How To Survive Hiking With A Toddler?

So we’ve already written about hiking with a newborn and with a 6+ months old baby, but here’s the exciting new edition: how to hike with a toddler? Because around 1-1.5 years old, these little energy balls learn to walk, and then hiking can get so much easier. Right? Uhm. No. (Don’t worry, it’s still fun.)

Hiking is actually more challenging with a toddler than with a baby. First of all, they get heavier, and let’s face it, whether they can walk or not, they still have to be carried for the most part of any hike. And this will stay true for another year or two. (Daddies, strengthen your backs!)

The other thing is that being able to walk is just one fact. Other – and more important – facts are whether he wants to walk on that particular day, and whether he wants to walk in the direction you want to go. Very often, the answer is “no”. 😛

Anaga Rural Park, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

But we’re not here to complain, or talk you out of going for a hike with your toddler, it’s quite the opposite. The purpose of this post is sharing our experience about how our hikes changed as our son grew, and tell you some tips and tricks that make your hiking days more enjoyable.

The advantages of hiking with your toddler

It’s fun to see the little explorer in action

Let’s start with motivation first. Because it’s fun taking your toddler to hiking! He’s not a helpless little baby anymore (or she… but we have a boy, and we talk about our experience here) whom you carry wherever you wish. He’s all eyes and ears (and mouth).

Lighthouse Park, West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

He wants to explore, touch things and pick them up – and there’s that short period of time when he puts them into his mouth, too. He’s interested in all the rocks, sticks, leaves and flowers in the forest, but also in other hikers or their dogs. He enjoys water in a way we are no longer capable of above a certain age. Lakes, waterfalls, creeks, puddles. Then there’s a short period of time when he wants to jump into any water he catches a glimpse of, let it be a fountain in the middle of a square or an ice cold creek in the fall forest. Luckily, it changes with time. Now he only throws pebbles into the water (he can’t ever get bored of that though).

It’s joyful for us to see his curiosity and amazement about everything in this world. (At the same time, it makes our progress on the trails incredibly slow.) It’s amazing to see how quickly he learns things, and with how much confidence he walks on his own even on rough terrains by the age of two.

It’s healthy and channels their endless energy in a good way

Vir, Croatia

It’s good for a toddler to spend a lot of time in nature, because there he has enough space to explore, run around and scream as loud as he can (without any neighbor complaining). Our little boy is energetic, and what’s a better way to tire him (well, and us, too) than a nice hike?

We also noticed that our Tomi can get quite enthusiastic about walking on his own on the trail. He was barely more than one year old when he walked 1-1.5 kilometres a day. Now at the age of two, he walks 3-4 kilometres or even more if he wants to. We never expected this! With that said, sometimes he doesn’t want to walk. There are hikes when he needs to be carried almost all the way, and we accept those days as is. (Though acceptance is a little bit easier for me, since I’m the one who carries the backpack, and Csaba carries Tomi.)

If you want to raise a hiker, you better start early

Northern Velebit National Park, Croatia

We’ll be happy that we started to take Tomi hiking early, because he’ll get used to walking longer distances, and also walking on rough or steep terrains, in sun, wind and rain. We’ve already seen this happening. And he’ll get strong enough to complete the hikes on his own in a few years. (He better do, because we physically won’t be able to carry him then… 😃)

We secretly hope he’ll be a hiking addict like his parents. Okay, seriously, no. We don’t expect him to like all the things we do. But we believe that spending time in nature is beneficial for anyone’s mental and physical health, and we’d like to give him plenty of chances to experience that.

And he likes our hikes. Now that he can talk it’s even more obvious, because he often begs us to go hiking on any random day he fancies. He screams enthusiastically when crossing a creek or finding lakes and waterfalls on the trail. He proudly climbs dozens of stairs. But he also has tantrums, because he can’t pick up the roots of trees or because he jumps into a puddle and his boots get dirty. Yes, he behaves exactly like a toddler does. Toddlers can’t hide their feelings, and it’s quite obvious he’s happy to be outside and on the trail with us.

But let’s see some actual useful tips for hiking with a toddler.

The most important advice: learn to let go

Omiska Dinara Mountains, Croatia

Here’s the thing: we like the scenic trails in high mountains, we like to challenge ourselves to conquer peaks, and completing some of those iron chain supported sections that usually lead to fabulous views make us feel thrilled. Most of these are not feasible with a toddler. We’ll get there eventually, but for now, we need to let go of these adventures, because they’re not safe to do with a baby carrier – or we are physically not capable of doing them while carrying Tomi.

Our hikes are getting shorter and easier. He wants to walk more and more, and we need to choose trails that are suitable for his abilities. His progress is slow, so even shorter hikes take a long time. What once would have been a few hours hike is now a full day hike with him. It’s not a complaint, it’s the reality. 10-15 kilometres is the most we can complete in a day, because it’ll get dark otherwise. The number might be different for you, and it’ll also change with time, but it’ll be decreasing for a while, before it starts increasing again.

Choose the right trail

Malpais de Güímar, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

There are some factors that can be different for each of us, and you need to actually get out there hiking to find out what works for you. Here’s what you need to consider:

How much weight can you carry?

We hiked to some 2000+ peaks with Tomi when he was 7-8 months old and about 9 kg. It was demanding. These trails were safe all the way, but 1000-1300 meters elevation gain while carrying a baby is extremely tiring. He’s almost 15 kg now, adding the weight of the carrier, it’s close to 20. Csaba physically wouldn’t be able to carry him to those peaks now. (I was not even able to do that back then.)

Pelister National Park, North Macedonia

… and a bit later:

Pelister National Park, North Macedonia

Our limit for a day hike is about 15-20 kilometres and 700-900 meters elevation gain. Some peak trails are feasible, but most are not. And we have another reason to avoid conquering peaks for a while…

Is the terrain suitable for a toddler to walk?

Tomi wants to hike on his own. There should be an easier section of any hike we do where we can put him down and let him walk on his own (by holding his hand if necessary). Those challenging trails towards high peaks are usually not suitable for this.

And we know, it’s hard to assess trails you’ve never done. Letting him walk in the beginning is usually a good strategy for us. Lots of high mountain trails start in the forest where the path is still manageable and safe for a toddler. But there are exceptions. (Oh, lots of them!) It’s great if you can find an elevation profile of the trail, because that might give you some idea about the easiest sections along the way.

Calculate with long padding in your daily schedule

Bridal Veil Falls Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada

Finally, one quite obvious fact we need to consider: we’re very slow when Tomi hikes on his own – even if he walks in the desired direction. He often stops to pick things up and play with them, and well, he walks slowly, he doesn’t have the big legs that his daddy has (yet). It means we have to calculate the time we need for our hikes with a 2-3 hours padding.

So yes, the trails we can do with him should be easier and shorter than the ones we used to do without him. Not such a surprise, but we have to make peace with it for a few years. And no, it doesn’t mean we have to let go of our beloved high mountains, we only need to choose the suitable trails.

Establish a morning routine for hiking days

Bridal Veil Falls Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada

Getting to the trailhead in time is a challenge on its own, especially if you need to drive 1-1.5 hours. Those mornings will be different. For half day hikes we don’t necessarily change our morning routine, but for full day hikes we need to. Changing clothes and having breakfast takes too much time with him, no matter how hard we try to hurry.

The ideal case is that we put our sleeping toddler from his bed into the car seat, and he continues sleeping there during the drive. However, it’s rarely that ideal. He might wake up before we do that, and once he wakes up, he wants to eat… Honestly, those mornings are often a mess. We try to hurry, and he has a tantrum, because he refuses to do one of the ordinary things we do each morning. Not adjusting to his pace of doing things is always hard with a toddler, but it’ll get better as he grows (right? right?!).

We’re usually the last ones to arrive at the trailhead. But we get there eventually, sometimes at 9 or 10, never later than 11 am, and that’s what matters. And yes, you need to consider what time you can actually start your hike when choosing the right trail.

Have a hiking daily routine

Golden Ears Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada

Actually, it’s not only the morning routine that’s different on a hiking day, but the whole day. Good news though that the rest of the day is much easier than mornings. If Tomi is hungry, we stop to eat, if he’s tired, we put him into the carrier where he easily falls asleep. Otherwise it’s adventure time, and he enjoys being outdoors.

It’s also important that we don’t stress about how much he walks. We leave a few hours (and more and more with time) so that he has time to either walk, play, observe the flowers, splash in the creek or whatever he wants to do. When he’s tired, we put him in the carrier. If we need to hurry, we also put him in the carrier. It’s us who want to complete the trail (or get back to our car before dark), so if he doesn’t want to walk, Csaba carries him.

Have the proper clothes

Whyte Lake Trail, West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

His clothes will get dirty. (Everyone’s clothes get dirty on a good hike, anyway.) If there’s a puddle, he’ll find it. We prefer a waterproof outfit with boots for him if there’s any chance of rain or it has rained recently (or it’s raining at the moment :D). It’s double fun, because we don’t have to worry about him getting wet and catching a cold, and he enjoys puddles, and happily jumps into each one along the way.

It’s just as important not to overdress your kid. Layers are good, because you can put a layer on when your little one is sitting in the carrier, then take it off when he’s active. On that note: always have a spare full outfit (including socks). It saved our day many times.

Have enough snacks

Anaga Rural Park, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

Kids like snacks, and they constantly demand them. Tomi wants to sit down for a picnic on every bench along the way, no matter that we just finished eating 10 minutes ago. He announces “Let’s have a picnic” from time to time. The best solution we found is that we use small storage boxes for fruits and snacks, so we often give him a small portion of something.

We are not fans of giving a toddler snacks too often, especially not sweets. We reserve those for our hiking days when we’re not able to eat proper meals, anyway. And let’s face it, we gladly eat them on the trails, too, and it’s just not possible to have a child who eats more healthily than his parents. 🙂

We usually have 2-3 different kinds of fruit (bananas and apples are the easiest to carry, but berries and grapes fit nicely into the small storage boxes, and really, I can slice any kind of fruit and put them into the boxes that keep them fresh enough for the day), sandwiches, both salty and sweet snacks. We only pack food that we can share with Tomi, otherwise there’ll be a huge tantrum. That’s the reason we avoid nuts for now, because he’s not old enough to eat them yet. It’s also a good motivation for me to look for healthy snacks.

Dobogkő, Pilis Mountains, Hungary

Get on the trail!

It’s more complicated than it was. Yes, I understand that. I remember Csaba and I getting ready for our hikes in the morning in 15 minutes! Those days are gone for now. But hiking with your baby and toddler gives much more than it takes away. Focus on the adventure you have together, be flexible and celebrate all the small accomplishments (you’ll have many!). Just get out there and do it.

200+ Travel Tips For Hungary

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By Beata Urmos

Bea is the co-founder of Our Wanders. She’s the writer and the trip organizer, and she’d love to help you plan your own amazing trips! She likes hiking, good novels and chocolate, as well. Her motto is: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” (John A. Shedd)

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