As the founder of Hike it Baby, an organization dedicated to getting kids on trail from birth to school-age, 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. Nope. Neither was the case. While I now may look like a seasoned veteran with my now 5-year-old, I only got to this place from 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 trail with your little one.
Bring what you really need on trail and nothing more. Two diapers if you have an explosive baby. One bottom change or a onesie. The top won’t usually get soiled. One bottle. 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 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 on trail. Then we graduated to an Onya Baby for lumbar support as our nugget 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 this is your child), 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 your 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 on a hike 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.
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 a super unhappy child to battle with at the end of a hike.
Snack it up
If you are at the eating phase, 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 on trail so if things are going bad, I have an emergency solution. My son isn’t food-driven, but a little bit of sweets on trail will often calm down a tantrum so we can redirect.
If you don’t nurse and need to carry milk there are lots of solutions for keeping it cold and warm. Start with frozen packs and put them in your clothes to warm up during the hike with body heat. Also, look into the soup-sized thermoses (Hydroflask makes a good one) and put hot water in. Add a cold bottle to that and heat the bottle, then drop a tea bag in and you are set.
Pumping on trail
It is possible to pump on trail! There are great small hand pumps that allow you to pump then add a nipple and serve. Easy as that. Look for a nice out-of-the-way bench or a tree in the woods, lay baby down and pump away. I often found myself so relaxed in the woods that my milk flow increased. Could be all of that oxygen and exercise?
Find a community
Having a community to help motivate you and show you new trails 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 3- to 5-year-old stage, the more likely they are to motivate each other. We have seen 5-year-olds hike six miles because there were other kids to keep them moving.
Different trails for different ages
As your child ages up, different trails 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 2-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” (this is a book that has a song-like feel). Bubbles combined with song can really help move the hike along and get you through rough patches.
If all else fails, bribe them
I know, this seems like a bad idea because you want your kiddo to love nature just because it’s nature. But the reality is there are those days when lollipops are just part of the program. I keep some in my glove box for when we are having “those” days. I don’t have to resort to them all the time, but when I really want to hike and my son doesn’t, out they come.
Share with us in the comments below some ways you get your kids on trail.
This post is sponsored by QALO.