What’s It Like To Hike With A Baby? Part II.
We’ve already told about our experience hiking with a newborn baby. Since then our baby is already 1 year old, and we went hiking with him whenever we could during this spring and summer.
We hiked in Pilis, Börzsöny and Vértes Mountains near our home, Budapest, in the hills of Balaton Uplands National Park and also in the high mountains, the Alps and the Tatras. We hiked in sun, rain and fog. In warm, hot and cold weather (sometimes on the same day… yeah, high mountains are like that). Our baby boy got significantly heavier, he learned to sit, crawl and stand up. (And then to walk, but it will be the next article covering how to hike with a toddler 🙂 ). So we’re here to tell you about our experience hiking with him.
If you’re not interested in hiking with a baby or anything about babies, browse our other hiking posts by national parks, find something exciting, and our next post will not be all about babies, I promise.
So what’s the difference as he grows?
Hiking with Tomi is still an awesome experience to us. Whether it gets easier or harder as he grows, it’s hard to tell. Carrying him definitely gets harder. But taking longer drives gets easier so we can get to more places. While breastfeeding was completely enough for him in the first 6 months, now we need to pack food and drink for him, too. While he was sleeping for most part of the day as a newborn, he’s mostly awake now, he needs his crawling and playing time, too.
So I’ll give the answer I myself hate to hear: it’s just different. Challenges change with time when you hike with a baby. When you have a baby.
How does a usual hiking day look like?
Haha. There’s no such thing as a usual day with a baby. But our plan is usually to get dressed, eat something and start off as early as we can. Still somehow we usually end up being the last ones to park our car at the trailhead, and several people we meet on the trail are already on their way back. Honestly, I don’t know why. (Just like I have no idea how days pass one after the other without me doing much other than… well, babysit our baby.)
Anyway, we start our hike and we’re on the move for 2-2.5 hours. Longer if Tomi falls asleep in the carrier. It’s one of the very best advantages of carrying him! Putting him to sleep is never a problem. Otherwise, it’s a long and tiring procedure when we’re at home.
Then time comes to find the first rest stop. We look for mostly even places where we could put down our blanket and let him crawl around a bit. Meadows, shores of lakes or mountain rivers are the nicest, but any patch of flat(tish) ground in the forest or among the rocks is fine. We’re always with him and closely watching, anyway. We give him something to eat and change his nappy during these rest stops. Then we carry on for another 2-2.5 hours.
Luckily, Tomi likes being carried. Maybe because he’s used to it from the very beginning. Maybe because he likes the scenery from his daddy’s back. Yes, most of the time it’s Csaba who carries him. In our new carrier.
Why did we need a new child carrier?
As a newborn, I carried Tomi on my chest in a mei-tai carrier. For colder autumn and winter days, we got a warm and waterproof carrier cover. We still use the mei-tai for shorter walks, but we needed a new carrier for hiking when he got about 7 months old.
Why? First of all, as he got 6-7 months old and heavier, we started carrying him on our backs where he was more exposed to the wind or the rain (carrier cover or not). Then as the first real warm days of spring arrived, it was obvious that protecting him from the sun while being carried on our backs is also a problem with a simple mei-tai. (I know, it’s just a question of creativity. We used an umbrella quite a couple of times on our walks. But it’s uncomfortable when hiking.) And we knew we wanted to hike in high mountains, too, where weather can be even more extreme. Unshaded trails, strong winds, pouring rain.
The solution for us: a carrier backpack
So we needed a carrier which gives proper protection from sun and rain, even if we got hit by a sudden storm in the high mountains. None of the classic carriers or baby wraps seemed to be any better than our mei-tai. We quickly found out that it’s a carrier backpack that we need.
The cost (I mean, in addition to its price which is not cheap) is the weight. These carrier backpacks are usually 2.5-5 kg themselves. Without the baby. But the advantage is the proper sun and rain protection and some extra storage space. Ours have a built-in sunshade and a head rest, and we bought an extra rain cover for it. We usually put a picnic blanket and the spare nappies inside its storage space.
It’s usually Csaba who carries Tomi on all of our hikes in the carrier backpack. And me? I have the normal backpack. Not a day pack but a large overnight backpack that contains 5+ liters of water (sometimes it’s not even enough on longer high mountain trails), and all the food and clothes for the three of us. Everything we need for a full day of hiking. Of course, it’s easier if we take shorter hikes, or we’re not in high mountains where we need waterproof gear and extra water.
More advantages of our carrier backpack
As months went by, our new hiking carrier got another advantage over the mei-tai: Tomi can sleep in it more comfortably because it supports his head better. He also likes it better than the mei-tai when he’s awake, because he’s higher and can see more when sitting in it. Finally, an advantage in the summer: while we warm each other when using the mei-tai (we – Tomi and whichever of us carries him – are both sweating like hell on hot days, that’s the truth), it’s not true for the carrier backpack.
There’s only one thing that our boy hates about his new carrier: being put into it. He cries like it’s the end of the world while we put him into the harness and secure him. I guess it’s like dressing up which he also passionately hates. But once he’s in it, everything’s good again.
Other stuff we need
I wrote a lot about the carrier. But the thing is that it’s just as important as our hiking boots. It’s impossible to hike without it, we use it a lot and it has to be comfortable. All the rest? It’s the usual stuff: nappies, a blanket, extra clothes and even more extra warm clothes if we’re going up to 1800-2000 metres.
Food and drinks. I still breastfeed Tomi which is practical because it’s quick and easy now that he’s so effective, and I always know we have some “extra food” just in case. And what do I pack? The usual is bananas and a big jar of prepared baby food, mostly fruits, because those are to be eaten without warming them up first. As much as I try to cook fresh veggies and serve fresh fruits for him when we’re at home, I’m fine with the prepared food on our hikes, simply because I don’t have any better idea. Okay, sometimes he steals from Csaba’s sandwiches, too.
What about toys? We pack zero of them for hiking, because we don’t need them. Tomi enjoys watching everything around him while he’s being carried. And when we put him down on the blanket, he’s eager to explore his surroundings: pebbles, sticks, leaves, flowers, empty wrapping of our snacks, whatever. He never gets bored.
Which trails to take?
It’s impossible to give general advice on this topic. It depends on your hiking experience and fitness level. It also depends on your tolerance for risks. Hiking is risky. You can be careful and thoughtful and open-eyed, but it’s risky. With or without a baby. (To be honest, life as is is risky.)
So what do you need to consider? The length. Will you be able to carry your baby all the way? The terrain. Is it safe with a carrier? Balancing with a carrier (and a moving baby in it) on your back is harder. The elevation gain. Can you hike on steep trails with the weight of your baby on your back? Are there mountain huts on the way? They can be lifesavers when it’s pouring rain for a longer period, and you need to feed your baby or change his nappies.
Noone can choose the right trail for you. But you can get informed, and you always have the option to turn back if it turns out to be harder than what you can handle. (Unless, you don’t really have the option to turn back, because it’s too steep and more dangerous downwards than upwards…)
Hiking is fun. Hah, you’re not surprised, are you? And babies are tougher than we think. I often worried (unnecessarily) about Tomi getting cold, because the wind was too strong or it was too chilly up in the high mountains. Because I felt cold. (To be honest, I easily feel cold anywhere under 25 °C.) But he’s a tough little guy. Okay, we also had a warm sweater and an extra pant for him, and the carrier backpack somewhat protects him from the wind.
Nevertheless, he’s a tough little guy, and we can’t wait telling you about all the adventures we’ll have with him in the following years. So I guess we’ll meet in the “Hiking With A Toddler” edition of this post soon.
Do you hike with your baby? Any questions or tips?