Hiking with young ones can be amazing and it can be amazingly difficult. When our almost 2 year old (now 3 year old) reached his first real summit after two hours of sitting in his pack and exclaimed “woooow”, as only someone can who’s never seen a view like that, it was all worth it. Here are 5 tips for backpacking with toddlers.
1. Every step out is a step you need to take on the way back. Seems quite obvious, but when your young one is done with it all, the way back can seem like forever away. Build up on your distances to feel out how they do. You may be pleasantly surprised at how long they enjoy being out in the wild.
2. Be prepared, for it all. They may be perfectly content on long hikes until “it” happens. “It” can be anything: hunger, a bug bite or sting, thirst, too hot, too cold, or just boredom. Bring snacks (lots!), water, sunscreen, first aid and most importantly, talk to them a lot. Play “eye spy”, pick leaves, acorns and rocks for them to inspect on the ride. Also very important: dress them for the temperature based upon them sitting still in the elements. You may be warm in 50 degree temps but if you were sitting still, it would be a different story. Check their hands, ears, nose and toes to see if they are getting cold and watch for flushed faces, sweating and redness if they are getting hot.
3. Know your limits. You have to carry them, plus all of that gear that makes you a prepared parent…and carry it all back. Pulling a muscle or becoming fatigued puts you and your little ones in a dangerous situation. Just like you should build children up to lengthy hikes, you have to build yourself up to the hikes you plan to undertake.
4. With beauty comes danger. Every once and awhile we read tragic stories of children or adults becoming seriously injured on hikes because they took unnecessary chances. Many of the most beautiful locations on your hikes can be extremely dangerous to young ones. Use extra caution when your young ones are around. Be sure to never take an eye or hand off of them when they are out of the pack. No photo opp is worth the risk of injury.
5. It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Even if you are feeling good and don’t need a break doesn’t mean your little one doesn’t need time to stretch their legs. Take them out of the pack for a while and let them explore. It will make each hike that much more interesting.