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Five tips for hiking with toddlers

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I love to hike. It’s one of my favorite ways to get outside year-round. But, I understand that hiking with toddlers can feel like a challenge. There’s an added piece of preparation and willingness to bail that you don’t have with an adults-only hike. With two toddlers of our own, my husband and I have learned a few tricks of the trade to hiking with little ones.

  1. Start simple: Your first few hikes as a family don’t need to involve peak bagging or a strenuous slot canyon. Especially if your toddler’s little legs aren’t used to hiking, choose an easy hike near your home. Some of our favorite hikes are just down the road from our house. Sure they’re easy hikes for me and my husband, but my son gets a real sense of accomplishment when he hikes up a steeper incline on his own. These early hikes are more about developing a love for hiking than accomplishing any sort of lofty goal. If you are wanting to do a longer, more difficult hike make sure to have a plan for carrying your child when they get tired. My family uses the Deuter Kid Comfort III and the Osprey Poco Plus. My daughter is only 1.5 and spends most of the hike in the backpack.

  2. Pack plenty of snacks: Hiking can make even a seasoned hiker crave a quick snack. A hike without snacks can be a disaster for little people who already seem to have an endless need for snacks. Our favorite trail snacks include our homemade (peanut-free) gorp, some apple slices, and little cutie oranges. We will pack sandwiches, chips, and extra fruit if we’re going to be out for a longer hike or if the destination involves a picnic. Also, make sure that you bring along plenty of water for each person! I like to carry a Nalgene for myself, kid’s water bottles for the kids, and one extra Nalgene on short hikes (less than 2 miles). For longer hikes, I like to fill up my Camelback and carry an extra Nalgene. Whatever you do, don’t skimp on the snacks and beverages!

  3. Play as you go! This is the most fun part of hiking with a toddler. Toddlers have the unique ability to live fully in the moment. They also look at things with such a fresh perspective. To make hikes fun for them, tap into their imaginations. Our 3-year-old son loves to play make-believe games, so when we’re out on a hike we’re not just going for a hike, but usually in a whole other world. Stomping our dinosaur feet, bringing baby animals to their mommies, or being adventurous puppies with sticks are just a few of the imagination games we’ve played on the trail. Make sure you’re playing with your kid’s interests. Maybe your child loves to build? Stop along the trail to create a little house out of sticks! (Be sure to remove it before you go.) Does your child enjoy doing puzzles? Create some leaf puzzles by tearing various leaves in half and letting your child put them back together. Another favorite activity of ours is the sing songs while we hike. Whatever you do, make sure you’re using your toddler’s sense of wonder and play to make the adventure even better.

  4. Make the destination exciting: From throwing rocks into a crystal clear mountain lake to seeing their first waterfall, make sure the destination is going to be something fun. When choosing a destination, keep in mind that you’ll want your little one to be able to play safely in the space. Especially if your toddler has spent most of the hike in a pack, this is their time to explore, play, and stretch their legs. You don’t really want to spend that time keeping them away from a ledge! When we have hiked to waterfalls that have an overlook that is not safe for the kids to play near, we’ll usually move locations to spend some time playing and eating snacks safely. My daughter loves to get down and chase her brother, or pick up a stick and hike around where we’re resting. When we reach our destination we always take a break, eat a snack, and play a game before continuing hiking.

  5. Be prepared for the unexpected: You never know when a sudden storm is going to come up, that “warm” 65-degree day feels a lot colder with the wind, or someone scuffs their knee. Your kid could also very quickly be on the verge of a meltdown because they pushed themselves too hard too fast. Preparation is key to handling changes on the trail. Make sure you pack extra layers to keep your kiddo warm, rain gear, dry socks, a first aid kit, and a way of carrying your toddler. If your toddler is still in diapers, don’t forget the diapers and the wipes! Learn from my mistakes. I’ve forgotten most of these items before and had to deal with the consequences!

Hiking with your toddler is such a rewarding experience! I love seeing the world through my kids’ eyes, and there’s no better place to experience that than in nature. Do you have any tips you would add to the list? Let me know below!

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