Hiking with toddlers.
What comes to mind when you think of packing your little one on a trek?
Maybe you think of exposing your kid to the great outdoors and one of your favorite activities. Or maybe you cringe as you imagine meltdowns and whining and constant demands for snacks.
The reality is that even if you have a little sidekick, you can still go on some incredible hikes. You can enjoy your hike and you may even teach your little one to love the trails as much as you do.
You just have to prepare properly. So we’ve put together this toddler hiking survival guide.
- The Benefits of Taking Your Toddler on a Hike
- Your Survival Guide for Hiking with Your Toddler
- Don’t Shy Away from Hiking with Toddlers
The Benefits of Taking Your Toddler on a Hike
It might be tempting to skip the hikes until your kiddo is older, but there are many reasons why you should hit the trails with your toddler.
#1. Establishing a Lifestyle of Fitness
Physical fitness isn't just something you work on here and there. Instead, it's a lifestyle choice.
You should establish an active lifestyle with your child as early as possible. If your child sees you being active, he or she will want to be active, too.
Hiking is an excellent way to get some exercise because it’s enjoyable as well.
#2. Fosters a Love of Nature
Hiking is a great choice for toddlers because they naturally love being outside and exploring nature.
Hiking helps to foster that love and gives your child an appreciation for nature.
With all of the issues going on with climate change, kids must understand the importance of taking care of our environment.
#3. Builds Self Confidence
Another benefit of hiking is that it builds up your child's self-confidence and strengthens family bonds.
Kids, even (and especially) toddlers, get a sense of satisfaction when they accomplish a challenging task. Your little one will be so proud to reach a destination.
Hiking also encourages your family to spend time together, away from screens and other distractions, which is confidence building in it’s own right.
Your Survival Guide for Hiking with Your Toddler
Now that we’ve reinforced your belief in hiking with your toddler, here’s how to do it successfully, minimize meltdowns and ensure as smooth of a trek as possible.
Step 1: Manage Your Expectations
Before you set foot on a trail, it's important that you manage your own expectations.
If you're an avid hiker, prepare yourself for a different sort of hike. Your toddler isn't going to make it ten miles over treacherous terrain.
Think of the hike as time to spend with your child and introduce them to nature. Focus on what you're doing and seeing instead of worrying about how far or fast you're going.
Your child may notice things you don't, like an interesting insect or a unique tree. Treasure this time when your child is full of wonder. You'll have plenty of time for longer hikes when they're older.
Step 2: Choose Your Trail Wisely
Research the Trail Before You Go
Just like if you were planning a hike on your own, if you're trying out a new trail, spend some time reading about it before your hike. Pay close attention to how others describe the hike and difficulty level so you know what to expect.
You want fairly flat and even terrain when hiking with a toddler. You should be able to find lots of information online about what a trail is like so you can be prepared.
Work Your Way Up to Longer Hikes
Don't expect your child to endure a long hike, even if you bring a carrier. It's best to start with a short hike and build up to longer hikes over time. Your first few hikes may be only 20-30 minutes, but after a while, you may be surprised at how far your child will want to go. Once they get the hiking bug, you'll be unstoppable.
Try Not to Hike Alone
While it may not always be possible, it's a good idea to hike with another adult. It's so much easier to have a second set of hands and someone to help you carry the gear and your child. Another adult can also be helpful in an emergency.
If you're a single parent or if your partner doesn't enjoy hiking, try to find a friend to go with you. You can also search for local hiking groups to find other parents who may also be looking for a hiking partner.
Don't Always Hike the Same Trail
Variety is the spice of life. Just as you wouldn't want to hike the same trail every time you go out, your child doesn't want to either. Look for several trails in your area where you can hike, and try not to go to the same place every time. Mix it up as much as possible. If you don't have many trails near you, then try to hike different parts of the same trail.
Consider Safety Precautions
You should start teaching your toddler about hiking safety before their first hike.
Make sure your child understands not to wander off, but always keep an eye on your child as well. Toddlers are easily distracted. Dressing your child in bright colors can help you keep up with them.
You should also get a whistle for your child and attach it to their clothes or backpack. Teach your child to blow the whistle so they can use it in case you are separated.
Always follow the basic hiking rules for safety, such as telling others where you're going, packing extra food and water, and bringing a first aid kit.
Step 3: Time Your Hikes
While some kids are flexible, others are fixed on their schedule.
If you have one of the latter, it's important to time your hikes so that you can avoid those times when your child is grumpy due to hunger or sleepiness.
Hiking with a toddler is challenging enough with throwing whining into the mix. Conversely, if you have a young toddler who you want to sleep while in the carrier, you can plan your hike during naptime.
Step 4: Prep Your Backpack Carrier
Even if you want your kiddo to walk at least some of the hike, it’s unrealistic to expect them to make the entire trek on their own two legs and you’ll set yourself up for failure if you aren’t prepared to carry them.
Swap out your normal pack with a hiking backpack carrier.
Look for one that is sturdy and lightweight. Try out several with your child to make sure it's comfortable for them and you. A good carrier will distribute your child's weight evenly and should have some extra space to pack your necessities.
You also have the option of getting an all-terrain stroller for your hike, but it may not navigate easily through bumpier or narrow terrains.
Step 5: Make Sure You Have Everything You Need
You really don’t want to forget anything when you venture out on a trial with your kid in tow.
While you may not need much when hiking alone, it's important to plan ahead and have everything you'll need if the unexpected happens.
What to Pack for Your Hike
Here's what we recommend you include in your hiking bag:
- Water bottles
- Snacks, lots of snacks (see ideas below)
- Diapers and wipes (if needed)
- One change of clothes, underwear and socks
- First-aid kit
- Bug spray
- Toilet paper
- Cell phone
- Lightweight raincoats
These items should have you covered no matter what happens while you're on the trail.
Protip: Bring a bag for your kiddo too. Kids love to have their own bag and she can carry her own snacks too. This will help her want to walk for a longer distance.
Kids this age love to have their own backpack and feel responsible for their things. Don't load it up so it's heavy. Just include a few snacks, or get a Camelback so your child is in charge of their own water.
Don’t Overpack for Your Hike
On the other hand, you don't want to overpack. Even if you have an older toddler who usually walks on their own, as we mentioned earlier, you'll be carrying your kid at some point almost definitely. You don't want to throw a heavy bag into the mix.
Your best plan is make sure you have the bare necessities and a couple of items to prepare you for the unexpected. Also look for items that can do double duty, such as wet wipes that can also be used as toilet paper.
Step 6: Make It Fun For Your Child
You want to ensure that your kid has fun on his first hike so that he’s open to going with you again in the future.
To do that, there are a few tips to add some extra sparkle to the adventure.
Give Your Child Time to Explore
With a younger toddler, you may find yourself carrying your child for a good portion of the hike. However, it's important that you give your toddler time to stretch their legs.
Find open areas along the trail where you can let your child run around. If your goal is to get your child to love hiking, you need to give them time to explore and enjoy the trail.
If possible, you should also give your child time to walk the trail. Over time, they'll build up their strength until eventually you can do a hike without a carrier.
Make It a Game
While you may enjoy hiking for the walk and the beauty of nature itself, your toddler may not be quite as enthused. You may need to make it interesting to hold your child's interest. Try to make the hike into a game, and your kid will be excited to keep moving and will want to go again the next time.
There are many ways you can make the hike fun. Race between trees. Play I Spy. Play follow the leader and let your child lead. Find interesting leaves. Download a nature scavenger hunt so you have things to look for along the way.
Another way to make the hike fun for everyone is to add in geocaching. If you're new to the world of geocaching, the premise is fairly simply. All over the world, people hide tiny treasure boxes and enter their GPS coordinates into an online database. You can use a GPS or an app on your phone to find the geocaches.
There's almost always a geocache nearby. Your toddler will love looking for the treasure box as you get closer and closer. In some cases, there might be a small trinket for your child to keep. Make sure to bring some trinkets of your own to leave for the next finder.
Geocaching can be a good option because it gives your hike more of a purpose, at least in your toddler's eyes. While your child may not get the point of walking in the woods, they'll definitely understand the desire to find treasure.
Offer Lots of Praise
Finally, make sure to give your toddler lots of praise and encouragement.
Being physically active is tough on anyone, even little ones. Praising your child makes hiking into a rewarding experience for both of you and it's important to acknowledge your child's accomplishments.
Step 7: Stock Up on Snacks
Snacks are so important when it comes to hiking with a toddler. You can use nutritious snacks to keep your child's energy level up, and you can use a treat to encourage your toddler if they get tired of the hike.
Here are a few snack ideas to consider:
- Goldfish or other crackers
- Cheese sticks
- Dried fruit
- Mandarin oranges
- Fruit snacks
- Protein bar (choose one made for kids)
While trail mix is a popular hiking snack, it's not recommended for kids under the age of four, since nuts are a choking hazard.
Instead, make your own toddler-friendly trail mix with cheerios, raisins, marshmallows, goldfish, M&Ms, and any other small food your child loves.
Step 8: Dress Your Child Appropriately
An uncomfortable kid is an unhappy kid. Make sure to dress your child appropriately.
Check the weather before you go. Synthetic fabrics that are made to wick away moisture are best. If it's chilly, dress your child in layers so you can keep them comfortable throughout the day.
Even during summertime, it's best to dress your toddler in a lightweight shirt and pants. These clothes will offer added sun and bug protection.
While you don't have to buy hiking shoes, your toddler will at least need a good pair of sneakers with closed toes and ankle support. Choose socks according to weather and make sure they are high enough to prevent rubbing from the shoes.
It's important to make sure that both shoes and socks fit well to avoid blisters.
Step 9: Check the Weather
It's vital that you check the weather before you go.
You don't want to be caught out in a thunderstorm with your little one. You may also want to think twice before hiking when it's very cold or very hot.
If your kid is miserable, it's not going to be a fun hike for anyone.
Don’t Shy Away from Hiking with Toddlers
Hiking is a great way to bond with your child and with nature.
With the tips above, you and your little one should be ready to hit the trails. Get outdoors and start your big adventure.