Hiking With Kids


Hiking with kids is something I know very little about so I was thrilled when my buddy Mark started a Facebook group as a forum to help parents and their children get out hiking together, and to support each other through the process. Join BC Kids Hiking Club on Facebook to get involved. Mark and his family are based out of Abbotsford, but they plan hikes all around the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley and beyond.

Natasha, Riley and Mark atop Brunswick Mountain

He describes the group saying, “This group is here to help parents have successful hiking adventures with their kids, of all ages! I personally have an 8 year old who has hiked since he was 3, and a 17 year old who is unconditioned but eager to try! I have gone through many stages of success and utter failure with my kids. I have changed my perspective and how I handle hiking with my children and now I experience more successes than failures! I want to bring the lessons I have learned to you, as well as learn from yours! Together we can inspire our community into greater successes, building a trail-savvy group of children into hiking machines that will eclipse even us in time! Small steps, more successes, and happy memories is what its about! “

Join the group at

One Seriously Inspiring Little Dude

I have never been so inspired by another hiker than I have been by Mark’s son Riley. We first hiked together in 2018 exploring the Ledgeview Trails, and immediately his awesome attitude and enthusiasm for hiking had us all in awe. He’s the most excited and emotionally mature 8 year old I’ve ever met. From what I’ve seen, hiking with kids is more about conquering the mental and emotional obstacles than physical ones. Mark has done an amazing job not only instilling in his son a shared passion and respect for the outdoors, but it was done through teaching and nurturing introspection in the most loving, positive and patient way.

Later that summer, I raced Riley up Brunswick Mountain. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Brunswick is a 17 km trail that gains a whopping 1,465 metres. It’s one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done, and here’s this little kid asking me to race him up the steep, rooty trail. What else can you say to an enthusiastic little hiker but “of course!” So up we went, giggles all around, and had the most wonderful reward at the top seeing the sun set over Howe Sound.

Riley Shepherd, 8 years old, atop Brunswick Mountain

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Riley leading the way to the summit of Brunswick Mountain

According to Mark, the hike up Brunswick wasn’t without issue, but I honestly never even noticed, he’s got the situation dialled in so well. I imagine there are many parents out there who struggle with similar things – the desire to get out there with their kids, but worried about the obstacles that comes along with it – so I asked Mark if he could share some tips. Here’s what he had to say.

Tips for Hiking With Kids

by Mark Shepherd, Creator of BC Kids Hiking Club

From time to time we all suffer when we hike with our kids. I know this very well, my son has had insurmountable meltdowns for trivial reasons at the earliest onset of hikes. I have wanted a random bear to come eat him its gotten so absolutely out of control. But through our perseverance, we have gotten to a place where 99% of the time its pure success, unless I have failed to meet his needs. Don’t kid yourself, our kids melting down is sometimes a failure on our part to perceive their needs at that moment.

The one thing I have seen over and over again with my child is that enjoyment-destroying outbursts is a major potential when hiking. So here is my observations on how I mitigate, and reduce the chances of those failures.

The biggest question I ask myself is “why is my son having his current outburst.”

Is his clothing correct?

My son overheats extremely fast when active. Too much clothing is worse then too little for him at all temperatures. Clothing for my son has not been cheap when it comes to hiking. I bought light weight under clothing for 60 dollars from MEC, it was by far the best winter purchase I got for him. I also bought lightweight 100% merino wool shirts from costco, XS womans fits his 9 year old frame perfectly with room to grow! A light weight and flashy sweatpants and a very light weight an breathable sweater round out the clothing choices. I also always have a hat, toque, neck warmer, snow gloves and wool gloves with us. Throughout winter my son wore 3 layers of upper body clothing, and 2 layers of lower body clothing and almost never wore a jacket snowshoeing. He never complained about being overheated due to the quality of the clothing, nor being too cold, and we hiked in -20 C weather in Manning Park and Coquihalla Summit.

Does he have access to his water?

My son will walk with his water bladder hose in his mouth half a hike, and I will refill his bladder at least once during the hike. This also means making time for constant pee breaks, and making sure the water isn’t washing out all his electrolytes on longer jaunts. During winter having his own travel water container bouncing along the outside of his pack was essential, the tubes on water bladders freeze and denied him water too often.

Does he have access to his food, and did I bring enough variance for him?

Eating… It is easily over looked. I know that when I personally snack all day long I do better hiking rather then fasting until a lunch spot. My son burns energy faster then I even do, so I need to take into consideration he needs access to his own food supply, on his own.

Do I have the correct footwear and movement support for my son for this hike?

Hiking shoes are expensive for growing children. I found this out rather badly. His snow winter boots were perfect for snowshoeing and hiking in winter time, but its time to buy him new shoes again this spring. Now I am looking into size 6 woman’s hiking shoes instead of the limited options of size 6 children shoes. Altho we found some really good waterproof draw string shoelaced children shoes that we haven’t had the opportunity to try on yet from MEC. Also microspikes. Hugely important. Problem again is that his feet are growing and soon his small microspikes will be useless to us, and I will have to spend another 80 dollars on new spikes. Its an investment to get outside safely.

Do we have adequate weather protection?

We hike rain or shine, some of our funnest hikes have been in horrible thunderstorms. Its so fun being in the woods when its pouring rain! My son has a light weight waterproof shell jacket and water proof shell leggings. That is the only weather protection we bring. And even in monsoons has been perfect for keeping him dry and loving his adventure. Gloves are a potential essential during rain, something that can resist the wetness as much as possible but keep his hands from bitter cold I have found has helped a lot once we are 5k down a trail and his fingers start to cramp.

Are we doing a hike he enjoys, or am I forcing him to do a hike I enjoy?

This might sound trivial, but its a HUGE part of why a child can instantly combust on a trail. My son for instance wants to scramble, everything and all the time. Walk down a well groomed forest path and he will be BORED in meters, forget minutes. This means I need to feed him more, hydrate him more, talk about brawlstars more, and suffer more. For instance I took my son to the Chief recently. He hated the stairs but suffered them quietly due to my insistence this was a scramblers paradise hike. Once we were past the stairs he literally did not walk on the actual pathway 90% of the time. Big rocks, small rocks, logs.. climbed every single one of them off trail as much as possible. At the end of the day it was rated a 5.5 star hike out of 5 stars. He loved it. I took him to do Elk mountain, and within the first KM he was walking so slow I was wishing I had brought a wagon to plop him in. His needs are to scramble my needs are to enjoy the journey. To make these match, I need to find a scrambly hike. Snowshoeing was hit and miss due to this very problem, although having snowball fights made up the difference we found.

Am I making him carry too much for his current growth spurt?

I want my son to carry as much as he is comfortable carrying, but at the same time, I don’t want to let him off scott-free. He needs to know that it’s his responsibility to help carry some of the weight in life. The problem is last year he grew astronomically. His knees hurt constantly. Add a 20k hike to that with even 5pnds of backpack pressure. It adds up fast, good luck keeping that pack to 5pnds. Our worst outbursts were wearing snowshoes, with a full pack, in a winter storm during a growth spurt. I felt bad for him, then I felt bad there were no feral wolves around to keep him moving. Then I felt bad there were no feral wolfs around to put me out of my misery. Then I remembered, redirection…

Am I occupying his busy and excitable mind enough?

Lets be honest, not everyone enjoys walking through the woods as a means of enjoyment for their day. Our children are tailored in part to be part of the global electronic world they live in. It is hard to raise a child without some of that influence. How do we expect to remove them from their lifestyle, tell them to walk 20k, carry their own gear, and find it peaceful and fun out of the gate.

A lot of our hiking with Riley revolves around conversations capturing his current interests. Luckily for me, I share his interests as much as possible, so I know all about mine craft, roblox, brawlstars and fortnight. I’m not so keen on most of them, I won’t watch youtube forever like the kids do, and I certainly don’t usually want to talk about these things for 8 hours straight. But planning out our next brawlstar strategy in depth for an hour has shown a major difference in my son’s engagement in the quiet painful boring portion of an uphill hike. Id much rather talk about his game ideas than listen to him whine and moan and saunter at half a km an hour pace because he is bored and not engaged in the journey. Prepare yourself, this trip only has a few moments for you in it… accept that, and life gets easier.

If all else fails, bring an ipod, put it in his backpack on low so he can hear it, and giggle while your son dances and sings along to his favorite songs and forgets that he is slogging up a hill.

Lessons Learned

I have succeeded with my son in some major hikes. Brunswick Mountain 15km 1800m elevation Zupjok to Alpaca 20km 900m elevation, Frosty Mountain 22km 1160m elevation, Flatiron and Needle peak, Elk to Thurstan, snowshoe Zoa, Fat Dog, Flat Iron and many more places. Most of these bigger hikes have been resounding successes because we started small, and intermediate. I learned from the utter failures we found on those trails. Don’t over extend early, we want those peaks and views, they do to. But conditioning of the muscles for them and you is just as important as planning mitigation techniques.

My son is very conscious of his outbursts, but in the moment he is unable to moderate and manage his needs. As his parent I mitigate them before we hike, and during the hike as much as I potentially can.

My goal is to find peaceful fun in our adventure.

This will not always happen, but even when it doesn’t, its still the best day in the world spending time with my son.

Mark and Riley atop Frosty Mountain

Join BC Kids Hiking Club to get out hiking with Mark and other parents, as well as to provide support and information for your shared experience.