If you want your children to care about what happens with the environment, nurture their connection with nature from the time they are very small. If you are a hiker, you may be ready to get back out there WITH your baby. With a few planning considerations, safety precautions, and the right gear, you and your baby or young children can have a great time hiking.
My husband and I have hiked with our children since they were tiny. Now, the children have their favorite spots that they want to visit over and over. This past holiday weekend, my husband and son went hiking up to 10,000 feet above sea level. They both saw their first rattlesnake, and they spent a long time watching the pikas pop up (like whack-a-mole my son informs me). Last week we saw on IMAX The Wildest Dream, a documentary about a 1924 attempt to climb Mount Everest, and we’ve been flying around Everest on the Google Earth flight simulator for days. But, they wanted to get into the mountains themselves. Hiking was inevitable this weekend. And, hiking is so easy with a 10-year old. I’m glad we started early taking our children on walks and hikes.
I don’t need to tell you that things are different now with a baby. That doesn’t mean you need to stay home, but it does mean you will see things differently. A bit of scrambling when you were hiking without another person on your back will not seem like such a great idea now. As a matter of fact, don’t hike with a newborn. They are too sensitive to sun exposure to take the risk. Give it a month then go out.
The landscape is different, so change your view to match. Ask other active parents where they like to go. Hiking doesn’t have to mean big changes in elevation or narrow paths. Just make it somewhere that is interesting to see, hear, smell, and touch for both of you. If your child is at that curious toddler / preschooler age, prepare to stop—a lot!
In summer, start early morning or late afternoon to beat the heat. You can build up to longer hikes at warmer times, but give yourself a better chance for the win first time out.
Go with a plan to be flexible. If things go well, stay out for a while. Have a short version planned in case not everyone is happy with the situation. Prepare yourself in mind and gear to improvise.
- Choose a trail that requires no more attention than you can give with a child along.
- Sun Protection - Whether physical (shirt and hat) or chemical (sunscreen), be sure that you protect yourselves from the sun. Watch the tips of ears and noses and backs of necks especially.
- Stay hydrated – Bring plenty of water and drink it. Remind your child to drink it, or, if you are breastfeeding, you drink it while you stop to feed the baby.
- No running – Especially if you take a toddler or curious preschooler, make sure they understand that there is no running if you are hiking in a place where they could tumble any distance.
- Safety whistle – For a child old enough to blow, you may want to give him a safety whistle to wear around his neck. Make sure he understands that this if only for blowing if he needs help.
- Leaves of three, leave them be – Teach your child about plants, starting with the ones to avoid and continuing through “No, darling, we don’t put those in our mouths.”
- First aid kit – Be sure you have a small, basic first aid kit with some kid additions in your pack.
Snacks & Water
Bring enough not only for the child but for the breastfeeding mother. Keep hydrated!
Sun & Bug Protection
Lightweight, long sleeved-shirt and a hat helps with both, but you may need sunscreen and some kind of natural bug deterrent.
The right baby carrier depends on the age of your child and the length of your hike. For a baby who still needs neck support (up to about 6 months), a front baby carrier will work well. For an older baby or toddler, a back pack gives you the best balance and freedom and gives the child the best view. Even for a child who wants to walk part of the time, you may need to have a sturdy framed back pack baby carrier to carrier your child at times until she becomes a stronger hiker.
For my son who loves machines that go ping, this means compass and magnifying glass. For my daughter the digger, a trowel and a bag to carry rocks. Whatever explorer gear your curious child is likely to need, make sure you have a few tools to help them feed their curiosity.
You will all want to remember this.
Flat cloth diapers. So many people I know are talking about flat diapers for travel this past week, and I’ll talk about that later this week. Leave the poop behind and make carrying diapers easy on yourself by taking the simplest diapers of all.
Use a blanket to cover baby from sunlight and heat. Useful as a changing pad, too.
Bring another layer (jacket or shirt) and another complete set of clothes. If watching a toddler in wet pants try to hike with a super-wide stance down the trail sucks the fun out of the experience for you, imagine how much less fun it is for the toddler.
With a little planning and a great attitude, you can help your baby love the outdoors as much as you do.