Hiking with Babies
Getting back on the trail after having a baby can seem like a daunting task. You’re running low on sleep, high on responsibility, and trying to figure out your role as a new parent. You may be having a hard time finding the energy to tie your shoes, let alone head out the door for a hike but you should do it, and here’s why: the easiest way to maintain your outdoorsy lifestyle after having a baby is to just never stop in the first place!
But that’s not to say that you should hit the trail without thinking things through. Hiking with a baby is easy to do but it requires quite a bit of preparation if you want everything to go smoothly. With that in mind, here are some tried and true tips for safe and happy hikes with an infant in tow!
Choosing a pack
In the early days of hiking with your baby, a soft-sided carrier, like an Ergo, will do just fine. The same carrier that you use to go to the park or the farmer’s market will easily double as a way to carry your kidlet on the trail! If you need more cargo space for things like diapers, food, and a camera, you can wear a standard daypack on your back and the baby carrier on the front of your body. This has the added benefit of acting as a counter weight, which will keep your back happy as the miles go by!
As the little guy or girl grows you’ll probably want to move to something more substantial. Once a child has good control of their head and is able to sit up on their own (typically around six months), they’re ready to move to a more traditional hiking backpack. A good hiking pack will take the baby’s weight off your back and shoulders and put it on your hips, giving you the ability to go a lot farther!
Timing is everything
It may not feel like it when you’re up for the fourth time over the course of a night but the truth is that babies sleep a lot. That’s especially true when they’re out and about in a gently moving car seat, stroller, or carrier. With this in mind, it’s best if you can plan your hike during your baby’s naptime when there’s a really good chance that she’ll happily snooze through the whole thing. Many babies will contentedly gaze at the scenery for a little while before falling into a blissful, and sometimes hours long, slumber in the carrier. A sleeping baby makes your hiking life really easy!
Dressing baby for the elements
If you’re hoping for a happy baby on your hike, and we’re guessing you are, you’ll want to be sure that they’re not too hot or too cold! The best way to accomplish this high level baby thermo regulation this is to dress them in light layers so that you can continually fine tune the amount of clothing they’re wearing. Lightweight synthetic fabrics usually work the best for this! Remember that a baby in a carrier will be already staying quite warm since it will be all bundled against your body! Since babies (and adults as well!) lose a lot of heat through their heads, it’s a good idea to bring a cozy cap in case the temperature starts to drop.
Everyone knows that a hungry baby is a grumpy baby and a hungry baby in the backcountry is no exception. Plan ahead for baby friendly meals! If your baby is still breastfeeding (and mom is hiking too) this is easy but if mom isn’t coming or your child is on formula, your job will be a little harder. Remember that, with the exception of sealed bottles of formula, both breast milk and formula need to be kept cool. A small, soft-sided cooler stuffed into a backpack is great for this purpose. The small, pre-mixed bottles of formula are a great and convenient option on the trail! For babies that have moved on to solids, the packets of pureed veggies are a really good choice for feeding on the fly!
Be mindful of the sun.
Most pediatricians recommend not using sunscreen on babies until they are at least six months old. This presents a bit of a problem when it comes to hiking, especially since babies’ sensitive skin burns really easily! Try to dress your baby in long-sleeved clothing to keep that precious skin covered. A wide brimmed hat with a strap that goes under the chin can help protect their delicate heads and faces from the sun. Many baby hiking packs have sunshades that can be attached to the pack to provide additional protection. While these covers are often sold separately, they are a very worthwhile purchase!
When nature calls
It probably goes without saying but if you’re hiking with a baby, you’re going to want to take some extra precautions to keep everyone safe. Hiking poles are great for hikes in general but with a baby on your back the extra stability they provide is even more valuable. Remember to always keep an eye on the weather and plan well in advance for a quick retreat, should the need arise. While you, all by yourself, may be able to quickly run down the side of a mountain, you definitely won’t want to do that with Junior in tow!
A few final thoughts!
Hiking with a baby may seem like a challenging task but with a little preparation it’s really not that hard and the reward is definitely worth the effort! If you want to get your kids as hooked on the outdoors as you are, it’s a great idea to start them young. Babies really do seem to enjoy the fresh air and scenery and you’ll appreciate the peace and quiet that Mother Nature (and a likely sleeping infant!) provides! Happy hiking!