Hiking With Toddlers
Last Updated: May 25, 2021

Hiking With Toddlers: 9 Essential Tips to Make it Fun (and Safe)

If you are an avid hiker and want (or dream) of hiking with your toddler, then this is the post for you! I asked a friend of mine here in Switzerland to share his tips and tricks as a dad who hikes…

When our baby girl arrived, my fiancée and I were already keen hikers. Having a baby in the family didn’t deter us from spending time outdoors and the older she got the more organized we became whenever we went hiking.

Our first hiking trip with our toddler daughter was fraught with mishaps and we learned some great lessons (great in retrospect). Hiking with toddlers has its pros and cons but if you know what you’re doing it can be tons of fun and safe. Not necessarily sweat for the man and tears for the lady in the family.

I’ll share 9 essential tips for hiking with your toddler so you can learn from us without having to “enjoy” some of the pain we went through to get life lessons.

1. Use a Child Carrier Backpack

I live in Switzerland and there’s no shortage of mountains with over 40,000 miles of hiking trails to explore. On our first hike, we took our baby’s stroller. Big, stupid mistake! Very quickly we realized we were limited to the types of trails we could choose. In the end, we had to stick to flat terrains. Not quite the hike we had expected!

After this lesson, we explored alternative options to carrying our daughter while hiking and discovered the child carrier backpack. A well-designed child carrier should be comfortable on your shoulders while being adjustable for a proper fit. Opt for breathable fabrics for good airflow and keeping you cool. Look out for features that’ll keep your child comfortable.

I’ve tested both the Macpac Vamoose and Deuter Kid Comfort backpacks and have found both to be sturdy, reliable, comfortable, and offering more than enough pockets for storage purposes.

Always do a test hike with your first child carrier. In our case, we discovered the padding at the top was missing so our child could not rest her head comfortably. I had to improvise by folding a small blanket and on our return – see this selfie I took as proof. We went back to the shop afterward which replaced the missing padding.

Lesson learned from our test hike: pay attention to the details of the backpack you buy. Make sure it has the right padding especially for holding your toddler’s feet and head so your toddler can rest comfortably.

Let your toddler walk some parts of the hiking trail. However, don’t expect her to do the whole route. Strollers don’t work as well as child carriers even if you’re using an all-terrain stroller. Hiking routes can have complicated terrain with many steep ups and downs and narrow passages.

2. Bring Items for Protection – From Sun, Rain, Cold During Nights

Being outdoors means you’re facing elements such as sun, rain, or cold nights. All-weather protection is crucial when hiking with toddlers if you want to give them protection.

Sunny Weather

I always include the following protection items whenever we go hiking:

  • Sunscreen factor 50: Pick either sunscreen lotion or spray and make sure you use it on your child throughout the day especially if they’ve been swimming. Beware: UV radiation increases at higher elevations.
  • Sunhat: A hiking hat should have a wide enough brim to cover your child’s ears and neck.
  • The backpack’s integrated sunroof: When choosing a child carrier backpack make sure it includes a sunroof. They can be removable or fold back when not in use.
  • Picnic blanket: Hiking with a toddler requires taking many breaks and you can use this blanket to give your toddler a spot to take a nap or eat your meals.
  • Bathing gear: Taking a dip in a dam or pool is often called for on sunny days when hiking so make sure you have bathing gear packed.
  • Water bottles: This is an absolute must-have even on cold days. It’s essential to stay hydrated, and there are lots of ways to carry water while hiking.
  • Comfortable clothing: Dress your toddler in comfortable hiking clothes that are made with light and breathable fabrics. And also be aware that it gets colder at elevation.
  • Sunglasses: Get a good pair of sunglasses for everyone in the family to use.

This is a photo of my daughter with her mom, testing if the water is warm enough for a swim. Yes, we had sunscreen on, and no, we didn’t have a hat on since the sun went away for the rest of the afternoon. So, no swimming on that day.

Rainy Weather

We’re always prepared for rainy weather and therefore we pack the following on every hike:

  • Rain jacket: These are easy to fold and tuck away into a small pocket in your child carrier backpack when not being used.
  • Rain cover for your child carrier: This is designed to go over your child and the carrier, protecting her from rain and wind.
  • Change of clothing: Always pack an extra set of clothes in a waterproof bag in the child carrier.

Cold Nights

Camping with a tent is a great way to spend multiple days hiking. From day one we always packed our baby monitor for camping. This allowed us to enjoy late nights around the campfire while our baby slept in the tent.

Nights in the tent can get cold so obviously, a baby monitor is not enough. Make sure you include the following:

  • Warm clothing: Dress your toddler in merino-wool-based or fleecy-type pajamas.
  • Wool socks: Keep your child’s feet warm at night with thick, woolen socks.
  • Sleeping bag: Buy a high-quality sleeping bag with high insulation to keep your toddler warm on cold nights.

3. Bring (Multipurpose) Food and Drinks

Packing snacks and drinks is essential not only for your toddler but for you too. A lot of energy is used during hiking, even more so when carrying a toddler. We also know how difficult a toddler becomes when they’re hungry!

We try to avoid the yelling and tantrum she gets when hungry by having the following in our backpacks:

  • Energy bars: These snacks are great for you as parents for keeping up energy and stamina levels.
  • Assortment of nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are healthy for both parents and toddlers. They sustain your energy level for long periods of time being rich in both fats and protein.
  • Fruit: Bananas give you instant and sustained energy. However, they can turn mushy quickly and are difficult to pack. Consider packing other types of fruit or choose dried fruit for a quick and healthy snack on the go.
  • Baby food: We always packed plenty of our daughter’s baby food pouches and purees when she started eating solids. Because of their long validity, we were able to use them on the next hike if she hadn’t eaten them.
  • Water: We always prefer to drink water and we make sure our toddler drinks enough to keep her hydrated.

4. Research the Hiking Route Before You Go

Always do your research on hiking trails before venturing out. Read reviews on websites and hiking forums to find out what other family hikers suggest for certain routes. There are even some great hiking apps to help!

Pick routes that have slight elevations or even flat terrain for your first hike. This will help you to acclimatize yourself with the child carrier and gauge how your toddler handles hiking. A flatter terrain also means your toddler can walk part of the trail.

Start with a day hike and pick a shorter route. This way you can take it slowly and have ample time to stop and rest.

Find out if there are restaurants along the route or at your destination. This means carrying less food and only packing snacks to keep you and your toddler’s energy levels sustained.

5. Find the Right Time for Your Hike

Get familiar with the weather patterns in your local area and always plan to hike during the cooler times of the day. We always like to start early in the morning and then take breaks as the day warms up. Make sure you know when the sun sets so you reach your destination well before darkness.

Check the Weather Forecast

The ideal timing for a hike is when the weather is forecasted to be clear with no rain or storms. Always check out the weather forecast and know when is the best time to go hiking in your local area. However, stay flexible in terms of adjusting your plan as weather can change during a hike especially in the mountains.

This photograph is of a day when we had a forecast for good weather which turned out to be the correct forecast. We had some brilliant weather!

Plan When Your Toddler Naps

An unhappy toddler means stressed-out parents! To avoid this from happening make sure your little one still gets her regular naps throughout the hike. Our daughter typically takes her nap after lunch so we always strive to be at a top spot of a mountain with a view by lunchtime. This means we can enjoy the view while eating lunch and letting our daughter nap on the picnic blanket.

Part of the fun of planning a hike is identifying a route and finding spots along the way for napping, picnicking, swimming, and places for your child to explore.

6. Set Expectations

When a baby joins the family, your expectations need to change. It was initially difficult for us to get used to the idea that we couldn’t walk as much as we did before our daughter was born. Adjusting our expectations meant finding a compromise.

We wanted to continue hiking and we wanted our baby girl to join us so we learned to set the right expectations. These included:

  • Planning shorter routes and only doing day hikes until our daughter was older.
  • Getting the right gear for hiking with a baby and then with a toddler.
  • Always aiming to overachieve on shorter routes if circumstances allowed for it at the time.
  • Expecting the unexpected! This could be dealing with a difficult toddler because she’s not feeling well, is hungry, or hasn’t slept well the night before.

7. Bring Toys

You would think your toddler would be just as fascinated as you are by the surrounding natural environment. However, they may not be as entertained as you are by chirping birds, rustling leaves, or the sheer beauty of the views.

Always pack your toddler’s favorite toys. This could be their stuffed animal for when they’re in their child carrier or games to play with during your breaks. Our daughter now always brings her favorite stuffed animal as soon as she knows we’re going on a trip. When I asked her why she wanted to bring her stuffed animal she said she wants to show her toy what the world looks like! She’s becoming a tour guide!?

8. Fun Activities to Do With a Toddler During a Hike

Always have a list of fun activities to do with your toddler during a hike for when she gets bored. Here are some activities we play with our daughter:

  • Playing games such as eye spy: This works well when your toddler is in her child carrier and is a great way for her to open her eyes to the wonders of the natural world around her.
  • Sing songs together: Children love music and you could encourage your little boy or girl to sing the favorite songs with you.
  • Take lots of pictures: If your toddler shows an interest in a plant, an insect, or anything else on the trail, take a picture of it and show it to her. These can be put into a memory book for her to share with her grandparents or friends after the hike.
  • Scavenger Hunt: Children love searching for items using clues and it’s another good way of letting them take note of nature. Make sure you steer them towards fascinating spider webs, caterpillars, and other small critters to add some fun to the scavenger hunt.

9. Create Good Nature Habits

Being outdoors in the natural environment is one of the best classrooms for teaching your children to become eco-conscious. By explaining to them how littering can destroy the natural cycle, you can teach them that litter belongs in the trash can and not on the trail.

Teach them not to break plants, destroy animal homes such as anthills, or remove natural items such as sticks, rocks, pebbles, and pine cones.

Pack an insect viewer so your toddler can look up close to little creatures but don’t allow them to catch them and take them home. Every living and non-living being plays a crucial role in the natural ecology and your toddler can learn this while hiking.

Final Thoughts

Hiking with our toddler is an adventure and we love every minute of it. Seeing the world through her eyes has opened our own perspective of the natural environment and we’ve learned so much more on our hikes with her.

We can even meditate during the hike (when she’s asleep)!

Be well-prepared and organized during your hike with your family so you can minimize the chances of unpleasant things happening.

What are your 9 tips or checklists you use when you set out outdoors?

About the Author Anna Timbrook

Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.

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