Saturday, August 31, 2019

Families who hike together, stay together

Family of Hikers
Modern families are busy! Children's schedules are filled with school events, sporting practises, dance recitals, tutors, etc... We even structure children's time with their friends (also known as 'play dates').  Parents find themselves dividing and conquering taxi duties to meet the relentless demands of getting their children to their scheduled activities, all while trying to balance their own work obligations and keeping the house clean and maintained.    

There seems to be fewer opportunities in a week to spend time as a family.  The traditional image of the family sitting together at the  dinner table has been replaced by family members grabbing food on the go, while rushing to get to the next work commitment, soccer practice, or game. Although this has been great for the fast food industry, it has created a havoc on family cohesion and feelings of togetherness.  

Not taking the time to connect as a family can have devastating consequences.  Over time, family members can feel disconnected, empty and without sufficient positive family memories to bank on in harder times.   

Hiking provides an opportunity to counter the pull in a million different directions.  There are many great benefits of hiking with children. Hitting the trails allows families to explore, discover and appreciate nature, to enjoy amazing views, to get family members (including parents) off of their devices, and to carve out time together from the busy schedules of work, school, house chores, and organized activities.


Hiking as a family provides the opportunity to carve out time with kids and helps to unify parents and children. Dedicating time on the trail helps to increase family cohesion and connection and helps to repair ruptures of separation due to work, school, activities, and just being a busy and active family.

Research has been clear about the health and mental health benefits of walking, and especially hiking in the outdoors. 

Walking in nature makes the body stronger and the soul hardier. But while the benefits of spending time in nature has been document, it seems to be an insufficient explanation of why families go hiking.

Science has also recently connected hiking to improved family cohesion and connection. Being in nature (and away from busy schedules, devices, other commitments) provides a peaceful background that allows for time for family members to reconnect, communicate, discover and to grow closer as family members.

Hiking as a family can produce an emotional centre of gravity for family members. A group of researchers from Norway found in 2016 that carving out time as a family to hike can strengthen core family relations.

Family on Trail in Vermont

Spending time on the trail can give each member of the family a vacation from the strains and stresses of everyday life and helps the family focus on just spending time together without the distractions.

Although all family vacations are supposed to help families reconnect, most destinations actually create more stress than benefit (e.g. dealing with crowds and traffic, the constant bombardment of lights and noises, trying to figure out where to eat, kids on their phones while parents are at the bar, etc...).

Unlike most family vacations, nature provides a peaceful background that is devoid of the lights, noises and smells of crowded amusement-style vacations and free from the distractions of everyday life. The troubles of work, school, and non-family relationships are far removed from the hiking trail and so you can just focus on your next step, your next view, and your next great conversation with your children.

Hiking with children provides the opportunity to drop all other obligations and just focus on the time spent together without disturbance. Nature creates a natural enclosure around families while on the trail, which helps families enjoy just being together at that moment.

Here are some ways to carve out your schedule to increase family cohesion and to benefit from the time spent on the trail:

  1. Commit to hiking as a family at least once a week.  Family hikes can range from a couple of hours to a couple of days. Although you probably don't have the time or money to fly out to exotic locations to hike bucket list mountain tops, there are probably lots of smaller hikes nearby that you can do without having to carve out too much time from your busy schedule. 
  2. Commit to hiking in all seasons.  If you live in an area with snow in the winter, do not let the colder weather deter you from your goal.  There are plenty of options to hike year round, including snowshoeing, hiking on known winter trails, cross-country skying (not hiking, but has the same benefit because it uses many of the same trails).  
  3. Include hiking trips in your calendar.  Too often, spending time with family gets pushed back on the 'to do' list because of competing demands of work, school, activities, appointments, etc.  Make spending time with your family a priority by including hiking trips in your calendar so that you make appointments around this time, rather than wait to see whether you will have time at the end of the week (which you probably won't!).
  4. Become an expert of your local trail systems.  By scheduling weekly hikes, you will need to do some research about the various options in your area.  This is a perfect opportunity to engage children in hiking by having them be part of the research and to be part of the decision making.  Also good to have them write down their thoughts about each hike so that you can compare notes and keep the conversation going even when off the trail.
  5. Make hiking part of your family identity.  There are many ways to infuse space for hiking in your busy lives, even when not on the trail.  You can, for example, include family hiking photos on your family room walls, give each other hiking gifts for birthday presents and special occasions, find ways to integrate hiking into other activities, watch movies about hiking, and come up with hiking bucket lists. 

Hiking close to home


Hiking provides families with the opportunity to get out of the hustle and bustle of everyday life, enjoy and appreciate nature, and spend time with each other.  But consider hiking as a bio-dome around your family that blocks the interruptions and stresses from the outside world while providing the opportunity for parents and children to enjoy family life, reconnect and recharge.  Family cohesion helps children grow happy and healthy and provides a protective buffer from the stresses of modern life.  

Hiking is not just a recreational pastime in nature, its an active time that helps families reconnect, energize and helps build strong lasting family cohesion.  

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