Tips for Hiking With a Toddler
Study after study shows that getting kids outside and away from screens offers a variety of outstanding benefits. While hiking with kids isn’t as easy as jumping into the car and hiking any trail you feel like, it’s also not as hard as you think. If you’re ready to hit the trail with your family, these tips on how to hike with a toddler can help you have a whine-free experience that everyone will enjoy.
1. Get a Good Child Carrier Backpack
When my husband and I decided our son was ready to do some hiking with us, we thought we had everything perfectly planned. We brought along extra snacks and water, picked an easy trail, and had some outdoor games he could play on the trail.
However, we made one BIG mistake. We overestimated just how long our son could walk before getting tired.
The kid who could spend hours running and jumping while playing in the backyard made it about halfway through the hike before he said, “I’m full of walking.”
We ended up having to trade off carrying him all the way back to the car. While that was certainly a good workout for our arm muscles, it wasn’t exactly a pleasant hike for everyone involved.
This is why I highly, HIGHLY recommend getting a child carrier backpack. Your options range from framed backpacks to soft carriers. If you’re not sure which one to get, check out these best child carrier backpacks.
While it’s always a good idea to let your kids do some walking when they start the hike, having a child carrier backpack will come in so handy when they get tired.
Related: The Best Hiking Backpacks
2. Choose the Right Hike
Save those high-point hikes for a time when you’re either hiking without kids or your kids are much older. Instead, look for family-friendly trails that offer short mileage and low elevation gains.
When you’re looking for hikes to do with your toddler, keep in mind what they like. My son loves rivers and waterfalls. It’s much easier to get him excited about going on a hike when I tell him he gets to see something he enjoys.
Also, keep your expectations small. Everyone will have a more enjoyable hike if you start with short and simple hikes and work your way up from there.
3. Pack the Necessary Supplies
No matter what type of hike you’re doing, you always want to pack these hiking essentials. However, when you’re planning to hike with a toddler, you need to make sure you bring along some extra items.
Depending on how old your children are, these necessary supplies can include extra diapers, wipes for cleaning up on the trail, and a few toys to keep your kids occupied if they start to get bored.
Related: Best Hiking Trails in Georgia
4. Let Them Have Their Own Gear
Kids love having gear just like mom and dad, so go ahead and get them a child-size hiking backpack where they can keep some of their own hiking gear.
Obviously, you don’t want to pack too much in their backpack because you don’t want them to tire out sooner than usual.
Water is heavy, so I keep all of our water bottles in my backpack. However, snacks are pretty light, so I throw a few extra snacks in my son’s backpack.
Additionally, I put in a change of clothes and a few trail games. We purchased this outdoor explorer kit for him, so he often likes to take the binoculars and multi-tool when we go for a hike.
I also give him a copy of a trail map so he can begin to learn how to read maps.
5. Invest in a Good Pair of Hiking Boots
Sore feet will make both adults and children grumpy on a hike. That’s why you should invest in a good pair of hiking boots for everyone, including excellent hiking boots for kids.
If you only plan on doing a few easy hikes a year with your kids, you might not want to invest in hiking boots. In that case, your children will likely be fine hiking in a pair of comfortable sneakers.
On the other hand, if you plan on doing a lot of hiking or you know you can pass down hiking boots from an older child to a younger child, I recommend these Northside Caldera junior hiking boots. My son wears them and he hasn’t had any issues with them.
Just like all hiking boots, be sure your children have a chance to break them in before they start hiking so you can avoid painful blisters.
Also, since I have yet to meet a kid who can resist jumping around in mud puddles, make sure you don’t forget to pack an extra pair of socks so they can have dry feet when you’re done hiking.
6. Use Treats for Motivation (aka Bribes)
While it’s perfectly fine to be a little strict at home when it comes to snacks and treats, when you hike with a toddler, don’t be afraid to breakout the good stuff to keep them going.
I have no shame in admitting that we pack candies and other special snacks to bribe our son to keep going. When he starts to get a little whiny and cranky on the trail, we start offering food for motivation: “If you can walk to that big rock up there, we’ll give you a handful of M&Ms.” “If you can walk for 5 more minutes, we’ll stop and have some trail mix for a snack.”
7. Keep Things Fun
Hiking is supposed to be fun, so make sure you don’t forget to enjoy yourselves when you’re on the trail. Fortunately, there are so many great ways to have fun with your toddler when you’re on a hike.
Take time to look for animals, insects, and birds. Go on a nature scavenger hunt. Sing songs. Pretend you’re looking for bears. Bring some paper and crayons and practice drawing what you see.
The possibilities are just about endless.
How to Hike With a Toddler
Getting your children outside and helping them appreciate nature offers so many incredible benefits. Fortunately, it’s also easy to do when you follow these tips on how to hike with a toddler.
More Excellent Hiking Tips
Now that you know how to hike with a toddler, are you ready to get out on the trail and start exploring? Then be sure to check out some of these other popular posts so you can start planning your next hiking adventure: