People often think adventuring outdoors with a newborn must have come naturally to me. Or they assume I was just a hardcore outdoors person pre-baby. Neither was the case. While I may look like a seasoned veteran with my now five-year-old, I only got here through a lot of trial and error and advice from others around me. Now I feel it’s my duty to pay this knowledge forward, so here goes for those of you who are hesitant to get on the path with your little one.
Bring what you really need on trail and nothing more. Two nappies if you have an explosive baby. One bottom change or a onesie. The top won’t usually get soiled. Leave the rest in the car. If you have to carry extra, how can you make it lighter? Collapsible water bottles for example can be a great way to keep your load lighter.
CARRIERS ARE KEY
A quality carrier can make or break whether or not your little one likes to hike. Hand-me-downs are great, but when it comes to carriers, if you want to get out a lot, do the research. Try a lot of brands and don’t get one just because it’s cute. Get it because it’s functional and will let you hike an hour or more comfortably without back pain. An infant usually won’t complain about being snuggled up against your chest on hikes. A toddler, however, might throw a fit. Make sure as your child evolves, so does your carrier. When my son, Mason was an infant, we used a Baby K’Tan because it was like a sling but had some support and was easy to get on and off. We graduated to an Onya Baby for lumbar support as he got heavier. Now we switch between that and a Deuter frame carrier depending on the type of hike and weather. The frame carrier isn’t good for a lot of ups and downs (if your child tends to want to switch alot), but it’s great for protection from sun, rain or snow or you need space to carry things.
DON’T FORGET THE TEETHERS AND A BLANKET!
Teething babies are no fun on trail, so remember to take teething beads. Make sure they are on a necklace or tether so you won’t lose it midway through a hike as well. A teether keeps them busy and calm while teething and the soft blanket is a perfect place to put your precious one when you take a break. If you haven’t tried a chewy of some sort yet and you are experiencing a regularly super fussy baby, sore gums could be the cause.
“Hiking with kids is an adventure in itself, regardless of where you are going. You really never know how it’s going to go.”
PICK YOUR TRAIL WISELY
What may once have been a short hike for you, now could be a pretty epic adventure with a fussy baby. Gauge how your little one is doing. Stop often, and if things are going well, honestly assess a turnaround point. Better to start heading back early over having an unhappy child to battle with at the end of a hike.
SNACK IT UP
If you’ve weaned, bring snacks you know will work. Don’t experiment with new foods on trail. A hangry (hungry and angry) baby is not a fun hiking partner. I often travel with lollipops or gummy bears so if things are going bad, I have an emergency solution. My son isn’t food-driven, but a little bit of sweet stuff when out walking will often calm down a tantrum.
FIND A COMMUNITY
Having a community to help motivate you and show you new walks makes it so much easier. Even now after three years of hiking all around Portland, people in my hike group still continually introduce me to new trails. Also, the more kids on a hike together, especially at that three- to five-year-old stage, the more likely they are to motivate each other. We have walked six miles with five-year-olds because there were other kids to keep them motivated.
DIFFERENT TRAILS FOR DIFFERENT AGES
As your child grows up, different paths will work for him or her better. With little ones, you can hike almost anywhere with good footing. As they get older, you’ll want to be aware of steep drop-offs, a lot of turns in the trail and things like falling rocks and slippery roots. New walkers are unbalanced, and while trails are excellent training ground for them, if they fall over every other step, it can be frustrating for them. Look at the trail you’re adventuring on with a child’s eye. Look at the ground and what’s in the way. A little incline for you might be Mt. Everest for a two-year-old.
SONGS AND BUBBLES
One of the easiest ways to deal with child meltdowns is serious distractions. Bubbles and songs can help a lot with this. I am a terrible singer but I have gotten pretty good at “Wheels on the Bus” and “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”. Bubbles combined with song can really help move the hike along and get you through rough patches.
Shanti is the founder of Hike it Baby. ‘Over the last few years I’ve spent more time outside on adventures than I ever had before baby. It’s my mission to convince the world that hiking is the best gateway into loving the outdoors and making friends.’
VISIT hikeitbaby.com to find a community of walkers
READ Outdoor Adventures with Children series from Cicerone
10 TIPS TO GETTING STARTED
- Create a regular walk day for yourself and commit to doing it.
- Try to plan at least two hikes per month. If you plan two, you’ll likely manage at least one!
- Pack the night before so that you don’t use the next morning’s chaos as an excuse to stay inside and skip it.
- Choose a mantra for the trail. As heavier thoughts or stressful things enter your mind, go back to that word or phrase and look at the trail, and you will notice the stress slipping away.
- Try to leave your mobile out of reach so that you can enjoy the walk and your child. Take a photo and then put it away.
- Find a walking buddy with a similar age child. Your buddy will help keep you accountable and get you out there. Put them on speed dial if a beautiful day opens up when you least expect it.
- Don’t let your gear hold you back. Think used, think simple, think repurpose. I once put old cashmere socks over my baby’s clothes and booties to keep him warm.
- Keep it close to home. No need to go on an epic journey to find adventure. Some of my best days hiking were no more than a few miles from my house.
- Don’t get hung up with weather. Rainy day? Carry an umbrella on the trail. Too hot? Look for shady paths and water features.
- Find groups like Hike It Baby (or start one in your area) to help you get out on days when you just don’t feel like it.
Kristi Field lives in Utah with her husband Chris and their blended family of five kids, ages nine to six months old. Check out fieldsgonewild.com
Our little one has been hiking with me since she was four weeks old. I was anxious to explore some trails, so, just one month after having her, I wrapped her up and headed out to hike with a local group of mamas. I really wasn’t sure what to expect. She could hate being in the wrap (I had never had her in one), she could have a poo explosion through her clothes (also a feature of our daily lives), or spit up enough to soak me and her (she does this daily also). There also was the chance that I wouldn’t be able to figure out how to put the wrap on. I hadn’t used it yet and some wraps can be hard to figure out. So I was a little nervous, but we went out anyway. It turned out to be a gorgeous hike and she slept most of the time.
ALWAYS BRING A CHANGE OF CLOTHES
One month after her first hike we headed down to Moab with some friends. Up until that point we had hiked a few times with no problems at all. I’d wrap her up and off we’d go! On the second day in Moab we decided to hike to Delicate Arch. We pulled up and unloaded the older kids. But when we went to unload the little one, we realized she had a dirty nappy… and clothes…. and to top it off, it was all over the car seat. She was a hot mess. And guess who didn’t pack an extra outfit for her? That’s right… I forgot how often newborns have nappy blowouts.
IMPROVISING WITH THE GEAR YOU HAVE
So there we were, about to head out to hike for three miles and we had no clothes for the baby. Also, it was chilly. Moab temperatures in December can be cold. The wrap can be challenging to wear but on this hike I was very appreciative of its cosy design. If we were putting her in anything else it just wouldn’t have worked. But we were able to put on a clean diaper and nestle her cute little naked self in right next to me. I grabbed a blanket from the car and tucked it into the wrap, and off we went. She must have been quite comfy because she slept through most of the hike.
LIFE IS AN ADVENTURE, BRING YOUR KIDS
I read something in a magazine once years ago that has always stuck with me. It was an article discussing the busy life of celebrities, and how kids can affect them. The article mentioned that life shouldn’t stop when you have kids. Your adventures don’t stop, you just take them along with you. Hiking with five kids is an adventure in itself, regardless of where you are going. You really never know how it’s going to go. There are always hungry bellies, tired legs and any other wild cards that come with five kids. Even when you are prepared for everything, something you least expect could arise. But we love the way our kids skip down the trail. Any challenge that might arise is worth just being out there. We just roll with it and take it one trail at a time.