Many first time parents are under the impression that once they add a baby to the family, adventures will suddenly come to a screeching halt. While children certainly change the pace of an outdoor adventure, babies and toddlers are surprisingly resilient and fun to hike with.
Hiking with babies and toddlers is more art than science— what works for one family may not work for another, but here are a few tips and tricks that we’ve picked up as our family has grown.
- We take a base camp approach when we leave our car at the trailhead. In it, we stash extra clothing, shoes, diapers, wipes, snacks and anything else our children might need before or after a hike. This way we can lighten our load and, depending on the duration of the hike, only bring what we need.
- We pack diapers inside of a quart sized ziploc bag along with 3-4 diaper wipes in a snack-sized ziploc bag. When it’s time for a diaper change on the trail we simply exchange the dirty diaper for a fresh one and have an easy, convenient way to pack out the soiled diaper and wipes.
- Toddlers as young as two can start carrying their own daypacks. Our toddler carries his own pack with a water bottle, snacks, a warm hat, a small headlamp and a space blanket. His pack weighs next to nothing, and we like the thought of him getting used to carrying his own gear and having a few essential items if he became separated from us.
- It’s important to think through how to transport children that can’t yet walk and toddlers that might get tired after just a short distance. For us this is a key factor when we choose a trail to hike as a family. When hiking with multiple adults and children, it’s best to use a combination of baby carriers. We like a front carrier for babies under 6 months old, and a backpack carrier for older babies and toddlers.
- When children outnumber adults, we look for trails that will accommodate a jogging stroller, so one child can be pushed and the other one carried. I’ve also slowly schlepped along with a toddler in a backpack carrier and a baby in a front carrier. This technique is not ideal for long distances, but works for shorter hikes where you’re looking for a good workout or hikes where one child is too tired to make it back to the car.
- Bring carriers and jogging strollers along but let toddlers walk as much as they can (and as long as you have the patience to hike at their pace). Hiking will help improve toddler’s balance, coordination and gross motor skills.
- It’s easy to spot a child when they’e dressed in bright colors and it’s easy for a child to spot a grown-up if we’re wearing bright colors too!
- Toddlers can learn the ‘Hug A Tree’ method if they are lost. The steps are to stop, sit down next to a tree and blow a whistle. We practice this with our toddler when we hike and he always hikes with a whistle around his neck.
- We like to hike with our toddler between two adults or directly in front of us so we can see him.
- Front baby carriers can be hot in the summer. We like to stop frequently to let babies out of the carrier to cool down and, if it’s really hot, we slip an ice pack in the front pocket of the carrier. A wide brimmed hat with a chinstrap is also a must on our summer packing list.
A Few Games to Keep Toddlers Motivated
- When our toddler’s little legs get tired we take a break for food and water and then we try to play games to distract him until we can get back to the trailhead. Some of our favorites are:
- To play “I spy”and see if we can find a deer/chipmunk/moose/bear/mountain lion/baby bird/snake/elk/yellow wildflower/bumble bee, etc.
- To march and call out, “left, right, left, right”as we walk down the trail.
- To toss pine cones down the trail and see how far they will go.
- Counting our steps.
- Making up silly songs and singing them as loudly or quietly as we can.
- Making a train with two trekking poles or sticks and having our toddler hold onto each end and pretend to ride the train.
We’ve learned not to set speed and distance goals when hiking with babies and toddlers, sometimes we spend more time playing with a log on the side of the trail than we actually do hiking— other times we never loose sight of the trailhead. But, with a little bit of planning and a little bit of patience, hiking with babies and toddlers can be a great way to see the outdoors.