If you are interested in learning how to get more hiking in with your Toddlers and get more enjoyment out of the hike then you should read a bit further. My family plans a hike just about every weekend with our toddler Juna (3 year old), baby Liela (9 months), our dog Canoe (8 year old), and my Partner Megan.
I am going to take you through a few of the tips that we have used over the last two years of hiking with our toddler. I think that by the end you will have at least a few valuable tips that you can add for your next hiking trip. I hope that I might inspire you to get out this weekend where ever you are.
Leave a comment below or send me an email and let me know what part of the world you are in and if you found these tips helpful.
Hiking with Toddlers
- Timing is key
- Essential Gear
- Make it fun
I will go into a little more detail to explain what I mean by each of these Toddler Tips. I hope you can grab a few for your next outting.
Timing is Key
It seems like we are always thinking about nap time. When is the next nap time and how do we fit it into the daily schedule. From my experience I have found that it is good to mix in the hike around nap time. We might start on the trail and get some mileage in before putting our daughter up in the carrier to get a snooze before making it back to the car. Whether your kid sleeps early or later, you will get a few more miles in if you hike while around nap time.
You should always plan on extra time for your hike. We have discovered that we plan on twice as much time for our hikes then we used to without kids. Kids love to stop a lot and check out things. This is great and should be encouraged so just give yourself extra time for the hike and you will be more relaxed.
Along with leaving extra time, is making sure start early. It’s never a good idea to start a hike late in the day. There are many safety concerns that I will discuss later, but for now just remember that earlier is usually better.
We just finished up a 4 mile hike this weekend and it was about right. I used to hike 10 miles or more per day. Those days are long gone with kids for now. Your length and time of hike is determined on a case by case basis but my rule of ½ usually works for us.
Cut in ½ the length of the hike you do without kids. If you used to do 10 miles try 5 or fewer to start with. Start with this and see how it goes. You might have to shorten or lengthen the hike depending on how well the kids do.
Since we live in the Pacific Northwest we are able to hike throughout the year in most years. We definitely wait for those sunny winter days to do our hikes. For your own area you need to determine which time of year is the best for you and plan the majority of your trips in this period.
Mix things up for the kids because they get bored. Don’t spend to much time doing any one thing. Your toddlers will likely let you know what there own timing is.
Essential Gear and Food
What do all animals on the planet need? Food, Water and Shelter. No different for hiking with toddlers. Here are a few key items to be thinking about during your next trip: Snacks, water, extra clothes, sun cover, good shoes, kid carrier, field guide (for you)
Always, always, always have snacks. For safety and so your kids stay tolerable. A hungry kid hiking is never fun for anyone. Take a look at our article on how to put together your own trail mix recipe. The little squeeze pouches also work great and the kids can eat while they are in the pack.
Water is kind of a no brainer but an important item to remember. I bring along a camel back and an extra bottle for backup. My daughter loves the camel back and usually drinks more water because she always sees the water cord hanging there. Always have the kids and yourself drink extra water then you think. Heat induced injuries can happen quickly so remember to focus on it (see the first tip in this article).
Always bring some extra clothes. Weather patterns can change quickly when outdoors so plan on the worst. I use the tip of making sure the kids are wearing one more layer than you are. A good rule of thumb, but you can still ask them occasionally how they are feeling as well.
Some type of sun block is very important while out on your excursion. Either sunscreen, a hat or a sun cover on the pack are easy items to include. These kids are going to have a life of sun exposure so lets help them out and protect them in their early years.
Good shoes are key especially if you are hiking on dirt trails. For comfort and stability spend a little extra to get your kid a good pair. We have a pair we use just for trails.
We love the Boba carrier but there are a bunch out there. The Boba puts your toddler on your chest which I really enjoy. Many of the larger backpack carriers work great as well. Check out this link to see a number of models that REI offers.
A good plant guide, trail guide or the like is also helpful. Your kids are going to be stopping a lot and looking at things. Why not use this opportunity to teach them about nature. That little bug, shrub or tree can tell an amazing story about the ecology of the natural system that is around you. Even in the city nature is there we just need to dig a little deeper to discover it. Read about the trail and species present before hand. You will enjoy the hike more as well.
As a parent we are always doing whatever we can to keep our kids safe. The same is true in the woods because there are many different dangers then what we normally find in town. I will briefly touch on a few here.
First think about the area you are going into. Are there any animals or physical hazards that you should be aware of. Ticks and cliffs are two things I find myself always thinking about (see the last tip here for tick invormation). You may still be able to go into these areas, but you will just want to prepare a little further. Maybe you can avoid some of these dangers or bring equipment that minimizes the risk.
What other common hazards are there to be aware of. What might be minor to us are a big deal to our kids. Is the terrain wet or slippery? Are there other trail obstacles that make hiking difficult? Are your kids feet slipping as they go up a hill. Maybe a better pair of boots will solve the problem? Are you going to be in direct sunlight all day or are there places where you can take cover from the elements. If not you might want to think about alternative plans.
Timing was already covered earlier but I just want to strengthen the point here. Always allow more time than you think you need. This not only makes for an easier day usually but can really provide that safety outlet when things do occur.
I like to always have some type of survival kit in my bag. It might be as simple as a couple bandaids and a safety blanket. Just these two items can make a hug difference if you find yourself in a difficult situation and have to stay overnight somewhere.
Make it fun
This is where the hiking journey really comes together strong. Always be thinking about how you can make the trip fun for your kids. It’s not always going to be perfect but there are a few things you can do to make the experience better for the kids.
Take the time to explain the little things in nature. I know our daughter loves picking up sticks, looking at plants and bugs. Let them know what they are looking at. These kids are amazing and smart so don’t think for one minute they aren’t taking it all in. Take a class yourself or read a book about ecology so you can clarify and teach.
Make sure to celebrate the successes with them. Just as life is a journey, so is the hiking experience. In both situations you should be celebrating the small successes along the way. Tell them that they are awesome when they make it up that big hill and give them a little extra time to do it. Make it a big party when you get to your destination.
Think of a few songs you can sing on the way there or the way back. Do a google search for some fun hiking/camping songs.
As mentioned previously, don’t rush. We find that we talk to a lot more people along the trail with a toddler. On some busier hikes make the time to connect with people out there.
Set up a fun family photo. Although our daughter doesn’t love getting her picture taken she loves taking pictures. Let her help you take that beautiful scenic picture. Tell them what you are doing as you are setting up pics. If you have an old point and shoot let them take their own pictures or at least copy what we are doing.
I hope you found a few tips in here that will help benefit your next trip on the trail. My call to action is that all of us plan at least one trip within the next week for a date in the future. Do a little research to find a good place for the kids and plan for it. If you can get out in the next week just go for a hike nearby to get the juices flowing.
If you have been out recently with the kids leave a comment below and let me know how it went. I hope you enjoyed this article on hiking with toddlers and hope your next hike is a great one.