No matter how much I loved cuddling with my baby and watching him giggle and coo – at his toys, the ceiling, the air around him – I was not used to being cooped up in my house all day. I knew I needed to find outlets for me (and him) to get outside.
Hiking is the perfect outdoor activity for you and your baby.
Whether you’re an experienced hiker, or are starting a new hobby – taking a baby on the trail takes some special considerations. But with a bit of planning, you can enjoy the great outdoors and introduce your baby to the amazing sights of nature.
Benefits of Hiking
From studies about physical recovery to mental health, scientists have proven that spending time in nature is good for us. Being outside is energizing, refreshing, and can instill wonder. There are countless benefits for your child to be spending time outside.
For the Body
Spending time outside encourages physical activity, helps reduce obesity in children, and provides sensory stimulation. Think of the variety of sights, sounds, and smells your child will experience while hiking through the woods with you.
The National Wildlife Federation has compiled scientific studies showing the health benefits of spending time outside such as lower levels of obesity, reduced ADHD symptoms, improved vision, and less stress. Long term effects correlate time spent outside with higher standardized test scores and overall higher school performance.
For the Mind
Time outside promotes unstructured play allowing your child the freedom to be creative and use their imagination. Studies have shown the rejuvenating power of nature, and being outside allows children to ask questions about the world, which improves their critical thinking skills.
A leader in the area of mental health for children, The Child Mind Institute claims children need to spend more time outside and that, “Most of the studies agree that kids who play outside are smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious than kids who spend more time indoors.”
For the Soul
Being outside reduces stress, teaches your child responsibility and confidence, and connects them with the bigger world. By exploring and interacting with nature, your child can see how they can impact the world around them.
With so many benefits to spending time in nature, there’s no reason to leave your baby at home!
What to pack.
What you’ll need on the trail depends on your location, the weather, your child’s personality, and how far you plan on hiking. Below is a suggested packing list, but trust your gut when it comes to your child’s needs.
- Food and Water – If you’re hiking with a baby, bring breast milk or formula in a small cooler. If you want to breastfeed while on the trail – more power to you! Enjoy the time to relax and soak in nature yourself. This could also provide a much needed break. For older children, make sure you have enough snacks, but avoid anything overly sugary. Aim for snacks high in protein. Don’t forget plenty of water for yourself!
- Protection – You should apply sunscreen and bug repellent before you begin hiking, but it’s a good idea to bring them along. Young children should be kept out of direct sunlight as much as possible.
- Diapers and Clothes – You may be outside, but you still need all the typical baby gear for when nature calls. You’ll need diapers, wipes, and a changing pad. It’s best you also bring extra clothes in case of accidents. Long pants and long-sleeves are best to keep your child protected. Remember to pack layers!
- Gear – Round out your pack with a camera, charged cell phone, first aid kit, and bag for trash or to collect treasures.
This might seem like a lot to haul around through the woods, but you’ll be glad you have them. You don’t want to be miles from your car with a cranky baby.
Many parents hesitate to bring their children on hikes with them because of perceived dangers of the outdoors. While you should always be cautious, with proper planning there is no reason you and your child can’t enjoy time in nature safely. Hike it Baby is an organization that encourages, supports, and sponsors group hikes for families. They offer some tips for hiking with children:
- Know the trail – Take a dry run yourself before bringing your child. Pick a good turn around point. Are there hazards or steep drop-offs you need to be aware of?
- Don’t neglect yourself – While you’re probably going to feel hyper-vigilant toward your child, you can’t forget your own safety and comfort. Make sure you have snacks and water for yourself and that you’re wearing appropriate clothing.
- Plan Rest Stops – Your child is going to tire before you do, so watch for signs of fatigue and build in time for rest. Let them refuel with snacks and water.
- Check the weather – Study the weather patterns in your area so you know what to expect. Some places are more prone to extreme temperature shifts or sudden rain showers.
- Bring a First-Aid Kit – You don’t need to bring your whole medicine cabinet, but a small kit of band aids, gauze, and first aid tape should be enough to take care of minor cuts and little issues until you get home. You might also consider baby Benadryl and antibiotic cream.
Wear the right baby carrier.
There are a lot of different baby carriers out there. When purchasing one, it’s important to think about how much you plan on hiking and the size of your child.
Soft front carriers are more appropriate for shorter hikes with young babies who need head support. As your child grows, you could look into more structured back carriers which can hold heavier children for longer periods of time. Check out our guide for choosing a carrier.
You want a carrier that is comfortable and safe for you and your baby. See our tips on carrier safety.
Make it fun.
The best way for you and your baby to enjoy time on the trail is for you to have realistic expectations. If you were someone who used to hike miles and miles across tough terrain, you might have to change your outlook on hiking, at least for now. Babies and even toddlers are not going to be able to keep up with you.
You may be used to continuous walking, but your child is not. They’re going to want to pick up leaves, jump in puddles, and watch bugs crawl around in the dirt. Let them! For your child, exploring is more important than sticking to a schedule or hitting a selected distance.
Your child will benefit from hiking with you no matter the distance. Even if you don’t make it out of sight of your car, the ability and freedom to explore nature will stick with your child and become a treasured memory!