How far can your child or toddler hike? That depends on how old your child is and whether you carry her, push her, or let her walk by herself – and how energetic you both feel that day. And, of course, this can change as your child grows up. Don’t be discouraged if you little one hates hiking at first or hates hiking later… This can and probably will change. Just keep doing it and adjust based on the mood of the day. In no time, you’ll have a five year old who loves to hike and explore.
We started hiking with our newborn baby when he was 3 weeks old. We chose a hike that generally takes 45 minutes RT; it took us double that time. We took an easy pace and made sure to take plenty of rest stops, due to my recent surgery. The hike was also in the forest, therefore in the shade, and we made sure our baby was protected from sun at all times. Babies that young need to be kept out of direct sunlight as much as possible. If the sun is unavoidable, sunscreen is safe – in small amounts – for babies under 6 months. Bug repellent isn’t recommended for children younger than 2 months, so it’s best to keep your infant covered with clothes and a hat. A thin muslin cloth is an excellent sun and bug protector.
When can you start hiking with your baby? That is a personal decision – check with your medical provider – and as soon as you and your baby feel ready, you can hit the trails!
One to Six Months
The length of hike that’s right for you depends, again, on your stamina and your baby’s. A front carrier is a good idea for babies this age for head and neck support. For the first 6 months, we used the Baby Bjorn front carrier and our baby enjoyed the front view the most! I’ve never seen him more happy than when we were out on a trail. There are plenty of carrier options out there including Onya, Ergo, Baby K’tan, Lillebaby, etc. and there are new ones coming out every day. We just made sure, in those early months, to take a break every 30-60 min and pull him out of the carrier to move freely for a few minutes on a blanket on the ground.
Six to Fourteen Months
The key here is a good back carrier such as a Deuter Kid Comfort. There are many different types out there and my advice is to try a few different ones before you commit, as they can get pretty pricey. It’s safe to start using this kind of carrier when your child is able to sit up on her own – usually when she weighs at least 15 pounds and is 6 months old. On shorter 2-4 miles hikes I also use a soft structured carrier, though we preferred the hard frame carrier for longer hikes for the support and ability to carry more gear with us.
Fourteen Months to Four Years
Once your child starts walking with some confidence, you really need to adjust your expectations. You can still put him/her in a back carrier if you’ve invested in a good one with a wide age and weight range (up to 60 pounds), but we all know that toddlers like to get out periodically to walk by themselves and that will slow you to a snail’s pace.
Be patient with every phase! Take the time to let your little one explore hiking in the way they need to. Going with a group can make it work better for you and your little one might be inspired by seeing all of the other babies. And if it’s not happening with the group, look for an easy hike so you can venture off on your own comfortably.
As your little one gets older (and heavier) many parents switch from a hard frame carrier back to a soft structured carrier (with a back carry). This makes it easier for toddlers – and even preschoolers – to hop up for a ride when they tire. Many parents continue to bring a soft structured carrier as a back-up for kids as old as four or five!
How far is your child able to hike and what are your tips? Do you have any questions? Leave a comment below and we’ll help answer them!
Anka is a full-time Portland, OR working mom that treasures the most the special moments spent outdoors with her husband and 15-month old son, Apollo. In weekends you will always find them hiking or biking in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and later blog about their son’s adventures on their personal blog.