1. Please introduce yourself.
My name is Jennifer Johnson, and I’m a homeschooling mama of 2 children and a freelance writer.
2. What’s the story behind thehikermama.com? What was the trigger for starting it?
I had been blogging for several years before starting thehikermama.com.
I started my initial blog as a way to capture fleeting moments from my young childrens’ lives. That blog is now defunct, but it helped me get my feet wet. I was writing trip reports for every hike and posting them on the website for the Washington Trails Association and nwhikers.net, and decided to take the step to create my own blog and website with resources for parents who wanted to hike with their kids.
3. How important is hiking for you and what was your best hike?
Hiking is how I care for my spirit and reset my mind. It keeps me grounded and gives me moments of peace and beauty amidst my hectic life.
My children have also expressed how important hiking is for their mental health, and they have grown to appreciate the wilderness as much as I do. I don’t think I could pick one best hike, but I love the North Cascades and Mount Rainier National Park.
4. Please give us a little more about “The Ten Essentials”.
I have a strong inner drive to always be prepared. That means I am serious about bringing the 10 Essentials. I have used most of these Essentials at one time or another. I find it even more important to carry extra gear when with my children, since they are more vulnerable to the elements. Sun protection, rain gear and extra warm clothes are the most critical for us, as well as a first aid kit.
We have used our headlamps when a hike took more time than expected. We have had issues with borderline hypothermia, so we make sure to have handwarmers and hot drinks or a stove along on those cool shoulder season or winter hikes. We often encounter adverse weather.
We’ve needed a map many times, and recently our car broke down miles out of cell range on a gravel road, so I had to use my PLB to text my husband to arrange a tow truck for us.
It means we are carrying larger packs than most casual hikers, but I know we are as safe as we can be, and if something goes wrong we can handle it. I also took a Wilderness First Aid course to beef up my knowledge of what to do when I can’t call 911.
5. What are the specific challenges/difficulties when hiking with children?
The biggest difficulty for me was surrendering to the fact that hikes with my kids were going to be different than hiking alone. Hiking with children will cause a parent to develop incredible patience. I have to bring along more food and water than just by myself. The packing and unpacking takes much longer, though my kids are getting old enough to pack their own packs now.
I’m constantly having to walk a fine line of knowing how far to push them and when to back off and let them rest. The hardest ages for me were from about 3-5 years old, when they were too heavy to carry, but couldn’t walk very far or fast. It’s also tough to find other adults and kids to hike with us, or who want to drive far enough out of the city to get to some wilder trails.
But despite these challenges, the rewards are totally worth it!
6. Please give 5 tips for the beginner hiker.
- Do your research. Learn where the easier trails are, find out about road conditions and parking passes.
- Start with the gear you have and build up as your budget allows. But get the best gear your budget will allow.
- Take the time to really look around you while you’re out. Listen to the sounds of the birds and the water. Learn native plants or rocks or whatever interests you.
- Look around for an online hiking community or forum to join. I learned so much from local websites and community forums, found trails to explore, and even made some new friends and hiking partners.
- Try not to be in a rush, especially when hiking with children. Enjoy the time outside. Turn off your cell phone and take a long lunch break.
7. What is your favorite hiking gear?
That’s a tough question! I love getting new gear. Right now I’m looking forward to cooler days so I can wear my SmartWool shirts again. I will say I’m grateful for companies that make child-specific hiking gear. If my kids are in the same conditions I am, it makes sense they should have gear as good as I have.
8. What tools do you use and do you own a multi tool? Tell us more about that.
I have a tiny Leatherman Micra that lives in my first aid kit. I use the scissors the most, for Moleskin and bandages. I have a larger REI pocket knife that I use for kitchen duty, such as cutting sausage and cheese.
My son is now starting to get into knives, and he will usually bring 2 or 3 with him on a trip. We’re not usually far enough off trail to warrant much knife use, but it makes him feel cool.
9. What outdoor gear do you usually review on your blog?
I like to talk about gear that has served me well, either that I’ve bought or that was sent to me from a company. I am very picky about the gear I agree to review. I want to make sure it fits with my purpose and my readers. Lately I’ve had the good fortune to review camera packs and other gear from Lowepro. Their bags have been excellent for me, and I’m thankful they trust me with their gear.
10. Who is your favorite hiker and explorer?
There are several families that inspire me in their hiking and explorations:
Trish Herr and her daughters Sage and Alex just completed the John Muir Trail in August.. She wrote an excellent book about hiking with her daughters. Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure is an inspirational and truthful look at taking young children on difficult hikes – Trishalexsage.com.
Bretwood Higman and Erin McKittrick are a husband and wife team who have done some incredible adventures, both before they had children and after their little ones were born. Erin’s most recent book, Small Feet, Big Land, is about their 2-month adventure on the Malaspina Glacier in Alaska in the autumn with two children in diapers. Groundtruthtrekking.org/Book-Small-Feet-Big-Land
The Tougas family, also homeschoolers, are hiking the Appalachian Trail this year together. I’ve followed Renee’s blog FIMBY for several years, and have enjoyed reading about her family’s progression to long-distance hiking. Fimby.tougas.net
Michael Lanza from The Big Outside takes his kids all over the country. His book Before They’re Gone: A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks is full of thought-provoking reasons to get your kids outside, as well as truthful stories of what it’s like to do that – Thebigoutside.com
11. What is your message to your readers and fans?
I try to encourage other parents to get out into nature with their children. Hiking trails in our area are just a part of that – I also try to encourage parents with smaller steps, such as getting out into a local park or bird watching. There are so many reasons to get outside, and there is much to discover if we take the time to look.