Hiking with a toddler

Hiking and camping was always our favorite activity before we had our son. When he came around, hiking was really easy when he was a baby. As a colicky baby, we spent many nights walking our neighborhood- walking was always an activity that calmed him down. He screamed at home and in cars, but if we were walking outside, he was always so peaceful. My husband would normally carry him in the ergo while I would carry diapers and our supplies in a small backpack. Long hikes were easy until he was about 9 months old as I was his only source of nutrition.

When he was a crawling baby, but still not walking, we switched from the ergo to the Osprey backpack. He loved having a higher vantage point, and found it easier than a stroller at times, so we would use it for trips around town even. It carries a lot, so diapers, water and food were easy to pack along. It has a removable backpack, so I could unzip it and carry it if the weight was too much for one person.

Always napped great outside: ergo, stroller, backpack, as long as we kept moving!

While I have carried my son in the backpack, since he has gotten heavier, I find it hard on my back. I am also seven months pregnant and don’t feel comfortable carrying that weight. Luckily, we go as a family most of the time, but I will take the Bob stroller if I am alone. Our son is now 21 months old, around 28 lbs, and my husband still finds the backpack comfortable.

The current issue is that our son loves to walk and run and explore (this is great it just means we can’t hike long distances). He doesn’t want to sit in the backpack for long, so since he started walking we have been confined to shorter 1-2 mile hikes. He will walk about half of it and he will ride periodically. Since we want him to develop his walking, running and strength skills we haven’t pushed him to stay in the backpack for longer hikes. Our son loves stopping to pick up pine cones, sticks and rocks, so we take 3 steps forward and 2 steps back. The key to toddler hikes is bringing all of the snacks. I normally bring 2 snacks per hour we are going to be out, and then throw in an extra just in case (which normally gets eaten).

Key stages of hiking with young babies and toddlers:

  • 0 months- 7 months: ergo carrier
  • 7-9 months: ergo for sleeping hikes and backpack for awake hikes (when he was younger, it wasn’t great on his neck to fall asleep in the backpack so we carried both so we could use the ergo for napping and nursing)
  • 10 months- 14 months: long backpack hikes (3-8 miles were pretty easy)
  • 15 months- 21 months (currently): short backpack hikes. If the hike is 1/2 mile or less, we won’t even take the backpack, he’ll just walk on his own

Since our son was colicky and the nights were very, very rough for 5 months, we never attempted to take him backpacking. I think that backpacking would be very easy in the beginning, especially if you are breastfeeding and don’t have to worry about mixing formula, and bringing water and bottles for this. You just have to carry out all the diapers and manage to carry all the camping supplies you need; more difficult with a baby but much less difficult than having a crawling or walking child.

We have done a lot of front country camping with him which is a lot of fun. It just depends on his developmental stage, mood and health level that has made the trips fun or difficult. We have found that as long as he is healthy, front country camping isn’t any more work than being at home. If your child won’t nap in a backpack though, this could make nap time a little difficult.

Overall, nature and kids go together so well. Being outside makes our whole family happier and healthier, so we make an effort to go for urban or nature hikes everyday.