5 top tips for tantrum-free Christmas walks with the family

How to keep the ho ho ho in your holiday hiking adventures

winter family walk
(Image credit: Getty)

Going out for a wintery walk after Christmas dinner or a big Boxing Day blow-out is a tradition for many families, but inevitably, not everyone is equally enthusiastic about exploring frosty footpaths when the house is warm and full of treats, and sometimes such strolls can lead to tears and tantrums.

No one wants any narkiness to ruin the festival feel of the season, so it’s worth thinking things through before you drag a recalcitrant rabble off on an amble that could so easily end in acrimony.

As with any walk, there are ways to prevent your Yule-time yomp or Crimble bimble descending into a December disaster. Here are our top tips for keeping everything merry during a Christmas meander.

cold hands

(Image credit: Getty)

Make sure everyone stays warm and dry

Yes, it’s an obvious point. But sadly not everyone will turn up with the best winter coat or waterproof jacket, and you probably won’t have enough spares to go around, so you may need to improvise a little bit. If you know you’re going to be heading out for a hike in the cold after dinner, and you don’t want to listen to everyone whinging about having frozen fingers, invest in some cheap and cheerful hand warmers. Wait until the whining starts and then produce them – everyone will think you’re Santa.

You can’t expect everyone to come equipped with their best hiking boots or walking shoes, so having some spare wellies is a great idea. Wet feet are always a source of complaint, so chuck some spare walking socks in your backpack so people can put them on (they won’t be too fussy about sizes when their own are soggy). 

For shorter walks, when rain threatens, there are some surprisingly robust and capable umbrellas out there that can do a decent job of keeping walkers dry.

upset cold kid

(Image credit: Getty)

Gauge your walk to the least capable person in your party

Any good walk needs to be fun for everyone, or it will be miserable for all. If you have young children with you, or elderly folk or people who aren’t particularly fit, then keep the distance nice and short and make sure the terrain is easy. If you’re with a group that will enjoy a challenge, then push them a bit further, but always be mindful of you weakest link (which could, of course, be you). A bit of positive affirmation is good for everyone, so why not record how far you have walked, and how much climbing you have done on a smartwatch? Tell them what they’ve done at the end and congratulate them on their achievement.


(Image credit: Getty)

Take some toys

Hopefully you will have got all sorts of good stuff for Christmas, and if any of your new gifts are outdoor related, take them along for the walk. A good pair of binoculars can really liven up a walk if you spot some deer in the distance or birds in the trees, or if you’re lucky enough to be walking along the coast. If someone in your party scored a drone – especially one designed for kids or beginners, which are easy to operate and are less likely to have regulations around their use – take it out and give it a whirl. And if you got a new headlamp or torch in your stocking, take that out too – even during daylight hours there are good things to explore, such as caves and hollow trees.  

Thermarest Z-lite

The Thermarest Z-lite Sol make an excellent impromptu wild seat cover  

(Image credit: thermarest)

Bring a pew to enjoy the view

Unless you’re feeling exceptionally heroic, or you’re only going on a very short stroll, you probably won’t want to cart camping chairs on your walk (although there are some very light options), but people do appreciate it if they can sit down midwalk, and the ground and rocks are always wet and cold at this time of year. A good option is to take along a robust closed-cell foam camping mat like the Thermarest Z-lite Sol (don’t go taking an expensive inflatable mat, it’s not worth risking a puncture). 

Thermos flask

(Image credit: Getty)

Pack some punch with you

Usually everyone feels fit to burst after scoffing Christmas dinner or Boxing Day leftovers – that’s why we go on these mince-pie-burning bimbles in the first place – but after walking a couple of miles in the cold winter air, most people will appreciate a nip of something warm and restorative. And that is where a great thermos flask is worth its weight in gold. Many adults will love a tipple of an elixir such as mulled wine, while the kids love sweet hot chocolate – and both are capable of keeping people happy for the remainder of the hike.   

Pat Kinsella
Freelance outdoor writer

Author of Caving, Canyoning, Coasteering…, a recently released book about all kinds of outdoor adventures around Britain, Pat Kinsella has been writing about outdoor pursuits and adventure sports for two decades. In pursuit of stories he’s canoed Canada’s Yukon River, climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, skied and mountain biked across the Norwegian Alps, run ultras across the roof of Mauritius and through the hills of the Himalayas, and set short-lived speed records for trail-running Australia’s highest peaks and New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. A former editor of several Australian magazines he’s a longtime contributor to publications including Sidetracked, Outdoor, National Geographic Traveller, Trail Running, The Great Outdoors, Outdoor Fitness and Adventure Travel, and a regular writer for Lonely Planet (for whom he compiled, edited and co-wrote the Atlas of Adventure, a guide to outdoor pursuits around the globe). He’s authored guides to exploring the coastline and countryside of Devon and Dorset, and recently wrote a book about pub walks. Follow Pat's adventures on Strava and instagram.