When I go walking with my kids, I go crazy with clobber. I pack everything, then bump along under a giant sack at 1mph while other families gallop past in t-shirts, shorts and flipflops, carrying tiny bottles of mineral water and phones strapped to their arms. How do they do this? Don’t their kids get hungry?
I’ve no idea but I do know that a 9-mile hill walk means if I want my kids to retain their social graces, we’ll need to take lunch (preferably not relying on any cafés, in case we’re not there by lunchtime), and I’ll add sweets and treats because I’m not above bribery. Also I routinely carry a multi-tool, first aid kit, coats, jumpers, several litres of water and a thin rope (mostly used as a dog lead extension or impromptu tree swing, but if anyone gets scared at the top today, I can harness them to me and give them an extra bit of confidence).
Already my pack’s bulging, but that’s OK because I have minions.
So, how much can I make the kids carry?
I’d thought the two elder kids could carry small packs with coats and water, while Youngest would not. However, Youngest wanted the same as his brothers (of course).
I reckoned a pack would be too much for him, but wanted him to feel happy and excited, leading me up with a smile on his face, not dragging behind me, disappointed and feeling left out. So I decided to do a test run — carry a pack up the first mile of the mountain the day before, and let him decide.
Meanwhile I took the mother of all packs. My knees started cracking before I even picked it up. Damn.
I like light, long trousers for walking, it saves legs from mosquito bites, cold, or stings from nettles and gorse, so I said no to shorts (I packed some for Youngest, as a treat on the way down). For on top, I chose light tops, light fleeces, and coats for the summit.
For our feet, I bought the thickest, fluffiest walking socks I could find, and Karrimor hiking boots. This was a moment when I noticed the kid factor: boots get comfier the longer they’re worn, but kids grow out of theirs – so there are no old boots. I compromised with newish boots with gel insoles. When we tested them in Cornwall, they turned out to be fine but (naturally) one of the kids rubbed blisters into his heels with too-small rugby boots over the weekend before. Oh good.
I use localised BBC weather forecasts and the Met office, and apply a general rule: if it’s breezy at the bottom, it’ll be a gale at the top. If it’s a gale at the bottom, stay there. And five-day forecasts aren’t accurate: check the night before.
Rain is relative: it depends on the terrain but with tiny kids, also whether they’d enjoy it. Mine don’t mind rain, but probably not for 8 hours, so I’d look for a balance*.
Maps, OS Maps
Middlest was interested in the navigation, but the other two looked at me as if I were asking for a kidney.
The Llanberis path up to the summit is a really easy route to memorise: it’s short and mostly straight, heading roughly SE. At the second café, turn around and head back. Avoid all cliffs.
I tried to teach the kids a rule that I learned the hard way:
Going up’s easier to navigate than coming down because all routes lead to the top, but when you get to the top, there are lots of ways down.
There’s no fun in reaching the summit via a leisurely path, only to take a wrong turn up in the clouds and end up terrified on Crib Goch. [Shudders.] (I might do that walk one day, but not now, not now at all.)
The OS maps app includes a little arrow that tracks your progress – really you can just follow the arrow anywhere. This is new technology to me, and it’s fantastic, but connections can glitch, or phones can be lost, so I’d like the kids to be able to use paper maps too.
I also tried to teach Middlest to work out the direction home by looking for the sun (slightly brighter patch of cloudy sky), noting which direction it is on arrival. Also to use landmarks.
I was not expecting him to remember this. I was expecting all three of my children to be lost at the summit, and that was a scary thought.
I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready to take my children up a mountain on my own. They’re too precious. Too small and cute. Too essential. Mountains are scary, but so is time. Time doesn’t wait for people to be ready: you either do things or you don’t.
I think they’re ready, even if I’m not.
So we’ll either do it or we won’t.
Want to see my kit list?
I have two – before and after I had children. Here they are:
1. Kit list before being a parent:
- Small pack, waterproof watch, water, map/compass, waterproof jacket.
2. Kit list after becoming a parent:
Two or three small packs and one large one.
- waterproof jacket,
- light fleece jumper,
- sunglasses, sun hats, and sun cream on before you go,
- bottle of water (metal with snap lock),
- apples, pork pies, cakes and sweets,
- a small dive torch (tough and waterproof, works as torch and strobe, great for emergencies, or fog or caves).
- Eldest child only: waterproof mobile with downloaded OS maps.
- Same as the kids: jacket, jumper, sunglasses, sun hat & sun cream, food, tissues, dive torch.
- Several litres of water.
- Waterproof watch.
- Waterproof mobile phone (Xperia) with OS map download.
- OS paper map 1:25,000 and a compass.
- Cheap waterproof camera (Nikon Coolpix), for kids.
- Gerber multi-tool.
- First aid kit containing elastic knee support, Tubigrip bandage, crepe bandage, triangular bandage, safety pins, Steristrips, big plasters & fabric strip plasters, non-adhesive wound pads, surgical tape, ibuprofen 200mg, Calpol for over 6ys, hydrocortisone cream 1%, hayfever tablets, antihistamine cream, antiseptic wipes, clean Swiss Army penknife.
- Rope (cheap, 5m x 6mm polyester), snap clip, and light sailing harness. (If anyone’s scared of heights, this can be used to give them a bit of extra confidence.)
- Spare boot laces.
- Spare sunglasses.
- Spare socks. Lovely fluffy ones. Because a child with uncomfortable feet needs to feel hugged.
- Spare big kagoul and waterproof trousers for youngest (if he needed carrying, would put these on as windproofing to avoid chill).
- Spare shorts for Youngest because he wanted to wear shorts and I said no. But mental state is an important safety factor on wild walks (not to mention the whole point of going) and misery or frustration can be a real drain on a tired child – if he’s desperate for shorts then I’d rather have draughty legs than tears.
- Sealable plastic bags.
- Magic potions. Actually gross sugar-solution sweets they’ve never been allowed to buy in the local sweet shop because I wanted some “Mum-I’m-tired” magic oomph.
- A rock collection. Yes, I carried a bunch of rocks up and down Snowdon because he wanted me to, and it kept him happy, and yes some of them were quite big, especially the rock parrot. Call me Mum.
And last, but not least, fig rolls. FIG ROLLS, BABY! Fig rolls are the actual best biscuits in the world.
Except for the ones the kids make.
(Update: Walk Up Snowdon have published a recommended equipment list. Similar to above but with a few extras like windproof smocks, emergency bag, and waterproof trousers and equipment for a winter walk which is really, really important if you’re planning on going up in the winter months.)