Where did the idea of attempting to hike the Long Trail with three kids come from?
Back in 2002 I met my wife, Alyssa, while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT). That year a family of four thru-hiked the trail with us. We both dreamed of hiking the AT as a family too. As we got close to planning an attempt of the trail, when our older kids Charlie and Ruth were 8 and 6, respectively, we found out Alyssa was pregnant with our third child, Joe.
Fast forward to early 2021. The uncertainty of the global pandemic was in full swing. Charlie was 16, busy with high school sports, and I knew this might be our last chance to take a family hiking adventure. Due to scheduling, Alyssa could not join the hike that summer, but she offered to be our support team.
So, we sat down as a family to talk about whether thru-hiking the Long Trail would be an option. The kids knew it would involve sacrifice, but I was not surprised to hear that they were game. Alyssa and I always made it a priority to get outside and be active with the kids. Every adventure had two rules:
- Everyone had to join the adventure willingly and
- We celebrate at the end, usually with ice cream.
We did not want to force our kids into activities they did not want to join. This is the most important reason our Long Trail hike was a success.
We did food testing, gear checks, physical training, and logistics planning for the next five months before setting off in mid-July — one of the rainiest months on record.
Even though our kids have done a lot of backpacking, this would be their longest trip by far. Charlie and Ruth (14) were in great condition from sports training. However, Joe (8) and I (48) needed to prepare for the physical difficulty of the trail. I did not know if Joe could keep up the pace of nearly 10 miles a day for four weeks. Joe and I hiked in spring and early summer, talking about how the trail was going to be physically and mentally hard but that didn’t mean we couldn’t do it. Our favorite saying was “How do you climb a mountain? One step at a time.”
The mental challenge of hiking the Long Trail can sometimes be harder than the physical. This made planning our itinerary the hardest part for me. I had different concerns for each kid. I thought the longevity of the trip could be challenging for Joe, the monotony of the same routine day after day could be difficult for Ruth, and I was not sure if the trip would be physically challenging enough for Charlie.
- Related: Read about the hike from Charlie, Ruth, and Joe’s perspectives
- Video: Hiking the Long Trail with the Krebs Family
After all the planning, one important fact of long-distance hiking presented itself right away. You never know what will happen once you step on the trail. For us, it began with a night hike on our first day, trail magic the second, and heavy rain on the third. As we were hiking through the rain, Ruth was upset that we were missing out on the experience of the trail. This was when the kids began to realize that a long-distance hike is about the culmination of experiences together, over time, not just one moment.
I wanted to give my kids the opportunity to experience life in a different way through this hike. To feel the hardships and triumphs that the trail experience brings to us all and know that they can overcome life’s challenges just like they did hiking the trail. And hopefully, to have the confidence to take chances to pursue their dreams.
This post was written by GMC Operations Manager Matt Krebs. It appeared in the Spring 2022 edition of the Long Trail News under the headline “Thru-Hiking the Long Trail with Three Kids: The Krebs Family Adventure.”
Tips for Hiking with Kids
Start small, and keep it interesting. Try to avoid forcing your kids to hike. For younger kids, pick day hikes with lots of distracting features like bridges, water features, or stairs. Keep them occupied by asking if they can find the next blaze or a cool leaf.
Always pack plenty of snacks. As you can see in each Krebs kid’s reflections, food is a motivator on any hike! Keep a special snack or treat for the way down a mountain or for arrival at the car. On longer hikes, make sure your kids are eating enough to match their energy output.
Once your kids are ready for overnights, make sure they are not carrying too much. Ten to 20 percent of their body weight is a recommended maximum. Eight-year-old Joe’s pack weighed around 10 pounds, while Ruth and Charlie carried 30 pounds each.
Be flexible and have a back-up plan (or three). The Krebs dealt with soggy blistered feet and a sore ankle. On your first overnight, know the options for closer campsites or bailing out.
For more detail on getting started hiking with kids of any age, check out this article.