One of my favorite things to do with my two little toddlers is to go hiking. This quarantine is
forcing allowing us to get out and do that quite a bit more. We’ve been hiking with the kiddos for about a year now, but we have gotten a little bit more intentional and diligent about it over the past few months! It’s one of the best activities to get us moving and out of the house during the week and great family time on the weekends.
Our kids are 3 and almost 5. I typically take them hiking by myself during the week. As weird as it might sound, it’s so much easier for me to throw some snacks in a bag and go out with them than to stay at home all day where they can get whiny and want tv and snacks all day. Oliver and Zoey are such troopers, and we’re pretty good (and by we I mean I) am pretty good at having them walk the whole day. (Dan is a softie and almost always ends up carrying Zoey. It’s cute, I’m not mad about it, but then she asks me and I’m like, “girl, no.”.)
I know hiking with kids is nothing new and nothing super out of the ordinary. However, I’ve run across enough people who are under the impression that hiking with littles is a lot of work or really stressful. I’ve found it to be exactly the opposite! If you’re newer to hiking with toddlers or want to go hiking but it seems stressful, I thought I’d share some tips that make it easier for us, what keeps it fun for the kids, and some of our favorite gear!
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Tips for Hiking with Toddlers
- Just go ahead and lower those expectations. As much as I love getting out with the babies, I’m never under any illusion that they won’t ask for a break, they won’t ask to be held, and that there will never be any whining. There always is. Going into a hike with a realistic expectations is pretty much key in not having a horrible time.
- Have an end goal. This might be slightly subjective. But my kiddos are for sure way more excited if they have something we’re hiking towards. A waterfall, an overlook, even just playing in a creek. Having something to get them excited about motivates them so much.
- Play games! Come up with little games for them to keep them moving. Typically on the last half of the hike, the kids start to lag a little bit. This is when they’re asking to be held and a little more whiny. So I say things like, “let’s see who can be first to that tree over there!” Or asking them to be quiet and see if they can hear any birds or find any squirrels. May seem silly, but it really gets them thinking more about the hike and less about how tired they are.
- Pack lots of snacks. This is pretty much always key with toddlers. Even more so on a hike. We usually don’t even make it a quarter mile in before they (ahem, Zoey) start asking for snacks. Whenever they start asking to be held or are really complaining, I can usually keep them going by offering a quick break and a snack.
- Take your time! Don’t rush them! Let them stop and pick through the rocks and watch the butterfly. Let them throw rocks into the stream. I’m naturally an inpatient person, so I’ll admit that I prefer to just keep going. But one of the best things about hiking is kids’ experiencing nature. So let them experience it! Let them be curious and inquisitive and adventurous. It takes a little longer, but it will give them a much more positive experience!
- Ask them first. Before we even go, I (usually) ask the kids if they want to go. If they say no, I don’t force them. I don’t want them to have any negative connotations with hiking. If it starts to become something I force them to do, they won’t enjoy it, I won’t enjoy it, and it will become a chore. I won’t say I’ve never taken them when they aren’t stoked about it, but for the most part, I really do try to respect their wishes and not force them. (Honestly, they rarely say no to a hike, ah!)
Gear for Hiking with Littles
You truly do not need that much gear when hiking with toddlers. I will disclaim, though, that the longest we’ve gone with the kids at this point is a little over 3 miles, and if you’re interested in intense backpacking or longer hikes, more gear may be required.
Also a note that you can find so much gear second hand! If you’re looking for good brand names or typically more expensive gear, definitely look second hand to save some money (also, better for the environment, so #win.) We went a little cheap on certain things because we weren’t sure, at first, if this would be something we really enjoy. Now that we know how much we love it, we’ll definitely be investing more money into better quality gear as we need it.
- Backpack. This is a necessity, because #snacks. If you’re going for a smaller nature walk or really short hike, you might not need this at all. Typically we go about 3 miles, though, and we like to take lots of water and snacks. I got this one from Amazon as a quick solution for my Wyoming/South Dakota trip, and it’s worked out great. I’ve used it as a carry on a few times, and you can stuff it full of stuff. It has lots of support straps and is really easily adjustable which is great. My sister also got Zoey a little hiking backpack, and she loves it! I honestly was thinking I’d end up carrying it, but she wears it the whole time and loves taking her own water and snacks with her! We’re getting Oliver one for his birthday.
- Shoes. This is an item I’d definitely recommend investing in early on, but you can find affordable options secondhand! We love open shoes (with covered toes) for the kids so they can splash around in the water. Zoey has little Merrell’s from Poshmark and Oliver has Keen’s we found at a consignment store. For more technical hikes, I have a pair of Merrell’s from an REI garage sale, but if a shorter walk or hike, I just wear my normal sneakers.
- Water bottles. This is kind of a no-brainer, but I’ve become a bit of a water bottle snob, to a degree. I use a knock off version of a hydroflask, and it legit keeps my water cold for hours. It’s wonderful. My sister also got a kid’s hydroflask for Zoey (outdoors gifts are the best ones for my kiddos), and it’s been so indestructible for her.
- Hammock. Ok, this is not necessary. But I love going for hikes along the lake or river, finding a spot to set up, and letting the kids splash in the water while I sit a bit. We pack lunch and eat it in the hammock, and it’s just so convenient. Goes up and comes down in a matter of minutes and with one person. We got one from a friend and ordered straps for $15 from Amazon.
- Bandaids. Probably doesn’t count as gear. But just as necessary for hikes with toddlers. Someone will fall. Someone will scrape something. Maybe my kids are just extra clumsy, but there is always a rock or root they don’t see that sends them flying. My kids are also at the stage where they truly think a bandaid makes it feel better, so usually this makes them stop crying, even if it’s not necessary. We use Patch brand as they’re compostable and made out of bamboo.
My kids are past the age where we need a baby carrier or anything like that, but totally a great (and necssary!) option if you’re hiking with smaller babies! We had an Eddie Bauer structured carrier that we loved when the kids were little. We loved this one because it could be worn with the baby on the front or the back. There are also great hiking packs for toddlers. These can get pricey, but again, look secondhand, and I bet you’ll find some great options!
And there ya go! Hiking with kids really does not have to be a huge deal! Grab some snacks and water, and hit a local trail to start. There’s a really great trail called All Trails that has helped us find some amazing trails closer to us. We’ve also for sure had our days when we go out and about half a mile in, I can tell it’s not going to go well. On those days, we turn around and have a shorter hike. Nothing lost, and we tried. Just start!
If you’re an avid hiker-with-kids, let me know your favorite thing to have with you!