Our youngest daughter is almost three years old and we have recently begun training her to hike on her own. We know it will be years before we can go on a hike without needing the pack but you have to start somewhere. People ask us all the time how we hike with the girls. It is really two different experiences hiking with our eleven year old and hiking with the wee one. Here are my biggest tips for Trail Training your two to three year old.
1. Start em young. This won't really help you if you are just now starting out with a toddler wanting to hike. That will be a more difficult experience ... but manageable. We put little R in the pack as soon as she was safely able to go, We had even done little short hikes with a Moby wrap when she was younger. Her first all day hike was when she was 5 months old.
|Little R when she was just 5 months old|
3. Splurge on a great Pack. We use the Deuter Kid Comfort 2. It was not a cheap purchase but well worth it! She sits comfortably inside the carrier and can now hike for an entire day without complaining of discomfort. Occasionally I like to switch things up. When she was younger and too small to fit in the Deuter Kid Comfort 2, I would use a Moby Wrap and front carry her. Sometimes if we are going on a short hike and we don't need the storage that the Deuter offers I like to back carry her in my Ergo. To be honest I prefer my Ergo over the Deuter, Steven disagrees though, I feel like she is closer to my body and I have better balance. The downside is that the Ergo is not hydration compatible and if it is hot she makes me sweaty! The upside is that she is very snuggly and sometimes she gives me kisses!
4. Stop Often. You have to plan for this. Most packs recommend stopping every hour to let them stretch and regain circulation. Again, you might be feeling fine and ready to concur the next few miles without stopping. Realize that a break now might save you a meltdown later!
5. Dress them in the right clothes. We try to keep little R in comfortable layers. You also have to keep in mind that they aren't exerting as much energy as you, which means they aren't getting as hot. Put one layer more on your little one than you are wearing. Account for wind and sun. We always keep R in soft cottony clothes. You don't want to have any kind of ties or buttons that might cause them discomfort. Bring a hat and jacket. We also try to bring a change of clothes just in case. It adds extra weight but you never know when you will have a diaper blowout or another such accident.
6. Let them enjoy the wildlife. Whether it is stopping to hold a Great Horned Lizard or hand them a pretty leaf you found on the trail, it is important to involve your little one in the process. Let them play with some snow you found on the trail and enjoy the moment.
7. Let them walk a little while. We have begun letting our two year old walk the flat parts of the trail. This gives her some time to stretch her legs and is preparing her for the endurance of future hikes. She can't ride in the pack forever!"
8. Check out the trail. This is my husbands job. Listen up men! If you want to make your wives (a whole separate blog ...consider this piece of advice a freebie) and kiddos love hiking ...make sure that they are comfortable. The key to making hikes work for your family is to make sure your family can handle what lies around. Avoid trails that require bushwhacking or scrambling. We once spent a great deal of time bushwhacking and ducking in and out high brush on a hike. It is to this day the worst hike I have ever been on. We had to worry constantly about sticks and twigs poking R's eyes Out or scratching her. Scrambles are also tough. You don't want to get yourself in a bad situation where you may fall on the little person who is riding on your back. If you don't think you can handle the trail ahead, turn back! Never force your children to press on if they are struggling or uncomfortable.
9. Pack with Purpose. Think of everything that could possibly go wrong and plan for it! You do this with yourself but remember to do this for your little one too. Chances are they will have a very different set of needs than you do! Here are a few items that we pack just for little R:
A small receiving blanket. You might need it to provide extra warmth on a windy summit or to wedge between them and the pack to prevent chafing.
Small sacks for diapers, wet wipes, (thrown up on clothes, etc.)
Extra Clothes. It will add unwanted weight but you should bring an entire change of clothes. Babies are prone to accidents and you don't want to hike down a chilly trail with a naked baby.
Hat, Gloves, Jacket. Even if you think it is too warm for you to need them. Unless you are hiking in an area like Big Bend in May - August. We have found ourselves worrying about a cold baby in Palo Duro Canyon in April.
Extra Water. They will need to stay hydrated too.
Appropriate Snacks. Young children can't eat typical trail fare like nuts. You might have to think outside the box for toddler friendly trail treats. Some of R's favorites are those squeezable applesauces, grapes, and crackers. The trail is never a time to tryout a new food. For one, they may end up hating it and you will have carried it for nothing. For two, they might be allergic to the new food...and hiking on an isolated trail is not an ideal place to deal with that issue.
Baby safe sunscreen and bug repellant. Apply sunscreen liberally. Also think about areas where their clothing may creep up while riding in the pack. Poor R has suffered many of sunburn because her shirt rode up and a tiny bit of tummy was peaking out unbeknownst to us!
10. Think ahead. Prepare them for the trip you are on but also prepare them (and yourself) for future trips. Steven and I have a goal of getting our girls up a fourteener next year. We have already begun to prepare ourselves and our girls for this endeavor. This kind of thinking ahead will help diversify your hiking trips and will give you and your family something exciting to work on while you can't be on the trail!
I am not a professional so this is Just advice from a Mommy. I am sure I have forgotten something, so feel free to add to the list if you can think of something! My biggest advice is to have fun, take loads of pictures. and build lasting memories!
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