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Hill walking for families

Many of our members imagine that when they start a family, their interest in climbing and the hills has to be put on the back burner until their children are grown up.

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 give your children or grand-children their first experience of hill walking? 

Hill walking 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. 

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 all enjoy.

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

Family with young children on rocky hilltop in Scotland

1. Start easy 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 a few Scottish hills which can offer progress in terms of height, length and terrain of walk as your family's fitness and enthusiasm grows.

Shorter hill walks 

These 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:

Longer hill walks

These might take around three hours to complete but which still have well defined paths to the summits:

A toddler on the summit of a hill

First time Munro walks

These may take five hours or more, with some significant height gain and rough bits to the paths, but still usually straightforward to tackle in calm weather:

Mother and children hill walking in Scotland's mountains

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.

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 and 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 and long walks in and out.

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 too hot!

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

MWIS Website

4. Dress for it

You don't need to spend a fortune to get the kit essentials for kids and as a member of Mountaineering Scotland you can get some great discounts on outdoor gear with your member benefits.

  • Layering - effective layering is especially important for younger children whose bodies find it more difficult to regulate heat themselves.
  • Footwear - comfortable and supportive footwear with good grips are also important. 
  • Keeping warm - even on a nice day, hats and gloves can be useful on higher ridges or summits.

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 things on the walk itself.

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.

Young girl on mountain top

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 or deer 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.

Go hiking with Sofa 2 Summit 

Sofa 2 Summit is a free online program to help you get the most out of hiking in the hills this spring and summer. 

If you want to start hiking in Scotland's hills and mountains, or need a refresher in some key skills after a winter break from hill walking, Sofa 2 Summit will take you through the basics and help you get where you want to go.

Register now to get started and let us help you get from sofa to summit!

Sign up here