How Far Can a Kid Hike?

Family hikes can range from amazing bonding experiences to traumatic meltdowns. Knowing how far your kids can go before things go south is an important part of the trip planning process. We surveyed our experienced community on the question of how far kids can hike at a given age and captured any additional insights to help you plan your next hike with your kids.


Kids can typically hike their age in miles. For example, a four-year-old could be expected to hike as many as 4 miles. This estimate can often range between 2x their age (e.g. experienced hikers) to 0.5x their age (e.g. resistant or easily distracted hikers) in miles.

We surveyed our experienced community and were able to confirm the convention wisdom that a kid should be able to hike his or her age. The following chart summarizes the results. We expected that our community’s kids would be able to hike farther than this rule of thumb due to their greater experience, but were amazed by how consistent this relationship was between age and distance.

Survey of 89 experienced hiker parents

The typical range of the responses fell into the 0.5x to 2x range. For example, a reluctant 4-year-old may hit the wall at 4 x 0.5 = 2 miles while and experienced and engaged 4-year-old might go for 4 x 2 = 8 miles.

We did not receive a lot of data for older kids, but their distance limit seemed to quickly approach the limits for most adults. For example, a 10-year-old kid can often achieve a moderate adult distance (as any Disney trip will often demonstrate). The community also shared some tips related to hiking with kids that we agreed with:

Community Tip #1: “Start Small and Build Over Time”

It’s important to start with short distances and gradually build up to longer hikes. Children will often not have the endurance and stamina of adults, so it’s important to choose trails that are suitable for their age and ability level. As their stamina and confidence grow, you can gradually increase the distance and difficulty of the hikes. This approach helps to ensure that hiking remains a fun activity for the whole family. Pushing too hard, too early, could have negative long-term effect.

Community Tip #2: “Every Kid is Different”

Parents of multiple kids talked about how even each kid within a family can have different limits at a given age. Some kids are easily inspired by periodic snack rewards. Others will only hike for hours if engaged in play with siblings or friends. One daughter might just be less physically active than another was at that age. It’s important to take the time to understand each child’s individual motivations and abilities, and tailor your hiking plans accordingly.

Community Tip #3: “Try Treats, Games or Companions”

Many community parents talked about incentives and activities on the trail. Bringing along a favorite snack or treat can give children something to look forward to and help keep their energy levels up. A gummy reward at certain milestones was how one parent did this. Others found creative ways to engage their children with games like scavenger hunts. Adding a friend or sibling as a companion was also seen as a powerful way to encourage longer hikes.

Community Tip #4: “Give Then Some Independence”

Allowing kids to take the lead was also a common theme. This helps them build confidence and develop their outdoor skills. Depending on their age and ability level, children can be given tasks such as carrying their own backpack or water bottle, navigating the trail with a map or GPS device, or helping to set up camp or prepare meals. Giving kids the freedom to explore and play within safe boundaries, such as allowing them to climb on rocks or splash in a stream can turn their drudgery into fun. My girls actually enjoyed walking well behind me and having all sorts of wild and silly trail play as they walked.

Community Tip #5: “Switch Out Boots for Lightweight Shoes”

There is a saying in the hiking and backpacking community that 1 pound on your feet is like 5 on your back. Kids seem to get this idea intuitively and will often reject hiking boots. One parent described her kid’s “hate” of boots. Several respondents suggested avoiding boots, especially in favor of hiking sandals like Keen’s or Teva’s.

Community Tip #6: “Beware of Toddlers”

Toddlers were often described as highly unpredictable and generally challenging, and this has been true in my experience as well. One parent described how toddlers will suddenly demand to be carried (or just as suddenly refuse to be carried). Another talked about the sub-1-mph stop-and-go pace of his little guy. In past research on backpacking, many community members have suggested taking a break from backpacking during those difficult years.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the one mile for every year of life rule of thumb is a valid starting point for estimating a kid’s max hiking distance. However, each kid is unique and there are many strategies that you can employ to help your kid increase the distance they are willing and able to do. Just keep in mind what your most important goals are as you plan these experiences with your little ones. A high daily mileage count is probably not at the top of that list. A super conservative goal and pace is most likely to result in a positive family experience for a lifetime.

John Olsen

John Olsen is a seasoned adventurer with 20 years of writing, public speaking, team leadership, analytics and project management experience.

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