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Hill walking for all the family

Many of our members fear that when they start a family, their interest in climbing and the hills has to be put on the back burner for a decade or so.

At the same time, every parent soon encounters the challenge of amusing the kids each weekend and over the long school holidays. So why not try to combine these two quandaries and give your children, or grand-children, a taste of hill-walking?

Here are a few tips, hints and ideas to help get you started.

Hill-walking at its best can be a great way to get your kids a little fresh air, give them a love of nature and feed their sense of adventure, all while burning off that seemingly endless energy. However, a bad experience can put them off for a long time.

Of course, there are no hard and fast rules as every child is different, but here are a few hints and tips which are worth bearing in mind if you would like to introduce them to the hills in a way you will both enjoy.

1. Start low and work your way up

You know your kids better than anyone and will probably want to feel confident that they are happy with low level walks before aiming to head for the hills.

When you do head for the hills, try to avoid the expectation that you will always reach the top - see it as a bonus! The target of a hilltop will often spur a child on, but if it doesn't, just celebrate how far you have got and try again another time. Here are three selections of Scottish hills which can offer progress in terms of height, length and terrain of walk as your family's fitness and enthusiasm grows.

Some smaller hills (up to about 1,500ft high), that are relatively close to roads, have well defined and marked paths and take up to a couple of hours to complete. We link here to more route information and directions on the WalkHighlands website:

Some longer hill walks which can take around three hours to complete but which still have well defined paths to the summits:

Some popular first time Munro walks. These may take five hours or more, with some significant height gain and rough bits to the paths, but still pretty straightforward to tackle in calm weather:

2. Stick to what you know (to begin with)

At least to begin with, you might feel better picking routes you've already walked. Reading online walk reviews to get a feel for what is in store is great, but you may still encounter undesirable surprises that impact on the day out for your family.

Seek out well defined and marked paths. Kids often like to see their target quite quickly, giving them something to aim for, so try to avoid a route with lots of false summits. Long walks in and, especially, out, can also rub some of the shine off an otherwise exciting day.

Getting the balance right between easy and uneventful is the key to keeping a child's interest - stream-side paths, dramatic corries and little stretches of simple scrambling probably trump a long, gentle but unvaried plateau trudge!

3. Choose your weather carefully

Although you might be keen to get out, it is amazing how big an influence the weather can have on an inexperienced walker's day. For the first few outings, it is definitely worth waiting for summer conditions, stable calm weather, warm but not a scorcher.

Check out the Mountain Weather Information Service for weather forecasts specifically designed for hillwalkers focused on Scotland's mountain areas

MWIS Website

4. Dress up for it

Effective layering is especially important for younger children whose bodies find it more difficult to regulate heat themselves.

Comfortable and supportive footwear with good grips are also important. Even on a nice day, hats and gloves can be useful on higher ridges or summits.

(Though you can) you don't need to spend a fortune to get the kit essentials for kids.

As part of building up the excitement for your first hill walk, you might want to take them to a shop to choose their own things. This can also help encourage them to look after their own bits and pieces on the walk itself.

Mountaineering Scotland membership gives you discounts at many of Scotland's top outdoor retailers and online shops

5. Drinks a plenty

Like adults, kids can get dehydrated easily when doing physical activity, even on cold days.

Water is ideal, but if they are reluctant to drink it, this is one of those occasions when a more glucose-rich drink can be a worthwhile treat. A warm drink can also be nice and a good excuse for a rest stop.

6. Food glorious food

Little and often is the key to successful nutrition when walking or climbing with children. Your child's stamina and ability to cope with poor weather will rapidly decrease through lack of food.

Ideally you want food which combines sugars and carbohydrates, which are easily digested and release energy in both the short and medium term. Food bars or cake bars are great for this (just make sure you take home any wrappings). Jaffa Cakes are usually a real winner!

Sandwiches are also useful, with spreads and cheeses better than meat, which can take a long time to digest. If you can carry it in a flask, a hot soup is brilliant for on a chilly day.

Ensure regular top-ups while giving a little incentive to keep going with the promise of a sweet treat when you reach prominent landmarks, boulders or steeper stretches.

7. Set out on an adventure.

A little imagination can help you prepare for and distract from some of the more familiar worries you might have about your kids getting bored or dwelling upon their tired limbs. Here are a few ideas:

  • Let your kids take the lead
    A great way to make them feel important, but also help you see what they're up to and ensure you are walking at their pace!
  • I-spy
    Buy a book or create your own list - birds, lambs, trees, tiny flowers or bugs, streams, funny shaped pebbles, even midges and sheep poo.
  • Hand over the map
    Answer the inevitable "are we there yet?" question with a chance to learn how to spot a hilltop or a woodland as you pass it. Mark up your route in pencil each time after every kilometre or so to show what progress you are making.
  • Make time for dawdling
    Whatever the recommended route time, add on another few hours to splash in streams and waterfalls, throw stones in lochans or clamber about on boulders. Avoid the need to rush back for anything as kids will sense this and it will make for a stressful descent.

Join us with a Mountaineering Scotland family membership

We are here to help you and your family get the most out of Scotland's hills, crags and climbing walls - with a quarterly magazine filled with news and ideas, money-saving special offers and discounts at outdoor shops and accommodation, low cost courses, advice, coaching and competitions.

Join online by Direct Debit and it will cost you less than £25 for your first year's family membership, plus, you get two free gifts of your choice!