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Hiking with a toddler might seem like a challenging experience, but it can actually be a lot of fun!
Toddlers are at that age where everything is new and exciting. Hiking is a perfect way for them to channel that energy. Plus, it’s easy to pop them in a carrier if and when they get tired of walking.
I have to admit that when I first thought of the idea of hiking with a toddler, it seemed quite intimidating…and not all that enjoyable.
But now, after having many hiking experiences with my young kids, I’ve found that hiking is actually a great way to spend time with a toddler. It gets them out in the fresh air, provides opportunities to learn and explore, and lets them experience the wonders of nature.
And it’s enjoyable for parents as well! Having a toddler does not have to stop you from exploring some pretty amazing places outdoors.
I also find that my kids tend to be calmer and more cheerful as we spend time outdoors, so it’s a win for everyone.
That’s not to say that you might not have some meltdowns while hiking with toddlers (that’s just life with a toddler). But we find that the positive experiences tend to outweigh the negative ones.
In this article, we’ll share our best tips for a successful hike with a toddler so you can be ready to hit the trail with your little one!
And if you’re planning on hiking with your toddler, be sure to check out our list of essential toddler hiking gear!
Tips for hiking with a toddler
1. Wear comfortable shoes
Investing in comfortable shoes is one of the best things you can do to ensure an enjoyable hiking experience. This goes for both you and your toddler.
Because you’ll likely be carrying your toddler for much of the hike, your feet will be subject to more weight and impact than they would otherwise. That means you need a pair of great hiking shoes to help with the task! There are a lot of options for hiking boots out there, my personal favorite being my Solomon hiking boots.
You’ll also want to make sure you have a pair of quality hiking shoes for your toddler. Pick something that fits well and is flexible so that they have good mobility in their feet and ankles while exploring new terrain.
If you’re hiking in hot weather you might opt for a comfortable sandal with an enclosed toe box to provide both breathability and protection for the foot.
2. Bring a carrier
When hiking with a toddler, you’ll want to be sure to bring a good toddler hiking carrier. This will provide you with a comfortable way to transport your toddler when they inevitably decide they’ve had enough of the hiking portion of the hike.
There are a lot of great options out there, but ultimately it comes down to what is most comfortable for you and your child.
Some people prefer a frame backpack carrier because it is roomier for your child (and provides a better view), carries your child away from your body (read: cooler), and has sun and rain protection.
On the other hand, soft carriers are lightweight, less bulky, and have a lower center of gravity, which others find to be more advantageous.
We’ve used both soft and frame carriers and can honestly say that both can work well for hiking with a toddler. For a longer hike, I’d probably choose the frame carrier due to the increased comfort for my toddler. However for travel (unless we’re driving) we like to bring the soft carrier because it takes up so much less space.
Either way, look for a good quality carrier that is sturdy, ergonomic, and comfortable for both you and your child.
3. Don’t forget the snacks!
Never, ever take a toddler hiking without good snacks. No one wants to be stuck in the middle of the woods with a hungry, grumpy toddler.
Not only do snacks provide the energy your toddler needs to have a positive experience hiking, they can also serve as a distraction if your toddler starts to have a meltdown or is getting bored. A snack catcher is a great tool to have with you while hiking because it allows your child to feed themselves in the carrier while you continue with the hike. It’s a snack and a fun activity all in one!
A few of our favorite hiking snacks for toddlers include fruit and veggie pouches, granola bars, fruit leathers, sandwiches, crackers/dry cereal, and fresh fruit (strawberries, sliced grapes, oranges, etc.).
Space your snacks out throughout the hike and leave some snacks in reserve for the end. This is often when toddlers are the most tired and grumpy and could use a little energy boost.
4. Start small
If you’re new to hiking with a toddler, start with smaller hikes until you get a sense of what hiking with your toddler looks like. You might find that your toddler is up for all day hikes…or you might decide to stick to shorter hikes for the time being.
Also remember to account for the trip back as well. If you hike two miles in, you’re going to be walking that same two miles back, but this time with a toddler who’s tired and not as excited by the novelty of the experience. It’s better to turn back before your toddler has hit their limit than when they are ready to be done.
Know that you can build up to longer hikes as your toddler gets more experience on the trail and both of you understand better what to expect.
5. Encourage your toddler to walk
Yes, I said to bring a toddler carrier, and I stand by that. However, hiking is a great opportunity for your child to explore and get up close and personal with nature.
In safe areas, set them free and let them take the lead. It might take a little longer (okay, it will definitely take longer…), but it’s worth it to give your child independence and spark that love of adventuring!
It’s also a great way to burn off some energy to ensure that they will sleep soundly that night!
6. Plan in plenty of time
Hiking with a toddler (like most things with a toddler) is going to take longer than hiking on your own, especially if your toddler wants to walk on their own for all or part of the hike.
Make sure to plan plenty of extra time into your schedule so that you can avoid frustration and power struggles with your toddler. You don’t want to find yourself up against a deadline like a scheduled appointment or nightfall while you’re in the middle of a hike with your toddler.
And you might just find that the reduced pace allows you to slow down and soak things in more yourself.
7. Keep an eye on the weather
Weather is another important factor to consider when hiking with a toddler. Conditions that might not concern you when hiking as an adult could be more worrying when traveling with a young child.
Windstorms, lightning, excessive heat, flooding, and snow, for example, can all be potentially dangerous.
Check projected weather conditions before leaving for a hike. If the weather turns too cold, hot, or stormy during your hike, be ready to turn back to prevent your child from being scared or injured.
8. Choose a suitable hiking destination
Make sure to select a hike that is easy to do with a toddler. You don’t want to choose anything too treacherous or risky with a toddler along in the carrier.
Likewise, a hike that is too rocky or all uphill will make it difficult to find stretches for your child to walk, which can be frustrating and discouraging for a young child who wants to get out and explore.
If possible, pick a hike that has sections your toddler can easily walk and has a feature that toddlers will find interesting, such as a waterfall, stream, or bridge.
9. Take breaks
When you see your toddler’s energy or enthusiasm waning, stop and take a break. During your break, eat a snack, check in with your toddler, and talk about what you’ve seen on your hike. Let your toddler spend some time playing with rocks and sticks, balancing on a log, or looking at the different kinds of plants.
Although it might not get you to the end of your hike more quickly, breaks like this can help your toddler recharge and get a second burst of energy.
10. Make it fun
If you want to be hiking with your child for years to come, one of the best things you can do is to make your hiking outings a positive experience. You want hikes to be something that your child looks forward to with excitement instead of dread.
One way to do this is by incorporating some games into your hikes. You could do a scavenger hunt and look for nature items while you hike, pretend to be different animals (hop like a bunny, run like a wolf, slink like a cougar, etc), or just talk about the things you are seeing.
And of course, make sure that your toddler stays well fed and hydrated while you’re hiking. Nothing puts a damper on an outing like a hangry toddler.
You also might want to prep your child before-hand. Tell them what you’ll be doing, read some books about nature (especially if it includes animals and plants they might see on your hikes), and speak in positive terms about your time hiking together.
If you’re enthusiastic and passionate about hiking, it’s likely that attitude will rub off on your child over time.
11. Be flexible
Not every hike with a toddler is going to go exactly as planned.
Be flexible with your plans and willing to adjust based on what your toddler needs.
Sometimes that means taking a break, whipping out some good snacks, or playing a silly game. Sometimes that might mean turning back before you wanted to or just throwing in the towel and trying again next time.
Remember that the goal should be a positive hiking experience with your child over a specific destination or amount of time hiked.
Is it possible to hike with a toddler?
Yes, it is absolutely possible to hike with a toddler. We’ve been on many hikes with our toddlers and everyone has survived to tell the tale.
In fact, it’s a great bonding activity that everyone in our family enjoys. As long as you’re prepared going into it (bring a carrier, good shoes, snacks, etc.) hiking with your toddler can be very fun and rewarding.
Why go hiking with a toddler?
Hiking with a child at a young age can have a lot of benefits. First of all, it provides fresh air and opportunities to become comfortable in nature. Children can learn about animals, plants, and land features firsthand as they explore outdoors.
Hiking also allows children to have sensory experiences, build confidence, and test their limits in a safe way.
Starting young normalizes hiking for children and makes it more likely that they will continue as they get older. It’s also a fun and calming way to connect with your child away from the busyness of daily life.
With the right mindset and a little preparation, hiking with a toddler can be a very positive experience.
It’s amazing to look back and think about all the positive experiences I have hiking with my three boys from a very young age. Although it wasn’t always easy, I treasure those opportunities I had to introduce my children to nature and see the world through their eyes.
If you’re considering hiking with your toddler, do it! You’ll be amazed by the experiences you can have exploring the trails together.
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