Being a new parent is a hugely daunting endeavor. Add to the usual new parent anxiety and the thought of taking a little tyke into the outdoors and it’s easy to reach maximum stress. Rest assured it can be safe, healthy and fun! Here you will find information on how to hike with your little tyke.
Deciding to venture into the outdoors with your tyke requires a little planning. Pre-parenthood, you could just pack some essentials and hit the trail. Now that you’re Moms and Dads hiking requires a little bit more planning, gear and time.
The necessary gear and clothing for your little tyke will be determined by a few factors. What is the temperature outside? How old is your little tyke? How long will you be gone?
Hiking in cold or warm weather will determine the type of clothing your tyke will wear.
You should dress him/her the way you would dress yourself. Although they are not physically hiking they are still sweating and when riding in a front carrier they have contact with you and your sweat. You also transfer your heat to your little tyke. This is great in cooler temperatures as you are helping to keep your tyke warm. But in warm temperatures your body heat will also raise your tyke’s body heat and you should take precautions to keep your tyke safe and happy.
Cold Temperature Clothing
What do you wear when hiking in cold weather? Layers, right? You should dress your adventurous little tyke the same way!
The first layer should consist of wicking material that transfers perspiration away from the skin and dries quickly. Examples of wicking material are Capilene, Coolmax, merino wool or other synthetic materials.
The second layer should be an insulating layer that helps keep heat in. This layer can consist of wool, down, fleece, Thinsulate or similar material.
The third and final layer is an outer layer that is windproof and water proof or water resistant. Examples of wind and waterproof membranes are Gore-Tex, eVent or other proprietary designs.
Mountain temperatures can change quickly and drastically in the winter and summer months and tend to be much cooler than desert temperatures. Children cool more rapidly than adults and it is more physiologically difficult for them to maintain their body temperature in cold climates. This is why layering can be so important. You can always take layers off but if you don’t bring appropriate clothing you won’t be able to add layers as needed. Leg warmers are great for layering as they are easy to put on and take off underneath pants.
Socks made of wool, fleece or synthetic material will help keep little feet nice and warm and will wick moisture away. This is even more important for tykes whose feet do some of the work while you’re hiking as it helps to prevent blisters. A waterproof or water resistant bootie or boot will keep the socks dry.
A fleece or wool hat that provides cover for the ears is essential. Up to 70% of body heat is lost through the head. Keeping your tyke’s head covered with a fleece or wool hat is one of the easiest ways to keep them warm and cozy.
Fleece mittens or gloves are important in keeping little hands and fingers warm. Although their tiny fingers may not be long enough to fit the mittens or gloves properly the key is protecting them from the elements and providing warmth.
Warm weather clothing should be made of cotton or wool (fine wool helps keep the body cool by transferring heat and moisture away for a naturally cooling effect), light in color and provide protection from the sun. Cotton absorbs sweat and as it evaporates, it pulls heat from the body which acts like a natural evaporative cooler.
The style of clothing will be determined by the age of your tyke. If your tyke is under 6 months of age a long sleeved shirt, long pants, socks, sun hat and sunglasses should be worn to prevent your little tyke’s delicate skin from being exposed to the suns harmful rays. Sunscreen is not recommended for children under 6 months of age so their clothing will need to provide the necessary sun protection.
If your tyke is older than 6 months you can dress them in a short sleeve shirt and shorts along with a hat and sunglasses. At this age your tyke can safely wear sunscreen for protection from nasty UV rays. Never cover your tyke with a blanket while hiking. The blanket will trap heat contributing to heat illness. If your tyke gets too hot you can wet their clothing and hat with water and it will cool your tyke as it evaporates.
Cotton or wool socks will keep their feet and toes protected from the sun along with drawing moisture from their feet to cool them. Flexible shoes may or may not be worn if your tyke isn’t walking yet. If they are walking a shoe that has a protective sole is a must to protect against trail debris. Also, if your tyke is walking they should wear synthetic or wool socks. Cotton socks will retain moisture and cause big blisters on tiny little feet (big feet, too!).
A cotton or synthetic hat will provide protection from the sun. Having a flap to cover the ears and the back of the neck will provide protection in areas that are not covered by clothing.
Sunglasses are important to protect your tyke’s eyes from the harmful UV rays and the bright sun. Make sure the sunglasses fit properly and have a strap to keep the sunglasses in place.
Sunscreen should be worn during any outdoor activity, even on cloudy days since UVA and UVB rays can sneak through the clouds. Look for sunscreen that says “broad spectrum”. This means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Since no sunscreen is truly waterproof you should reapply it every 2 hours. As has been mentioned, it is not recommended for infants under 6 months of age. Please check with your pediatrician for specific guidelines.
The age of your little tyke will determine the type of carrier used and the essential items that you must carry. There are two basic types of carrying systems: front carriers and backpack style carriers.
For tykes younger than 6 months of age a front carrier with head support is recommended. Because their neck and back muscles have not been developed they do not have the strength to support themselves in a backpack carrier. The front carrier allows them to ride either forward facing or backwards facing while still supporting their back and head. It will take some time for you to become accustomed to walking with your tyke in a front carrier. You will not be able to see your feet so stepping over rocks, roots or other obstacles can be challenging. Go slow! You might consider using trekking poles as they can help you catch your balance should you lose your footing. A few test runs around town with the carrier will help you and your tyke fine tune any adjustments and give you an idea of comfort.
Since the front carrier only holds your little tyke you will still need to wear a backpack that will carry all of your essentials. Alternatively, you can have a partner carry a pack that contains all the necessary stuff. Make sure that when wearing both the front carrier and the backpack that the straps on your back and shoulders from the front carrier are flat and comfortable. They will be under your backpack straps and you don’t want anything digging into you.
The size and style of your backpack will depend on your needs. You do want a backpack big enough to hold not only your belongings but also those of your little tyke. It is a good idea to find a backpack capable of carrying a hydration reservoir, i.e. Camelback. Hydration reservoirs are much easier to use than water bottles. It is a hassle to fumble for a water bottle and with a little tyke on your chest it might even be impossible. A hydration reservoir allows you to drink hands-free and it is crucial for your safety and that of your tyke that you remain properly hydrated.
For tykes who are 6 months or older and can sit up on their own, a backpack carrier is your best choice. The type of carrier you use depends on your needs and how much gear you want to carry. When looking at packs bear in mind that you will be carrying gear for yourself and for your adventure tyke. Choosing a backpack carrier is much like choosing a backpack. First and foremost, it needs to fit properly and carry comfortably. Adventure tykes can get awfully heavy on the trail and an uncomfortable pack can make an otherwise awesome outing quite miserable. Choose a carrier that is comfortable to wear, has a durable “kick stand” that supports it in an upright position when resting on the ground (used for loading and unloading, never ever use the kick stand to make a chair), an adequate sun/wind/rain cover to protect your tyke and ample storage for your hiking essentials. Packs with adjustable harnesses are great as they allow for a wide range of sizing and will likely fit you and your partner.
Ten Adventure Tyke Essentials
Here is a checklist of essential items that are not based on age and should be carried with you on every hike. This list is a good starting point. Customize it as you see fit. You may add to or, in some cases, subtract from this list.
- Diapers (disposable are easier and lighter but cloth can be used as well)
- Plastic baggies for dirty diapers (you must pack out all dirty diapers)
- Wipes in a travel case
- Travel changing pad
- Bottles and Milk or formula (If nursing, a nursing tank is helpful to wear)
- First Aid Kit (should include medicinal products appropriate to tykes age)
- Snacks (if appropriate)
- Extra change of clothes (in case of a mishap)
- Small toy
Plan Your Hike and Pack Accordingly
You may be a long distance hiker used to hammering out 20 trail miles in a day. That’s awesome, but remember that your adventure tyke isn’t there yet. You should start by planning short, easy hikes in ideal weather conditions so your tyke associates hiking with a pleasant experience. Starting with shorter, easier hikes also allows you to get used to wearing your tyke in their carrier and gives your tyke a chance to share in your adventures from the comfort of his or her carrier.
As you plan your hikes you should remember that the longer you are going to be outside, the more diapers, wipes, formula and snacks you’ll need to bring. At first it can be difficult to gauge how much you need to pack. If in doubt, bring a couple extras. You don’t want to be caught on the trail without a clean diaper for your adventure tyke! You will find that the more adventures you embark upon the better you will get at packing for them.
Here is a list of recommended brands for clothing and gear mentioned above:
Belle Baby Carrier
Any socks made of wool or synthetic material
Patagonia fleece booties
Patagonia fleece hat
Any fleece or wool hat that protects the entire head and ears
Any cotton or wool clothing
Smartwool wool socks
Any cotton socks
Any hat that covers their entire head, ears and the back of the neck
Any sunglasses that are UV protective, provides appropriate coverage and fits adequately