We are hikers. We have a kid, 20 months old when I’m writing this post. And I’m telling you there’s no such thing in the world as a toddler-friendly hiking trail, still, it’s a wonderful experience hiking with your toddler. Let me explain.
The reason no hiking trail is safe for a toddler is because nothing is safe for a toddler. Toddlers are curious little explorers with no sense of danger yet, and this makes them dangerous – to themselves in the first place. They want to jump into any kind of water, let it be a puddle or a rushing mountain stream. They find a gap they will fall into. If nothing else, they find something they can fall over and hit themselves, even if you think it’s a plain, easy terrain.
You can hike with a toddler!
However, our experience is that while no trail is toddler-friendly, many trails can be done with a toddler. We’ve been hiking with Tomi since his fifth week, and ever since he can walk on his own, he contributes his part to each of those hikes (well, if he wants to). We took him to mountain trails, even high mountain trails, coastal trails, and we hiked with him in the spring, summer, fall and winter.
How can we do steep and strenuous trails with such a young kid? Toddlers can’t walk that much on their own in the first place. They often have to be carried, so when the trail is not safe for him, we put Tomi in the carrier backpack. Or I should’ve said if it’s not possible to keep him safe on the trail, because you know, no trail is safe for him, anyway.
How do we keep Tomi safe on the trail?
Keeping him safe means either that he walks holding my hand or on his own, closely followed by me. The latter only happens on very easy, plain (or almost plain) terrain when he refuses to take my hand, anyway. Otherwise the trail should be wide enough for the two of us, and I should feel stable enough so that it’s okay if he pulls me into a random direction unexpectedly. The carrier it is in every other case.
How to choose the suitable trails?
Of course, this means we have to choose the trails carefully which is not easy at all, especially in a foreign place. Length and elevation change are important factors, and we can make a relatively good guess whether the trail would be suitable based on the elevation profile. (We can exclude lots of trails this way, that’s for sure.) Yet we were surprised a few times.
The problem is usually that the trail is fine and safe for us, but only very few, short sections of it are safe for walking with Tomi. Can’t we carry him for the rest then? That’s what we do in that case, but it’s not ideal, because Tomi doesn’t want to be carried all day, and it’s also hard (and only gets harder) for Csaba to carry him all day.
Our dream trails right now are the ones where we have wider sections on easier terrain from time to time, so that Tomi can walk a bit in at least every 2 hours. There’s no way to figure this out about a trail you’ve never done. There’s also no way to figure out whether Tomi will feel like walking when we do the section which would be suitable for that. The conclusion? We have to be flexible and strong (especially his Daddy).
Can you motivate a toddler to walk?
Based on our experience, I say: hardly. If he wants to walk, he will, otherwise, he’ll play in one place, or simply sit down in the grass. You either sit down next to him for a short rest, or pick him up and carry him.
Sometimes one of us tried to lead him by walking a few steps before him, showing him an interesting pebble or leaf, or giving him his snacks on the way. But it didn’t really matter. If he wanted to walk, he walked, anyway, if he didn’t, then he didn’t, no matter what.
He’s too young for a hike in the sense that he doesn’t care about it. It’s only us who care about getting to that waterfall or viewpoint. Tomi cares about the pebbles and ants – and usually everything that he can touch and put into his mouth -, and it’s fine. When he walks, he takes pride in doing the same thing as us, and then that’s his motivation.
Why does it matter, anyway?
We believe it matters a lot that we take him to our hikes, and not just because it’s good to spend time outdoors as a family. Though it is. Outdoors is where kids belong. But we also see how he gets used to walking on rough terrains, how his muscles get stronger, and how he gets used to the whole hiking experience.
Hiking is part of our lives, and it just feels natural that we share it with Tomi. We hope he’d be a happy hiker when he gets older, and that’s the way to it… Until then we’ll have all the heartwarming memories and funny stories that he won’t remember, but we will – and we can tell him later.
Do you hike with your toddler? How do you choose the trails?
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