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.
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:
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:
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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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
It can be quite daunting to take your kids with you into the hills when you're not too sure of what you're doing yourself.
Sofa 2 Summit is a new online program from Mountaineering Scotland to help you get the most out of hiking in the hills this spring and summer.
It's for people new to hiking who wants to explore Scotland's hills and mountains, or anyone who wants to learn a bit more or take a refresher after a break from hill walking during lockdown.
Register now to get started on this 7 week program and let us help you get from sofa to summit!