How Far Can Your Child Hike?

We’ve all heard crazy stories about 4-5 year olds hiking the AT, but what is a realistic distance we should plan for when hiking with our kids? Take our 3-question quiz to help guide your planning efforts.

How Far Can Your Kids Hike Quiz

Planning Factors for Hikes

One of the great things about hiking is that families of all ages and fitness levels can enjoy it. Deciding on the proper hiking distance for you can be tricky, especially if you’re new to hiking. The key is to start slowly and build passion and endurance over time. When hiking with kids, it’s essential to consider their energy levels and attention span.  You know your kids; go with your gut.  Better to start with shorter distances than to have them exhausted or frustrated.

Time Available:  Ensure you know how much time you have, as this might set your distance limit for the day. When deciding the proper hiking distance for you, you must consider your available time. When our kids were younger, we would time our hikes with naptime.  We would drive early in the morning, hike from 9-1 with a lunch picnic, and then let them zonk out in the back of the car.  Ultimately, the time factor comes down to what you can manage in your free time.

Terrain/Trail Surface:  A mile on a smooth, flat boardwalk versus a mile on a single-lane rooted incline will be traversed at a different pace.  Look at the trail profile and trail reports before selecting a trail.  If your family is getting into hiking, stick to easy trails with minimal elevation gain to avoid becoming overly fatigued and discouraged.

Weather:  Another critical factor to consider when deciding the proper hiking distance is the weather. If the weather forecast calls for snow, hail, strong winds, or temperatures below zero degrees or super-hot, it’s probably not a good idea to attempt a long hike. But if the conditions are reasonable, it still pays to protect yourself with the right gear—such as warm layers, waterproof jackets, sun hats, and SPF sunscreen.

Equipment: “Ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain.” Kids will want to carry a pack because you are carrying a backpack. Help them with their packing lists and ensure the weight is age-appropriate.  It would be best if you were prepared to carry their gear.  I always pack an extra carabiner for days when they need any extra boost.  finally, equip your kids with the proper gear.  Save money by purchasing second-hand gear (love OfferUp).  Proper gear will keep your kid’s feet and body feeling good. 

Pro Tips to go Further

  • Quest Trail Activity Maps: Keeps kids engaged
  • When you arrive at the “X” give your kid a treat or reward
  • Bring a friend: Friends can make hiking seem less “mandatory”
  • Snacks at every 1/8 mile marker: A fruit snack or an M&M will go a long way
    • We like pretending M&Ms are power pills… it works!


Picking the proper hiking distance depends on your kid’s age/experience/passion level, time, terrain, weather, equipment, and other factors (i.e., mood). If they are new to hiking, start small and build up their experience over time. And when in doubt, always err on the side of caution. Listen to your kids, respect the terrain, and remember to bring the ten essential items when you hit the trail. With the proper knowledge and preparation, your family will surely have a safe and enjoyable hike!

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