Adventure Families: Huffing, Puffing and Hiking up a Mountain

Before I proceed with this post, I’d like to address the term ‘hiking’. As a Canadian, I know this term to mean a vigorous, oftentimes challenging, walk primarily on trails (but not always) in the countryside and forest/mountain regions. It requires gear and special shoes. Sometimes I use poles and I most certainly must carry water with me. Married to a Brit, I have had a decade of listening to the term walking (or even the lesser used ‘rambling’) used for the same thing. To me, walking is something I do to take the kids to school or go to the local shops. I walk in the city. I walk in town. I walk in the mall.  I can walk in heels. I can walk in flip flops. I cannot, however, HIKE up a mountain in either of those forms of footwear. Walking and hiking may look the same to those who do not do both but try walking up a mountainside in your city gear and tell me if they feel the same to you! I don’t say this to be rude, though. I say this because I think it is a let down of the English language to not embrace more terms for this particular form of movement. When I hear someone say they took a walk on the weekend I picture a flat wander through town. I don’t think of mud, the need to wear gaiters, dirty hands from gripping onto massive boulders or being completely out of breath. So, what is the point of all of that? I just wanted it to be clear what I personally mean when I refer to hiking so there is no confusion about it (Kiwis of the world, I hear you…insert tramping for hiking wherever relevant!) 🙂

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Happy Feet heading up a mountain…bonus points if you spot the dog’s nose!

Back to my original reason for posting today: families that hike. The juniors grew up in Paris and learned at an early age that walking was going to be a major part of their daily lives. We walked everywhere in the city and by the age of 3 I knew Buddy was ready for more. I spoke about hiking back in Canada and he asked so many questions that I decided to bank on his interest. I knew introducing him to hiking would be more successful if we weaned ourselves into it. So, I bought him a mini Camelbak Skeeter (now discontinued) and we went for a walk through the neighbourhood the very first time with it half-full. He drank all his water in about 30 minutes then had to use the toilet so we traipsed our way home. He was a happy little fella and he never complained about the backpack. I considered it a success.

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Happy boys learning to hike together!
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Snack time is the best!

A few weeks later, we went to the Bois de Boulogne in Paris and tested out my little hiker on a bit more rugged terrain. This time his pack was full and he had snacks in his pockets. He felt like a mountaineer and kept talking the entire time about us being explorers off in an unknown forest. I loved it and so did he! I could tell he was getting into it and it naturally progressed from there. When his sister turned 3, I did a very similar thing.

No fear?!
No fear?!

When Little Miss turned 4 the kids asked about hiking somewhere different. We packed up our kit for a day hike in the Forêt de Fontainebleau and stumbled across a great 6K hike around the Rocher des Demoiselles and it was exactly what we were looking for! Some flat, some steep and some rocky terrain all mixed into one.  It definitely challenged all of us and it is, what I believe, what bit both my children with the need-to-be-in-the-mountains bug! We returned, many many times to Fontainebleau to hike. We spent a few weekends in the village of Barbizon at a local hotel and would hike all day Saturday and Sunday. For Little Miss’ 5th birthday, she asked to spend a weekend in the forest. Everyone loved her idea!

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Up up up!

As you can imagine, the news that we would be moving to Switzerland came with a lot of excitement for many reasons. I have previously explained how our family love of cheese was a part of our excitement to relocate here. So were the mountains. We are all skiers, amateur snowboarders and definitely hikers. Being here has meant we are 30 minutes away from amazing hiking in the Jura Mountains or in the Alps-both Swiss and French sides. Waking up on a lazy Sunday morning has often led to comments such as, “Can we go hike somewhere after breakfast?” and more often than not, the answer is yes. We do this as family. We hike in silence sometimes and other times we talk the whole way. We leave TVs, games, stress, work, homework, etc behind and just hang out together. I’m not anti-technology by any means but I do think there is something very important and special about spending time with your loved ones whilst ‘unplugged’. A few weeks back we hiked around the ski pistes of Métabief with the kids and the dog and spent 7 hours together without interruption. A fondue spot on the mountain was open so we stopped for lunch then carried on. For us, that was a perfect day.

Fall hiking in the Jura Mountains
Fall hiking in the Jura Mountains

I’m not saying every family will enjoy hiking together. It IS labour-intensive and your fitness levels will affect how fun or completely not fun it will be. However, it is a great activity to do together as a family and is something everyone can improve upon. My kids want to train up to do a tour of Mont Blanc when they are in their teens. I can’t think of anything better than crossing Italy, France and Switzerland on foot with my family in tow!! Alright kids, let’s do it!

Tips on hiking with kids:

-Work up to it! It’s too much to assume a kid that doesn’t mind a 15 minute walk to the store will enjoy 4-5 hours of difficult hiking. Find a park or a smaller forest path and train up over the course of a few weekends. You’ll be thankful you did.

-Train them to carry a backpack. My kids started with the CamelBak ones but progressed from there to Deuter backpacks with snacks, water bottles and rain jackets, gloves, a hat and an extra polar fleece inside.

-SNACKS!!! Kids and adults get hungry on a hike. Your quads, glutes and hamstrings are working overtime to climb up down and around so make sure you feed them. My kids make their own trail mix and both carry their own packs of pistachios since they refuse to share them. Make your snacks healthy and hearty. Fruit, nuts, protein-packed sandwiches, etc will all last longer and fuel you longer than junky store bought ‘granola bars’. I DO bring chocolate and energy gels/fruit chews in my bag for any crashes in energy. I’ve never used the gels or chews but sometimes at the end of a hike we all have shared the chocolate 😉

-WATER!!! Non-negotiable. We all carry water. The kids each have a bottle. The dog carries two bottles on his back. I carry over a litre and my husband carries about 3 litres in his CamelBak hiking bag. You can almost never have enough water, especially when your hike takes you into higher altitudes. I have taught my kids to at least stop and sip on some water every 20-30 minutes or so even if they don’t feel thirsty. I did not say they chugged a bunch of it. They sip. There is such a thing as being over hydrated and far up a mountainside you don’t want to experience that. But, it is crucial to stay hydrated to keep your body cooling itself properly and to help stave off any effects of altitude. Be smart, drink water.

Gear We Carry:

I like to be prepared. I’m ‘that mum’. So, we carry more than you might want/need to but since it doesn’t bother me on my back I figure I’d rather have this stuff than say “oh no!!” at any point in the trip.  As previously mentioned, the kids both carry a bag with rain jackets, hats, gloves, water, small snacks and extra polar fleece. They also have tissues for any running noses or toilet breaks needed! Hey, it happens. But what else do we carry?

My husband carries most of the water and any maps we have. If we have our poles with us, he carries the boys poles and I carry the girls poles. Our kids are too young and too short to have theirs strapped to their backpacks. They do add weight and even folded up they are still long.  That leaves me with the majority of the ‘other stuff’ which includes:
-first aid kit
-canine first aid kit (first aid needs adapted for your furry friend including powdered dog- safe antiseptic, non-stick wrap, tick remover, etc)
-any meals
-crushable water bowl for the dog
-Swiss army knife (Mr H has one, too)
-rain jackets
-medication (i.e. antihistamine, paracetamol)
-fully-charged phone
-sports gels/chocolate
-small mesh garbage bag (no littering in Mother Nature!!)

Lots of 'stuff' !
Lots of ‘stuff’ !

I think that about covers it!!!

What about you? Do you hike with your family or are you thinking about doing it?

Author: Jennifer Hart

Traveller. Wife. Mother. Bilingual. Hiker. Shopper. Skier. Snowboarder. Soccer midfielder. Marathoner. Canadian. Wine lover. Mama also to a crazy labrador retriever. My running keeps me grounded. My writing keeps me sane. My kids and husband keep me loved. These are our stories, love them or leave them. We may not have a permanent home but we have each other.

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