Hiking with a baby or toddler might sound daunting. Ever since we started dating, we have always loved adventuring into the outdoors. For the last several years, and especially after we got married, hiking has become a big part of that! Before we had our little boy, it was admittedly a lot easier. We lived in Colorado, and often would decide the night before, “Hey, we should hike a mountain tomorrow.” Then the next day we would wake up before dawn, load up a couple backpacks with plenty of water and snacks, and head up into Rocky Mountain National Park.
Flash forward a few years, and we have a toddler in tow! Adventuring on every level has become more fulfilling, but also more challenging. With each new venture we take him on, we are constantly discovering new ways parenting in the outdoors and staying adventurous is not always easy. However, it always ends up a great family experience no one should shy away from, and somehow does continue to get more fun with each outing even alongside the trials. Preparedness goes a LONG way, so I want to share with you what we have learned so far. Hiking with a baby or toddler is more than doable!
Hiking with a Baby
- Bring extra layers, and lots of diapers. This is particularly if you are hiking longer than a mile or two. The last thing you want is for your little one to get too cold or to soil themselves completely and be stuck in it because you underestimated the weather and/or their bladder. Blow outs mean something entirely new once you are a parent, am I right?! A light blanket is also a good idea.
- A great baby carrier is a must! We started out using the Baby Bjorn carrier, but my husband has always been insistent of carrying the little on our hiking trips and the Bjorn was not that comfortable for him to use extensively. We switched to the LILLEbaby Complete, and it has been a lifesaver! Our kiddo has now grown to 30 pounds and this still works well for him, and mine and my husband’s comfort.
- Get clips to put on the carrier or yourself (or just whatever you are comfortable with) and bring toys/binkies/etc. to keep baby entertained! I am not saying nature itself isn’t enough, but babies don’t have the best eyesight in the world depending on when you start hiking with them, so it is nice for them to have something right in front of them to look at/hold/chew on. This is especially nice if they are faced towards you, or if they are teething (which our fella started nice and early!) I don’t bring any light up or electronic type toys because to me this defeats the purpose of getting outdoors, and newborns can easily become overstimulated.
- Start off small. Don’t make your first hike with a baby in tow a strenuous or long venture. Give yourself some time with a few short trips to learn to adjust to your new way of adventuring so you can learn what is best for you. We learned quickly that our system worked best when my husband carried the baby on his front in a carrier and a light backpack on his back with the baby’s necessities such as diapers, wipes, blankets, extra clothes, etc. He also learned to pack himself an extra shirt after being peed on multiple times (haha! Dad life.) On my back I carry the basic necessities for us—emergency kit, plenty of water, food, etc. This is just what works for us.
- Food for baby of course! We are fortunate our little guy was able to breastfeed, so formula and bottles were not something we had to worry about. I made sure to account for this by bringing myself extra water, though— We don’t want any dehydrated mamas! If you do give your baby bottles, just be sure you pack enough formula in separate, premeasured containers and make sure you are accounting for the extra water needed. There were a couple times that we were supplementing with formula and so when I knew we would be hiking, we bought premixed formula in the 2 – 4 oz already prepped bottles. These come with their own sterilized nipples, so we didn’t have to worry about extra water or an extra container of formula. Whatever works best for you and saves the most space is what is ideal. If it will be cold out, know that they do make portable bottle warmers too. We found one used that worked great 😊
- Having a hat or shade and sunscreen for your little one is recommended. Their skin is so sensitive and prone to being burnt, and not to mention their tiny bright eyes already have a lot of adjustments to make. Sun glaring down in a little one’s face is a sure way to make them grumpy.
Hiking with a Toddler
- Good traction shoes are my first recommendation. It did not take long for us to realize that not all baby and toddler shoes are created equally! So many of them are purely for style, and not well fitted for the outdoors if any sort of slope or dirt pathway is involved. Flip the shoes over, and make sure they have traction—not unlike we would do for ourselves! That way your little one can walk without slipping all over the place, and it is more enjoyable of a trip for everyone.
- Sun protection is so easy to overlook, but always of great significance. We use as pure of a zinc oxide sunscreen as we can find since our wee one has such sensitive skin, but whatever sunscreen you normally use along with some sort of an adventurous hat (though our boy always rips his right off) is recommended!
- Making sure you have enough food and water is especially critical now. Not only is it a basic necessity, but food can be a great way to keep your curious one occupied or a good means of taking a break—definitely bring along their favorite snack! Along with food and water, a first aid kit is very important. An antiseptic, Neosporin, band-aids and bandages, and any medication that you or your child could need. Our baby boy has a nut allergy, so we always have disinfectant wipes, two EpiPen’s and an antihistamine on hand, and try to have an emergency signal and whistle with us as well.
- There have been a handful of trails we have gone on where people throw the shells of peanuts and other nuts behind them as they go along… Please do not do this! It makes it dangerous and stressful for people with food allergies, particularly small children who do not know any better, and wouldn’t take much more effort/cause a risk to you to dispose of them elsewhere. Always be respectful.
- Layers! Bring extra layers for everyone, but especially for your toddler! You are outside, where nature can be messy—and sometimes wet. You can’t always stop them from jumping into that puddle or running to put their toes in that little stream, so an extra layer along with an extra set of everything (shoes included if possible!) is a good idea. In other words, another pair of socks, a long sleeve and short sleeve shirt, pants, etc. I know it seems like a lot, but really toddler clothes are already so small, and you can fold them up efficiently to make them even smaller. Being comfortable goes a long way!
- A positive and explorative mindset. This is perhaps the most essential thing to bring with you if you are hiking with a toddler and want to have a good time together. At this age, your little kiddo will want to wander a bit and take it all in because they are so naturally inquisitive—this is part of the fun of being young!
- You might want to just get the hike done, but for the sake of everyone’s sanity I suggest letting yourself take it slower. Step back for a moment and just watch your tot. The last hike we went on, when we slowed down our pace and let him explore on his own, he started finding rocks and sticks and pretended they were a pet on a leash (I don’t know how they come up with the things they do!)
- For an added bonus: turn it into a learning experience for them! Let them be curious and take it easy and answer the endless questions they are sure to have about the beautiful world around them. After you get home, talk about your experiences of the day; even if they themselves don’t have much to say back this will help boost so many parts of their growing and flourishing brains.
Biggest piece of advice? Take a deep breath of fresh air, and take it all in mommies and daddies 😊
Did I miss anything you would add? Hiking and remaining adventurous with a new little family member in tow is so rewarding, so I hope that these tips on essentials help!
Remember, pack it in, pack it out.
Stay safe, and keep exploring!