I have two daughters and took them both hiking from when they were small babies. These memories are some of the best I have but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that hiking with a baby can also be grueling. Even at it’s most difficult moments though, it still beats staying at home. So, here’s what you should know to make sure you all have a good experience.
Understand Your Motivations
There are a lot of benefits to hiking with a baby which range from stronger immunity to better sleep habits. But, while I’m all about doing activities which are good for your baby in the long-run, it’s also important to understand your current motivations.
Are you going hiking because you love the activity and can’t wait to get back on the trail?
Do you feel pressured to resume your former active lifestyle, even if it seems scary or a major hassle at the moment?
Or (as was my case), are you going stir-crazy sitting around at home and need a dose of nature for your own sanity?
Once you understand your real reasons for wanting to go hiking with your baby, you’ll be better able to plan your hikes — especially in regards to not overdoing it.
How old should my baby be to go hiking?
So long babies are in an appropriate carrier and don’t have any health conditions preventing them from hiking, babies can go hiking at any age starting from birth. The real issue is when you as a parent will feel ready to take your baby hiking.
Becoming a parent is scary, overwhelming and exhausting. It’s difficult enough to deal with all of this while at home, nevertheless on the trail. Do you really want to figure out things like latching issues or how to clean up diaper explosions when you are 5 miles away from civilization?
On top of that, moms might still be recovering physically from having a baby. I couldn’t walk right (and definitely not hike!) for about a month because of an episiotomy with my first baby. And an emergency C-section kept me from doing any serous hikes for a couple months with my second baby. So take it slowly! Only do what you feel comfortable with.
Planning a Hike with a Baby
No matter how skilled of a hiker you were before having a baby, chances are your hikes are going to look pretty different. As you get more used to hiking with your baby, you can plan more intense trips. But, at first, keep these things in mind:
- Go somewhere close: You don’t want to deal with a long drive back home when you are tired and your baby may be cranky.
- Choose easy hikes: Carrying a baby is tiring and can throw off your balance. Choose hikes with easy terrain. Preferably go to trails that you already know well.
- Keep the hike short: At least in the beginning, don’t go on hikes which are more than a few miles long. Even hiking a mile can take a very long time with a baby, especially if you have to stop frequently for feedings, changing or general crankiness.
- Go with friends: Hiking with a baby is easier and safer if you go with friends. You might also check if there is a Hike It Baby group in your area.
What to Bring
In addition to all the other gear you should always bring hiking, you’ll need some extra gear to hike with a baby. This includes:
- Diaper changing pad and supplies: Like extra diapers, wipes, hand sanitizer, and bags for packing them out.
- Sitting matt: I brought a foam sleeping pad on hikes with my baby. This gave me a place to put her down so she could scratch out. It also gave me a place to sit while breastfeeding and doubled as a changing pad. ]
- Bottle feeding supplies: If your baby is on formula, be sure to have filtered water with you. Babies can drink cold formula but you might want to bring a backpacking stove to heat the water.
- Baby Food: For babies on solids, I recommend bringing pouches of baby food instead of jars. Be sure to bring a large bib!
- Extra Food for You: You will probably eat much more than normal when hiking with a baby. Be sure to bring lots of high-energy snacks.
Want more info? Read this List of Baby Hiking Gear to Bring
Carrying Your Baby on the Hike
You have two options for carrying your baby on a hike: strollers and baby carriers. Neither option is better than the other. It depends on the type of hike and what you prefer.
In some cases, I even brought both on hikes: I’d push my baby in the stroller for as long as possible. When the trail became inaccessible, I’d lock the stroller to a tree and continue with my baby in a carrier. Obviously that only works on hikes where you come back the same way you came.
For more, read:
- Strollers vs. Carriers for Hiking
- Soft or hard frame child carrier for hiking?
- Tips for Using Child Hiking Carriers
- Best Hiking Carriers for Petite Women
- Best All-Terrain Strollers for Hiking
Hiking with a baby is generally very safe. But, if the hike isn’t planned well, there are a lot of things which can go wrong. I’m not trying to dissuade you from hiking with your baby but rather make sure you are prepared so you can prevent any disasters from happening.
To keep your baby (and yourself) safe while hiking, be sure to…
Use Trekking Poles
If you are carrying your baby in a hiking carrier, absolutely use trekking poles. They will improve your balance, thus reducing your likelihood of fall injuries. Since trekking poles also help distribute the load throughout your body, they spare your back from strain too.
Bring a First Aid Kit
You should always have this whether you are hiking with a baby or not. This is what’s in my hiking first aid kit. When my kids were babies, I also added little bottles of saline solution. It comes in handy for cleaning dirt out of their eyes.
Have an Exit Plan
This also applies to all hikes, not just ones with your baby. But, once you have a baby with you, your exit plan might need to be more detailed. For example, when hiking far from home, I make sure I know where the nearest clinics are in case we need urgent medical help.
Plan for Insects and Wild Animals
In most places, the biggest danger to your baby while hiking is going to be ticks. I’ve had Lyme disease and it is not fun! Mosquitoes are also an annoying problem which can leave your baby cranky from itchiness. Depending on where you go, there might be other serious threats like snakes, bears, scorpions and venomous spiders.
- Ticks: Be sure to bring a tick removal tool for humans with you.
- Mosquitoes: Read about baby-safe mosquito repellent
- Avoid scented items: A lot of baby items have perfumes which can attract insects like bees. Try to bring unscented ones only when hiking.
- Bears: Talk to the park rangers and ask if there’s anything you should know before hiking in bear country with a baby. Absolutely carry bear spray and keep it accessible! Read what to do if you see a bear.
- Snakes: Be very careful about putting your baby down for rests or diaper changes. I always check for snakes in the area first. Read what to do if you see a snake.
Watch Out for Choking Hazards
Like most babies, my daughter went through a phase where she put everything in her mouth. This made hiking somewhat difficult because I had to worry about her grabbing leaves, sticks, rocks, etc. and possible choking on them.
During this phase, I mostly kept her in the stroller on hikes. I also brought a picnic blanket with us instead of our normal sleeping pad: If I put her in the middle of the blanket, she wasn’t able to reach anything and put it in her mouth.
Dressing Your Baby for Hiking
As a general rule, your baby should dress like you when going on hikes. This means putting your baby in breathable layers which provide protection against the elements – whether those elements are sun, cold, wind or rain.
However, there is one key difference: your baby isn’t walking like you are and will get cold faster. That generally means your baby will need an extra layer than you do.
For more info, read:
Leave No Trace
Make sure you are still following Leave No Trace when hiking with your baby. The biggest issue will be diapers: you will need to pack them out. You’ll also need to pack out baby wipes as these usually cannot be put in latrines or composting toilets.
Be sure you have a bag for trash — preferably one that seals or an odor-proof bag like this — for carrying the diapers out.
Note that dirty diapers can attract wild animals. So, even if there are trash bins on the trail or at the trailhead, you still might need to pack the diapers out (check with the park rangers). Otherwise animals might get into the trash and spread gross diaper all over the place.
Do you go hiking with your baby? Let us know any tips in the comments section below.