Five expert tips for hiking with a baby or toddler

Hiking with a baby or toddler FLICKR/EricLanning

Hiking with a baby or toddler in a proper baby carrier makes it much more enjoyable for everyone. FLICKR/EricLanning

Last spring my husband and I talked about backpacking with our one-year-old, but the logistics of hiking with a baby seemed a little overwhelming, especially because our little guy wasn’t a great sleeper. So instead we decided to glamp it, but still get on parts of the Pacific Crest Trail (and other nearby trails) for a week. While we could have headed out to the Columbia River Gorge, which is close to home, we opted for Southern Oregon, just above Crater Lake, in a much less traveled area called Toketee Lake. It’s near the Pacific Crest Trail, not far from Mt. Thielsen.

1. Hikes which were once easy for you are going to be different with a baby

My first piece of advice if you want to hike some trails with a toddler is no matter how hearty a hiker you are, your life on trail slows way down with a little one. It’s dictated by the mood of your child that day and this can change quickly as you know. Plan easier hikes with your baby with options to add more miles if all is going well.

2. Look for easy camping spots with trails nearby

A shade on a baby carrier is a very good idea when it's sunny or wet. FLICKR/IanDKeating

A shade on a baby carrier is a very good idea when it’s sunny or wet. FLICKR/IanDKeating

We chose the Toketee Lake area because it had a number of trails out of the campground ensuring that we didn’t need to drive to a trailhead if our little one was having a bad day. We could just zip our tent closed, throw the carrier on and head out. Consider spots that have other natural features that you can visit in the event the hike doesn’t go as planned.

3. Think about weather and how a trail changes in rain and hail

Bring plenty of clothes when hiking with a baby or toddler. They experience weather differently than adults. FLICKR/TravisSwan

Bring plenty of clothes when hiking with a baby or toddler. They experience weather differently than adults. FLICKR/TravisSwan

A trail can seem pretty easy until a little weather blows in. Take note of this as you head out. On our last day at Toketee Lake, some light rain fell. We did a little hiking that day but the trails were definitely slicker. Ideally you want to make sure you always have stable footing when carrying baby, especially if it’s a new trail for you and you are carrying baby on your front. As you head out, think about how long the hike is going to take. Plan a turn-around time. Remember if you head out for 60 minutes, you’ll still have to hike back.

4. Don’t skip the naps when hiking with a baby or toddler

We have been pretty fortunate in that Mason has been a good sleeper while we were hiking. You don’t have a hall pass to skip naps. If you currently hike a lot while carrying your little one you should be fine. Out on the trail, try to match the amount of time you spend hiking with the amount you walk at home. Start with shorter hikes. Heading out for six miles when the most you have ever done is three is a bad idea. Also think about starting early in the morning and making it back to camp by nap time. Break long hikes into shorter ones. Use the car time in between different hikes for naps. Try one hike in the morning then drive to another spot to hike in the afternoon.

5. Plan for less, be excited for more

When headed out on our hikes we look at all of the options around us and plan a day of long hiking followed by a day of a short hike or two. This way if you do make it on a long hike and your baby cooperates, the next day you have a rest. This will allow you to enjoy more days on trail. Babies need recovery time and can’t go, go, go. Spend your first day scouting things by car. Look for easy exits to the road in case of emergency or melt down. The nice thing about a lot of sections of the Pacific Crest Trail is you can do them in small chunks and there are lots of outs if you plan it right. If you are camping with others, look for ways to shuttle your cars so you can get longer hikes in.

Having a baby doesn’t mean hiking has to stop, it just means you might have to think about logistics more. Most babies love movement and will calm down as you get outside into nature and hike, especially younger ones. As you enter the toddler and little kid phase this can shift, but not as dramatically if you start hiking early in their lives. Just like anything, being in a carrier is a learned behavior that a baby can and will adjust to the more you do it. And as your kiddo gets older you can cover more distance. Just be prepared for a 4-year-old to melt down or for carrying an older child. I have carried various friends’ 4- to 6-year-olds. There are indeed carriers that can handle this weight.

Shanti Hodges hiking with her baby on her back in Southern Oregon.

Shanti Hodges hiking with her baby on her back in Southern Oregon.

This summer we are hoping to backpack on the PCT. While this won’t be like the journeys my hubby and I took pre-baby, we are looking at it through our little one’s eyes. Even if you can only make it a mile on the trail before pitching the tent, that’s one more mile on the PCT that your little one can boast about to his friends in later years.

So, get out and go hiking with a baby or toddler! It’s fun!

Shanti Hodges is the founder of Hike it Baby, a hike organization in more than 100 cities around the U.S. dedicated to getting families out on trails with infants and toddlers. She has set a goal of getting 1,000 families on trail for the day on July 25, 2015. To find out more info go to