There are numerous items to consider when hiking with an infant or toddler. The ranking of an importance is based on each unique family. My family and your family are different, but there are general needs that I hope this article will help to get your family better prepared for your hike. This article is not meant to scare or derail a family from hiking with their child or children. There are many things to consider before heading out the door to climb a mountain and each item should be weighed and considered in detail.
Depending on where you hike, your pack load will be different. My family has hiked in New Hampshire along the White Mountains and Kangamangus, in Virginia in the Shenandoah region, on various plane crashes off untraditional marked paths, and the Black Mountains of NC. I am sure the west coast of the US and other areas, such as, in the Colorado Mountains, the conditions are different. Each area has its own obstacles. I am writing this article based on the worst weather and terrain changes that we have faced throughout our hiking. As a parent and for our family, we plan for the worse case scenario. I hope it will never come to pass, but we rather be prepared for it than not. Without further adieu… let’s get down to business.
First item to consider, if you are a single parent, who will be your hiking partner. Hiking alone with an infant or toddler carries the same classic precautions as SCUBA diving alone. In other words, it is not advisable to do so. There are too many variables that can take place and doing it alone the probably of error is higher. Without a partner, you and/or your child’s survival is at stake. For example, in the White Mountains, the weather can change in an instant, it can and has snowed in August. Also, hiking above the alpine zone, which various by location can make weather conditions worse and terrain more difficult to navigate.
The next question to answer is who will be carrying the child and any additional items in that pack? This is not a gender topic. This is a question of what works best for your child. In our family, I, the mother, carry our child. My child needs to be close to me and we can communicate without seeing each other, but our child needs to see her father. You can always change who carries them, but for us mom does the carrying up and down the mountain. It’s what serves our child’s needs the best. And as her mother, I am physically fit to carry her, which brings me to the next item to consider.
Fitness. How in-shape are you and your hiking partner? You do not have to be a pro athlete, endurance fanatic or a gym rat, but you can’t decide to hike up a side of mountain with your child on your back after spending years on the couch or at your desk staring at the computer screen. I say you can’t, but there are those that have and I am sure there will be more. I am 100% sure the few days after the hike they are in some pain. Hiking with an infant or toddler is strenuous activity, its nothing like running a few times around the block or walking around the neighborhood. There are many trails where you will be walking over roots, crossing over a stream/river/brook, stepping up on rocks, walking on rock facings and at times rock scrambling. It is tough work and if anything happens you need to be prepared to care for the situation. Being in shape helps make the whole hiking experience more enjoyable.
Being in shape is part of the battle. You will need to be familiar with your trail understanding the Hiking Terrain Terminology and color codes in very helpful. This will assist you in making informed decision about what paths to take and the ones to avoid. Those contour lines are not to make the map look pretty. The closer they are together the steeper it is. Always bring a printed map of your hike along with you in a plastic zip lock bag or another map protector, in case it rains and to help protect it against your sweat. Yup, you will sweat.
Always pack two First Aid kit. One for the adults and one for your child. Hiking with your child means carrying band aids, gauges, medical tape, etc. that fits them. In addition to the kits, pack Tylenol, Motrin, or Advil with dosing instructions for your child’s age and weight. When you are tired and hungry, dosing instructions may be hard to remember. Don’t forget to pack any prescription medication, always pack an extra day or two. Winter hiking usually means a longer rescue period than that of the summer. Pack a blanket incase one is injured. Pack a compass, as in, the old fashion type, know how to make one, and if possible a GPS made for hiking. But do not strictly rely on your GPS device. One item I highly recommend, is RoadID, the information carried on it makes any rescue much easier. For its cost, membership and number of lives it has saved — Definitely, worth it. Several of these items, I will address further in a later.
Since, we are talking about planning. Let’s discuss the topic of planning what to pack for your child. This depends on the age of your toddler. For example, an infant cannot regulate their own body temperature which means you need to pack various types of clothing for them. Keep in mind, the higher you climb the cooler the weather becomes and the longer the trip. If your hike takes you into the Alpine Zone you will most likely be above the tree line where dwarf trees and other smaller plans live, so you and your child will be exposed to the wind, rain/snow and the sun. This means plan to pack sunscreen and probably a long sleeve shirt and pants to guard against a sunburn and wind burn. I suggest packing clothing that can dry quickly if wet and clothes that will help keep your child warm. Again, be cautious and prepared for the worst weather in the hiking region.
In addition to clothing and the basics, water and food, you will need to pack diapers and wipes. Yes, that means changing a diaper on a rock, bed of leaves, dirt area, etc. So, what do you really need? Let me answer, your question by opposing a few other questions. Honestly, how good of a diaper changer are you? Does your child get an upset tummy easy when stressed? How long is your hike and how many diapers does your child go through in 8-12 hours? By answering those questions, you can pack to what fits your family the best. I have at least a day and a half worth of diapers depending the length, terrain and season of the hike. As for wipes, we carry with us a “travel case” full of them or one of those portable ones you find at local grocery or drug store. Wipes are so versatile so its great to have extra. Since, we change our little one anywhere we find an open area we do not carry a mat sometimes we use a packed towel or jacket depending on the open area. Lastly, there are no trash cans on a hiking trail and I do not recommend littering. So, placing the diaper in something you can carry down the mountain is helpful. We use a Glad kitchen bag scented with Febreze for trash we create.
I know what you are thinking, where are you going to pack all this and carry our child. There are numerous kid carriers with room to store items and some have water bladders. I suggest getting into a store that specializes in child carrying and outdoor activities or at a place that meets one of those requirements. This is a topic that requires its own article, which is what I will write about next. Choose your carrier wisely, know what type of hiker you are or one that you plan to become. No matter what, make sure you test out as many as you can, put your child into each one and place each one on the carrier(s). Make sure to walk around the store to test it out, bend down a few times, step up and step down if you can.
No matter the brand of carrier you go with, you will need to make a few extra stops along the way. All carriers at a certain point will cause some sort of circulation restriction for you child. It’s always good to stop and let them out to stretch and walk around. Plus, it will give you a break and time to recoup. This means adding some extra time on your hike. You will be happy you planned for it. Also, make sure you add some extra time if you plan to summit, so everyone can enjoy what you all have accomplished. Take some pictures!
Lastly, a few items to consider for the end of the hike and the day after. Pack your car with a change of clothes for everyone. There is nothing like a fresh clean clothes after a hike that includes comfy shoes. Plus, a diaper or two. Keep a cooler with water and snacks for the end of the hike. Depending on your drive back home, pack a thermos with coffee or tea. Before you leave for your hike, I recommend stocking the frig with healthy foods. Your body will need to recover and heal itself, keeping healthy foods loaded with vitamins, proteins, fats, etc. will help during your recovery time.Your recovery time is directly related to your fitness level. Again, this is based on the length and terrain of your hike. But without doubt, comfy shoes are a must.
These are a few items of a long list that should be considered when hiking with your infant/toddler. Each and every family is different and so is every hike, but we all love of child/children, we want the best for them and want to be around when they are older. Hiking comes with its own risks. There are various rescues made throughout the year, so take the time to plan your hike. Plan for worst case scenario in every area. You may hike 100 times before the worst comes true…. at least you will be prepared.
In closing, Conrad Anker, said it best about George Mallory’s climb to summit Everest in 1924, but it is something we all as hikers and climbers should take to heart…..”being a good climber is knowing when you’re at too much of a risk and it’s time to turn back.” No hike nor climb is worth a life. There is always tomorrow. I say that with a handful of hikes in which we turned back due to weather, injury, an upset child, fatigue or difficulty. We were disappointed, but were able to redo the hike.