of breaks. If hiking by water, add in swimming or fishing as a side adventure, or hike to something interesting to see—waterfalls, bubbling mud pits, or swimming holes are our favorites living by the Cascades.” Carrie uses the Vagabond or Loris backpacks to have enough room for layers, snacks, water, and a small medical kit during day trips.

2. Keep a Good Attitude

Joshua Garza, a member of our marketing team, acknowledged that hiking with a little one comes with a lot of variables. “Control what you can,” he said. “Know where you're going and bring lots of snacks and a good attitude.”

3. Start Slow and Make Memories

Our CEO Jonathan Schmid has two little ones and started with a one-mile hike in and one-mile hike out for their first backpacking trip. “Pick a campsite or trail that is half as long to hike to than you think you can accomplish,” he shared. “If things are going well, just take more time at side explorations or get to camp early and let the kids do as much of their own setup as possible.”

He also mentioned that snacks are key: “You can never have enough snacks, and saving something really high value that you only have for dessert when on backpacking trips, like astronaut ice cream, is always looked forward to.”

What’s most important is making positive memories. “Let them climb everything and get dirty,” said Jon. “And have the kids bring a camera and make sure to print a little photo book of their mini adventure afterwards.”

4. Create Opportunities to Learn and Lighten

Our founder Glen Van Peski’s first tip is to simply actually go hiking with your kids to begin with. “Time outside is so important for so many reasons, so as a parent, prioritize introducing your kids to the outdoors,” he said. “Depending on age, let them do some of their own packing and learn from their own decisions. That’s the way kids gain the ability to judge risk and their abilities. Too often, we protect them from themselves, and they grow up thinking the world in general, and particularly the wilderness, is a scary place. Involving them in decisions will give them confidence and resilience when they make less-than-optimal choices.”

Glen’s second tip is no surprise: go lighter. “Especially when the kids are smaller and can’t carry their own stuff, keeping your gear to a minimum will give you the additional capacity to carry stuff for them. No kid is going to have a bad time camping because you didn’t bring something.  In fact, in many cases, they may end up having a better time, a more memorable experience, as you creatively figure out how to get something done when you leave a piece of gear home.”

5. Bring Friends and Let Teens Choose

Brand ambassador Nancy East noted the differences in how she encouraged her children to hike when they were little compared to in their later years: “When my kids were younger, the promise of candy and creeks were great incentives to keep whining to a minimum on our hikes,” she said. “Now that they’re teens and their friends are the center of their universe instead of me—sniff, sniff—I can often entice them if I let a friend come along and we head somewhere they think is cool.”

She recently took her college-aged son and his girlfriend on a backpacking trip in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to see the synchronous and blue ghost fireflies in a backcountry campsite. “Aidan was ecstatic about impressing his girlfriend with the phenomenon—we didn't tell her in advance what would unfold as it got dark—and I got major ‘cool mom’ points for being their guide to the remote site!” 

Nancy also noted that giving teens more agency in the decision-making process works well. “We let each of our kids choose our summer vacation destination the year they graduate from high school,” she said. “We recently traveled to the Galapagos Islands to celebrate our daughter’s milestone year, and the promise of seeing sea lions, marine iguanas, and enormous tortoises on a hike was just as effective—more so, even!—than the candy and creeks of their youth.”

6. Set a Trip Intention

Brand ambassador Duncan Cheung encouraged setting an intention for a trip rather than an outcome. “Design a trip that has no fixed agenda,” he said. “Rather than getting attached to certain outcomes like ‘we’re going to summit Mount Falcon’ or 'we're going to hike six miles today and seven tomorrow,’ set an intention with your kids—what they would love to experience together, such as learning new skills or seeing beautiful sights. Discuss your intentions and reinforce them throughout your trip. Reminding ourselves of the intention is particularly helpful when any person on the trip is feeling low or frustrated.”

This year, Duncan took his son on his first off-trail backpacking trip and left with plenty of other insights and reflections. Stay tuned to the Light Feet blog for more tips and stories from their adventures together.

Get Kids Outside With Planning, Plenty of Snacks, and Flexibility

Introducing children to hiking, backpacking, and other adventures can instill a lifelong love of the great outdoors while creating memories you and them will cherish for years to come. We hope that the tips and tricks from our Gossamer Gear family help you get your kids outside this year.

Have your own tips as a parent who takes their kids on outdoor trips? We’d love to hear them! Tag Gossamer Gear on social media (@gossamergear) and use the hashtag #takelessdomore to share your wisdom with our community.

Hungry for more family-friendly outdoor reflections, backpacking gear, and planning knowledge? Check out some of our other articles on the Light Feet blog for inspiration:

Shop the Gear

June 27, 2024 — Korrin Bishop