Just because you’re a parent doesn’t mean you have to hang up your pack for good. If anything, hiking becomes even more awesome now that you’ve got a mini in tow. Get ready to hit the trail as a family and enjoy every minute of it with our guide to hiking with a toddler.
Get a Great Backpack
When it comes to toting a toddler for hours on end, you’re only as good as your gear. This is when that flimsy, soft carrier you got at your baby shower isn’t going to cut it. You need something that offers structure, support, and padding for both you and your kid so that you don’t emerge at the end of the trail full of aches and pains. Your best bet is to take a trip to the nearest outdoor goods shop and test drive their carrier options in person. You’ll get an idea of what works for you (and what doesn’t) and it’s a good idea to see how your little on responds to their new ride. If you aren’t willing to invest in a hiking backpack just yet, see if any of your friends have one they’re willing to lend you. It’s also worth keeping an eye on local buy and sell groups as there are often great deals to be had on slightly used equipment.
Don’t Forget Fuel
One of the keys to a successful day on the trails with your tot is plenty of food and water. No one does well when they’re hungry or thirsty, especially not little ones. Take some time before your outing to plan out enough snacks and ensure that your water bottles are ready to go. Even on shorter excursions, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Try packing easy to eat foods like purees in reusable pouches (you’d be surprised at how excited toddlers get about purees), fresh fruit, sandwiches cut into bite-sized pieces, unsalted pretzels dipped in nut butter, dried fruit…the list goes on. Skip the plastic bags and wrap and opt for reusable containers.
Dress for the Weather
There’s not much worse than being halfway through a hike and finding yourself unprepared for an unexpected downpour. Or shivering your way through the last few miles because the sun was a no-show. When hiking with young children, comfort is key. Opt for layers that can easily be added or removed and don’t forget your rain gear. In cooler weather, keep an extra hat and mittens stashed in your pack, even if you don’t think you’ll need them.
Stay Safe in the Sun
Toddler skin is extra sensitive to the sun so it’s important to keep it protected. Before you hit the trail, liberally apply sunscreen to all exposed skin. Look for a product with an SPF of 30 and aim for a mineral sunblock. You’ll also need a wide-brimmed hat that won’t blow off in the wind or be easily removed by enthusiastic little hands. This is when under-the-chin straps are a real bonus. Make sure that the hat covers both the child’s face and their neck to avoid burns. If possible, dress your little one in lightweight clothing that covers as much exposed skin as possible. This can be tricky if you’re setting out on a hot day as you want to avoid overheating in the carrier so use your best judgment.
Let Them Roam
One of the best parts of hiking is feeling totally immersed in nature, breathing in the fresh air, and feeling the earth beneath your feet. Don’t deny your mini this amazing experience by keeping them confined to a backpack. On safe, flat parts of the trail, let your little one be free. Allow them to explore, to gather up pebbles and leaves, to splash in a cool stream, and to let their imaginations run wild.
Accessibility is Key
Take it from those who have been there before you: loading and unloading your baby backpack is not particularly fun. In order to keep things easier on everyone, ensure that your must-have items are easily within reach. Keep toys, water, snacks, and other toddler must-haves in the hip pockets of your pack or have your hiking partner carry them instead. That way, when you need a sippy cup, you don’t have to pull over, you just unzip, grab, and go. Another great option is to tether toys and bottles to the carrier so that your child can easily access whatever they need. Not only does this cut down on things being dropped (because they will be dropped) but helps mitigate whining as well.
Temper Your Expectations
Parents, this is key. Despite your best intentions, there’s a pretty good chance things aren’t going to go exactly as planned. That being said, if you have a toddler, you’re probably used to this. Sometimes your happy-go-lucky kid has a meltdown, refuses to nap, suddenly hates trail mix…the list goes on. Before setting out, make a promise to yourself that you’ll go with the flow and avoid sweating the small stuff. Trust us, it makes a huge difference