We like to go hiking as family – two adults and two 7-year old boys – but we are not unique. On our walks and hikes, we often meet other families, sometimes with kids younger than ours. In our last walk, for example, we encountered a couple with 4 kids all under the age of 6. The two eldest had to walk while the parents had to carry 1 kid each, the daddy carrying a toddler on a back carrier, the mommy a baby in a front kangaroo carrier. Periodically, the dad had to carry another child on his shoulders. Tough, but they seem to have it all under control and actually enjoying it. This scene of large families going walking or hiking is quite common in Switzerland. I must admit that the set-up is quite conducive to families.
So why do Swiss people like to go hiking, even with their families?
It’s cheap. Hiking is the cheapest way to spend a day with the family. You can pack some sandwiches and have a picnic somewhere. Or you can carry you sausages and barbecue along the way. In many hiking trails are designated barbecue facilities complete with toilets and running water!
Many starting points are accessible by public transport. We usually go to the mountains with the train where all kids under 12 traveling with parents are practically free (except for an annual ticket of $20 per child, cheaper from the 3rd child on). Add to that a special train compartment for families complete with mini-jungle gym, slide and drawing corner. Now, who would prefer to squeeze into an automobile and drive somewhere?
It’s healthy. In a previous post, I expounded on the health benefits of walking and hiking. In short, these physical activities are good for the heart, the bones and muscles and the brain. Now, add to that the fresh air up there. We’ve been to several Swiss villages which are car-free, e.g. all cars should be parked down the valley, while the village itself is only accessible by cable cars or cogwheel trains. The only mode of transport up there is electric cars and buses. What an exhilarating and liberating experience to stay in a place which is almost traffic-free.
It’s beautiful. There is nothing more majestic than a landscape surrounded by mountain peaks. In one of our hikes earlier this month, we stood on point where we could see the mountains of 6 different countries: Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France, Lichtenstein, and Italy. In another place, we saw the very spring in the watershed that feeds all three major European river systems: the Rhine, the Danube, and the Rhone. These are unbeatable experiences.
But walking or hiking needs some preparations and precautions and over the years, I have learned a lot of things by experience which I’d like to share with you.
WHAT TO WEAR
Proper footwear. Footwear which is sturdy yet comfortable is a must for everybody including the kids. They need not be expensive but they should fit the season and the weather conditions.
Clothes. Clothes should be customized to the time of the year and the altitude. Not too warm or not too cold. One should not overestimate the temperatures in higher altitudes. It may be sunny up there but it is not necessarily that warm because of the winds. Take into account the wind chill factor. A windbreaker or rain jacket should always be on stand-by in case needed. Weather conditions can change drastically in the mountains.
WHAT TO BRING
Water. Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration is dangerous!
Finger foods. Little tidbits are needed to boost your energy and those of your little ones. My favorites are granola or fruity snack bars, dried fruits such as bananas or apples or raisins, and nuts. These are small and light enough to fit in the pockets – and they are also healthy.
Band aids. Blisters can appear out of nowhere. Once, one of my boys got blisters from a well-worn shoes that were probably getting too small. Luckily I had band aids ready that got him through the hike. A small first aid kit can be very useful. I have a very compact one which I filled, in addition to band aids, a small tube of sunscreen, a small phial of hand disinfectant, a small pack of tissues, and my son’s inhaler.
Sun protection. The sun up there is bright and strong up there. Sunglasses, sun caps, and sunscreens are needed to protect you from the strong UV solar rays.
Phone. In cases of emergency, a phone is invaluable.
Plus: don’t forget to bring a smile and lots of enthusiasm – in case the going gets tough.