Have fun, get some sun with the whole family

Marjie Gilliam / Cox Newspapers /

Published Jul 11, 2013 at 05:00AM

DAYTON, Ohio — Jeff Alt has found his exercise niche. A hiking expert and author of “Get Your Kids Hiking!” he has walked the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail, the 218-mile John Muir Trail with his wife, and trekked across a 50-mile path of Ireland with his wife, young daughter and extended family.

In his book, Alt shares some of his tips on how to help keep hiking a fun, safe family activity, with advice for how to include your child in all aspects of the experience.

Start ’em young

Ergonomically designed baby carriers make it safe and easy to carry your infant or toddler with you when hiking. Walk to your favorite park or beach. Bring friends and family. Stop often and let your little one explore. Make your hike a fun adventure and learning experience, something your kids will look forward to.

Let the kids lead

We live in such a fast-paced world. Hiking gives you a chance to slow it down and spend quality time with your family. Play follow the leader, hiking at your child’s pace and distance, and take the time to stop and explore that bug, leaf or rock with them. Tell them about the animals, rocks, trees and flowers that are seen along the way. The journey is more important than getting to the destination when enjoying your hike, so find ways to engage your child in the experience.

Count down to the adventure

Psych the kids up with pictures, videos and highlights of the places they will go and the things they will see. Use books, magazines, maps and the Internet, especially park websites and videos showing the spectacular wildlife and locations they will see.

Keep it safe

Bring a cellphone. For extra safety, carry a GPS unit to monitor your location, and make sure to let someone know approximate time that you expect to reach your destination. Broad-spectrum sunscreen, bug repellent and a first-aid kit that accommodates the whole group are must-haves.

... and fun

Let young children fill their adventure pack with a bug catcher, magnifying glass, binoculars, a camera, a map and compass, whistle or flashlight.

In the book

“Hiking is a great way to relax, connect with nature, and enjoy time with your family,” Alt says on his website. “Bringing your kids along can be rewarding for you and for them, but it can also add new challenges and concerns to your trip.” The book is loaded with everything you need to know to hit the trail with the kids.

Specific tips offered in the book include:

• More age-appropriate ways to include your child in all aspects of the hike.

• Checklists of what to pack for any type of hike.

• Kid-friendly menus.

• Advice for hiking with a child who has special needs.

“Get Your Kids Hiking: How to Start Them Young and Keep it Fun!” which was released this year, lists for $13.95.

What to wear and bring

Suit up in comfort, style and the latest technology.

Footwear: Until your kids are walking consistently on their own, fit them with a comfortable pair of water-resistant shoes. Make sure the 3-and-older kids are wearing lightweight trail shoes or boots with a sturdy sole, and non-cotton, moisture-wicking, synthetic or wool socks.

Clothing: Dress for the weather. Jeff Alt suggests non-cotton synthetic, wool and fleece clothing and dressing in layers so that you are prepared for varying conditions. Wear multipurpose clothing like pants that zip off into shorts, or shirts with roll-up sleeves. Pack a waterproof breathable rain parka, hat and gloves.

Packs: Get age- and size-appropriate backpacks that fit each hiker comfortably.

Trekking poles: Get a pair of adjustable, collapsible poles with an ergonomically designed handle for each person.

Source: Jeff Alt

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