I love the mountains and one of my favorite things to do is hiking. With toddler energy though, hiking is definitely different from those solo days, but it's my favorite thing to do with my kids. Here are my tips on how to hike with a toddler, gear to use when hiking with toddlers
This past summer, we traveled across the US and Canada, stopping at National Parks full of mountains that called to us along the way. With a 15 month old, we wondered how much hiking we would be able to do, considering our son's high energy level and his weight that we would carry on our backs.
But alas, we threw Zay in our Deuter Kid Comfort, hiked our butts off, and learned a whole lot on the way. Here is everything you need to know about hiking with a toddler.
Halfway point of an 18 mile hike in Glacier National Park. I couldn't believe this was possible
YOUR REST TIME IS THEIR PLAY TIME
While you're busting your butt, hiking with toddler weight up grueling hills and bulking your quads, your baby is chilling on your back and not moving a muscle. Toddlers have a lot of energy (news flash) and need to get it out, so when it's "break time" and you want to just sit on a rock and eat trail mix, your little one will want to run around. With this in mind, try to make stops that give your baby room to move without the risk of falling off cliffs, or tripping over big boulders. The more open the space, the more you'll be able to calmly eat your snacks and watch your baby from a safe distance.
A tired momma playing with her very energetic son
WHEN THEY WANT TO WALK
If you're hiking with an older toddler who is ready to get out of the carrier and hike on their own more, you're in a whole new phase of outdoor adventure. This isn't said to discourage you, but just to be realistic. It slowed us down but in a beautiful way. We weren't able to do our epic 15 mile hikes any more, but we were appreciating the beauty of the outdoors more.
Hiking with a toddler who is interested in exploring the outdoors more allows you to stop and splash in streams, discover bugs, and find rocks that you'll later hear tumbling in your dryer (iykyk). If it's frustrating, just know this is a season of life that will end. You'll get back on to those epic hikes one day, but right now is your time to stop and smell the roses (like for real, you'll be stopping and smelling so many flowers).
When your hiking toddler is at this phase and able to walk here and there, or if you have another little one who is sitting comfy in the structured carrier , I would consider getting a Trail Magik hiking carrier. This is great for hiking, backpacking, and we even use it for traveling.
The Trail Magik is only the front part of a carrier with straps that attach to your backpack or structured hiking carrier opposed to a regular soft carrier that has the hip belt and straps. It's significantly less bulky than other carriers and great if you're getting your toddler in and out of the carrier multiple times throughout a hike.
This is our Trail Magik in action on a hike in Turkiye. Use code BORNABACKPACKER for 10% off!
Start slow, start small, and build up if longer hikes are what you want to get to. You'll need that time to get used to carrying an extra 30 pounds on your back anyway.
Start small also means ... start when they're small. The younger your baby is when they start hiking, the more likely it will be that he or she will have an affinity for mountain life and going on hikes. If you start at a later age, like in toddlerhood, you may find that you have a more defiant baby that doesn't want be stuck in a pack or carrier.
Make this their normal from the beginning.
MAKE IT FUN
You're able to have your fun by hiking and enjoying what you love to do, so make sure you make it fun for your buddy on back.
We sing songs, point everything out that we see, from birds to flowers to trees, and play "1,2,3 jump!" that gives us even more of a leg workout. The more fun you make hiking for your baby, the more you'll be able to do it, and the more you'll foster a love for the outdoors for your child.
When you're hiking with toddlers that are slightly older and walking on their own and you're trying to speed up the pace, you can do little races, point to something up ahead and say "what's that!?" so they run up ahead, or sing songs that get them excited and cruising at a faster pace.
Something that has been absolutely key for hiking with kids (when they're fully walking on their own) is audio books and songs. We have a Yoto Mini that is worth its weight in gold. They are portable audio book/song players that (this is no exaggeration) we take everywhere. Any time we leave thee house, it comes with us. This little machine makes life so much easier with kids, whether we're flying, hiking, road tripping, biking, or at the grocery store. It's my number one product hands-down.
It's a little annoying that they sell the Yoto Adventure Jacket separately from the Yoto Mini, but I highly recommend it to make traveling with it easier.
GET YOUR TODDLER HIKING SHOES
Unless you're winter hiking with your toddler, there is truly no better shoes for hiking toddlers and kids than the Keen Newport Hiking Sandal. All my kids have these shoes and we take them both hiking and anywhere we travel.
Let's be honest, your toddler is going to want to splash in the puddle or stream, so you better hang a hiking shoe that can get wet. I love these because they're breathable, are meant to be splashed in, and have great grip for when your toddler is climbing around.
And because I'm the frugal queen, if I can buy a shoe that can be used for multiple uses, I will. My kids wear their Keen Newports for city days, beach days when we're checking out tidal pools, and everything in between. I can't recommend them enough.
If you're looking for the same shoe for your older child, here is the same shoe in their sizes.
You're not going to be able to hustle and move as fast as you could without a baby, so be prepared to be patient. The hike is guarenteed to take longer than it used to in your pre-baby days, so plan accordingly. From diaper changes to snack time to a squirmy baby that needs to burn some energy, extra stops are going to be in the cards.
This is a tip that transcends any topic in keeping a toddler happy and satisfied. Snacks = your savior. We like clean snacks that allow eating while in the carrier. Some favorites are an almond butter sandwich, cashews in a small bag, apple or orange slices, and cheese.
Zay protecting his almond butter sandwich from a very daring marmot.
ITS EXHAUSTING, BUT IT'S WORTH IT
It's obviously more work hiking with a toddler, from preparation, to carrying the extra weight, to singing and bouncing while hiking, to chasing your little one during your "breaks". But oh my, is it worth it. There is nothing quite like being unplugged and in the outdoors, working hard towards a goal with your whole family, teaching your child about nature, and soaking in the beauty of your surroundings. Every last bit of the "hard" part of hiking with a baby is worth it ten fold.
Look at those smiles! Family fun in the great outdoors!
Keeping it real: Some links in this post are affiliate links. If you decide you want to purchase it, using that link sends a small commission my way at no extra cost to you. I only recommend things that I truly believe in.