My husband and I decided early on that when we had kids we wanted to include them in our outdoor adventures. The reality of it quickly taught us that while toddlers and babies are adaptable to adventure, it does require a shift in our mindset and expectations around distance and time.
I was surprised to learn that I enjoy hiking even more when I get to share the experience with my little adventure buddies.
Hiking and exploring throughout Alaska is an amazing opportunity! The struggle was real for the first few hikes with my toddler, especially once winter hit. I had two choices: wait until my kids were older to start adventuring, or learn how to make our adventures doable and more enjoyable.
Thankfully, I chose the latter, and have had many memorable and enjoyable adventures with my toddler and baby, no matter the weather!
My Top 5 Tips for Hiking with Toddlers
1.) Change your expectations: Let’s be real, sometimes the hardest part of hiking with toddlers is getting out of the house (especially in the winter).
Whether it’s 5 minutes or 2 hours, any amount of fresh air is better than none. Some days it’s a win just to get out the door!
When picking your hike, be ok with not reaching the summit or choosing to turn around mid hike. Having that mindset in the beginning allows for less disappointment if you don’t reach your original goal. The only expectation I set is which coffee shop I’m stopping at on the way home!
2.) Layers: Layering is key to the length of your adventures!
It was quite the learning curve between my first kid being born in California, where the goal was to prevent sunburn, and my next kid being born in Alaska, where the goal was to prevent hypothermia!
For the first layer in winter time, we do a snug fitting base layer (merino wool or even fleece footie pajamas). A few solid companies to get base layers from are Iksplor, Reima North America, and Wee Woollies.
Next we use a mid layer and/or bunting depending on temperatures. Finally, the outer layer/snow suit for protection against the elements (wind, rain, snow).
Avoid cotton! Cotton absorbs sweat and doesn’t dry quickly. Once my kids get cold, it’s game over!
Pro tip: for babies you need to add one more layer than you are wearing since they aren’t moving to stay warm.
For summertime layers, it’s best to protect against the sun by either using sunscreen, hats, and/or using UV protective clothing (Jan and Jul is great for UV protective clothing).
For hiking mountains in the summertime in Alaska, I pack a wool or fleece layer (non cotton) for the summit and a packable puffy jacket or rain jacket for my toddler. Many times we start in one layer and by the time we summit the mountain, we are wearing all of our layers.
3.) Snacks: This may seem like a given, but bringing enough snacks can make or break your hike! I’m pretty sure my son hikes just for the snacks sometimes.
Some of our favorite packable snacks are: string cheese, kid protein bars, fruit snacks, peanut butter crackers, apples, and salami. We bring some snacks for the nutritional value like My Serenity Kid’s food pouches and others options like fruit snacks are motivators to keep hiking.
During our cold winter hikes, my toddler would earn his lollipop (Zollipops clean teeth pops are great and don’t damage their teeth) once all his layers were on and he didn’t throw a fit during the process. It worked like a charm and we were eventually able to get “bundled up” with no meltdowns or lollipops needed!
4.) Let them hike and adventure first: I learned this tip the hard way when I had my agenda and goals I wanted to accomplish (yes, going against tip #1).
When I shifted and let my son roll down the hill, throw rocks in the puddles, hike at his pace, or throw snowballs at mama first it was such a game changer. He was happy to be outside and burned his energy, then I was able to carry him or pull him in a sled and pick up the pace.
To allow for kid first adventures, especially when we hike with others that are more time focused, we would arrive early and allow for toddler time!
On the trail we play games such as tag, sing songs, walk like animals (hop like a bunny or run fast like a cheetah), and search for sticks, pinecones, animal tracks, or throw snowballs at trees.
I found my son was usually more enjoyable on the trail when the focus was on his adventure, not mine. I enjoyed it more as well.
5.) Find and hike with trail buddies: My son will hike further than he ever has if he can play tag with a trail buddy, share a summit snack, or simply just hike with someone else (besides mama).
Let’s face it: even for mama, hikes are better with friends.
With my toddler turning three this summer and not wanting to carry two kids over 50 pounds, we will really be working on building his hiking legs!
The true test of this tip will be when a friend and I attempt a 22 mile backpacking trip (4 days) this summer with two toddlers hiking themselves and babies on our backs. Wish us luck or send all the coffee our way!
To say hiking with a toddler and a baby is always easy or enjoyable would be false. We all have our good days and bad days, but I’d rather deal with those bad days outside with mountain view’s.
Last year, we completed 80 hikes, and this year we’re working towards 100 hikes. We continue to use these tips to make our adventures more enjoyable.
As John Muir would say, “the mountains are calling and I must go,” with my kids in tow!