If you have had a lifelong love for the outdoors, or your family has always been involved in camping, hiking, and backpacking, one thing you are probably worried about when you are about to have a baby is whether or not you will be able to continue your outdoor adventures. Like you look forward to celebrate every milestone of your kid since their birth: their first word, first step, first smile, etc., you would also want to take them on their first hike and cherish the memories forever.
But, not many of you would be courageous enough to step out into the wilderness just because of hesitation, thinking it could be difficult than you imagine. What if it rains when we hike? What about bugs? What if the baby gets sick? These may be just a few questions, or rather concerns, you have in mind. However, with proper planning, you will be able to enjoy a great hiking experience with your baby or kids.
When is the right time?
This is perhaps one of the first questions that every outdoor-loving parent would have. There is no specific age restriction for getting outdoors. If you are a new parent, remember that it is okay for your baby to get dirty. Since you will be nursing at this time, you wouldn’t have to carry any extra food for the baby.
If you are a parent of toddlers, you would know that they absolutely love running around, discovering new things with complete joy and wonder. Therefore, they will find every leaf, bug, and other objects along the trail highly exciting, and would absolutely love to go hiking with you.
As for kids slightly older, they will be able to cover more distances and also carry their gear on their own. And when it comes to teenagers, they would love the freedom and independence of the great outdoors more than anything else.
As you can see, there is definitely something special with kids of all ages. Therefore, it is never too early to start hiking with your kids.
Hiking with Infants
By infants we refer to babies that are between 0 and 12 months old. When you plan on going hiking with an infant, the first thing you should think about is how you plan on carrying your child. For this, you should choose the right baby carrier. As you are most likely to be hiking with your partner, you need to choose a carrier, a backpack or front sling, that can be adjusted to fit both of you. If your baby is less than 6 months old, it is recommended that you use a front sling baby carrier before going for a backpack.
Here are a few important tips to follow before hiking with an infant:
- Make sure that your baby gets used to the child carrier before you start using it for hiking.
- Take it slow by limiting the first few hikes within a few hours’ distance from your home.
- Infants need time to properly regulate body temperature; therefore, it is better to avoid or at least be cautious of hiking in cold and rainy weather.
- To maintain your child’s sleep cycle, plan your hike during their naptime.
- Use a sun hat with a broad brim to cover the baby’s face and neck.
- Carry a lot of diapers and waste bags.
- Pack a separate bottle just for your baby to store more water.
Hiking with Toddlers
When you have kids between 1 and 3 years old, you are looking at a hiking adventure in which you will be required to carry them half the time. The rest of the time, of course, they will be willing to walk with you along the trail. Also, when planning hiking trips with toddlers, remember to plan for frequent breaks to let them explore the areas along the way on their own.
Here are a few tips to remember:
- When choosing water bottle for your toddler, make sure that it is brightly colored and has an outdoorsy theme or design. This will make your kid want to drink water.
- Your toddler doesn’t necessarily have to wear boots while hiking. His or her regular pair of shoes will do just fine. However, remember to pack additional pairs of socks to keep their feet dry at all times.
- During your hike, when you plan on letting your toddler loose, make sure that the area you choose is flat and free of hazards.
- Kids always love carrying their things on their own. So, give your little one a small backpack with a few of his or her things, something lightweight like their socks, jacket, etc.
- Do not restrict your toddler from playing in the dirt. Let them embrace the outdoors. You can always change their clothes when you find it absolutely necessary.
Hiking with Older Kids
If your kids are between 5 and 12 years old or older, you now officially have experienced hikers to accompany you. Things change now, and this would be the right time to lay down some safety rules to your kids.
Before we move on to the safety tips, here are some general tips for hiking with older kids:
- Let them get involved right from the planning phase. Ask for their suggestions, listen to their interests and expectations, and also let them pack their own gear.
- Look for camping kid-friendly camping destinations where they will be able to engage in different outdoor activities.
- Remember, kids get bored easily and quickly. Therefore, to make sure that they stay engaged during the hike, plan for some fun and creative activities along the way. For instance, sing songs with them, plan for a scavenger hunt or geocaching, spot things, etc.
- Teach them to read maps right from an early age.
- If possible, try bringing along their friends to increase the fun and energy quotient, or join with other parents or groups with kids on hikes.
- The first and foremost safety rule for kids who start to hike on their own feet is to always stay in the visibility of mom or dad.
- As they grow older and gain a few years of experience hiking with you, you can let them hike ahead for a shorter distance and wait for you to catch up before heading further.
- Make sure that they have a safety whistle with them at all times.
Even after teaching your kids all these safety rules, it is equally important that you also train them for the unexpected. What should they do when they do get lost? Teach them these tips:
- As soon as they realize that they are lost, they should STOP and remain where they are rather than wandering around. This will prevent them from moving in the wrong direction and delaying being found.
- The next step is to teach them to calm down and start to THINK. This will give them the chance to remember that they have a safety whistle and that this would be the right time to use it. Tell them to blow it in frequent intervals.
- Teach them to EXAMINE their surroundings next. Tell them to see if they are next to something familiar or significant, like a big rock, a lake, a unique looking tree, etc. to help them feel a bit better.
- The last tip is to teach them to PLAN. Yes, they will be found before it gets dark. However, also teach them to plan for the worse; tell them to look for a place that can provide them shelter, like a big tree or beside a rock. Teach them to use the things they find in the wilderness, like fallen leaves, sticks, etc., to make a seat, cover, etc. And, keep reminding them to use their whistle at all times.