Remember the days before kids when you could just wake up in the morning and spur of the moment decide that you’d make a morning summit to the chin of Mt. Mansfield, breathe in the awesomeness of the valley below, then head into Waterbury for an après hike beer and burger? It was an all-day outing, going as fast or slow as you like, snacking while walking, enjoying hours of silence. Everyone told me kids would change that. In my overly confident and naïve mind, I believed wholeheartedly this would never happen to me. Yeah, well here I am to say, at least in my case, things completely changed. This didn’t mean I couldn’t hike, bike, camp and do all the things I loved. It’s just is different now.
A quick google search provides an abundance of sites dedicated to “10 simple steps to making hiking fun with kids”. If you’ve never hiked with kids, these can be great resources and I suggest browsing many of these sites to provide a foundation. You’ll be able to take several tips and find what works for your family. I thought I would share a list of vital skills and must-haves for hiking with kids that worked for me that I discovered through the trials and tribulations with my own now 2.5-year-old through our many adventures outside. I hope this list provides more than the basics like bring snacks, bug spray, sunscreen, water, your patience, and make it fun. Seriously, I can’t go further than 20 yards from my house without those basics. After all, we may be new to hiking with kids, but we’re not new to parenting!
1. Learn to breastfeed in a carrier
If you are breastfeeding or your partner is still breastfeeding your child, learn how to master this skill in a baby carrier. This is something I plan to learn with my 2nd child. I love being outside and find that if I don’t get at least one walk through the woods per day, my head just isn’t right.
My first child, Piper, was born in December of 2011. I had the winter to contend with, but I figured I had this covered. I was told “Babies just love to be walked around for hours and hours”. So, I packed up my infant, popped her in the Moby wrap, pulled my “mommy coat” around us both, and set off walking through the woods with our dog Trigger. I quickly discovered, she did not like to walk for hours, not unless she able to nurse every 20 minutes. So, having not perfected the art of nursing while wearing my child (I was so naïve and didn’t even know mothers could pull off this amazing feat), I found myself in sub-freezing temperatures, sitting on a snow-covered tree stump, praying that no one walked by, lifting up my shirt, and exposing my post-partum belly and raw skin to the bitterness of a Vermont winter. I’m pretty sure I had tears running down my face. Though, the sleep deprivation blurs all the specifics of this time.
So, how do you learn to pull this off? A quick Youtube search will demonstrate this in detail. Also, there is a local group called the Burlington Babywearers. They meet once per month and allow time at each meeting for hands-on demonstrations about using various carriers. I’m confident someone there has mastered this skill and would love to share their knowledge.
2. Find a carrier that both you and your little one love.
This sounds so simple, right? Before my first child was born, I had a Kelty backpack and Baby Bjorn and couldn’t wait to use them both. I quickly discovered that although I spent hours doing internet research to find the perfect carrier for my newborn, and perfect carrier for when she was an infant and eventually a toddler, that I would only discover what worked once I had her in it and took it on an outing. We discovered for us that during the newborn and infant phase, the Moby wrap worked for us. It worked because I could have her close enough to my body that she was secure, I didn’t have to load her up with winter clothes, and could just throw my “mommy coat” over both of us. We were warm and comfortable. Well, for at least 20 minutes, before I had to disrobe to nurse.
Once Piper was a bit bigger and summertime rolled around, she did not want to be next to my sweaty body, staring at my collar bone, and being restricted. I found that at this age she now preferred to be in a backpack. So, I tried woven wraps and put her on my back. I worked so hard on “Secure High Back Carry”. I wish I had sought support for learning this technique. I couldn’t perfect this and often found she was staring at my back with my ponytail in her mouth or in her death grip. Neither one of us enjoyed this.
So, I found the perfect backpack for us. We used the Deuter Kid Comfort II since it provided a seat for proper baby support as well as a head rest, if by miracle her falling asleep on the trail actually materialized. Each adult and their child will have something specific that works for them. In order to find what works for your, reach out to fellow hikers, online groups, and test drive. All of us have been in the active search for the right gear and are more than happy to let you take our stuff out for a ride. Who knows, we might even have something on hand that didn’t work for us, that may be perfect for you.
3. Once you’re hiking with toddlers, learn a new outdoor hobby
Why? Because you can expect to go on several hikes that are about ½ mile long but take 3 hours. Remember, the goal is to have fun and instill the love of nature in our kids. Pushing our kids to go fast or far will result in crying, frustration, and a hesitance to ever go on another outing again. Often letting the outing be kid-driven means the adult is standing around as the little one picks up every rock in site, plays with 1 single ant for 20 minutes and experiments with the various flight paths of the twirly whirlies. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love this time with Piper. I love watching her discover the world around us and find I begin appreciating things that I often walked right over before I had her set of eyes. But if I’m being honest, we spend hours per day in the woods and sometimes I do find myself eager to keep moving. But I know this would be counterproductive.
This is also the perfect time to allow the kids to have unrestricted outside play, where they explore the natural world around them with little to no adult interruption. There is an obscene amount of information on the benefits of this unrestricted outdoor play to a developing child. Through fostering this unrestricted play you also create what is potentially the only quiet time you may see all week! So I capitalize on this quiet time and have acquired several new hobbies. I have discovered bird watching, wildflower identification, and meditation. Also, this is the perfect time to connect with other adults which is something that I crave as a stay home mom. This leads us right into the benefit of hiking in groups.
4. Find a group
This may consist of just you and your best friend and their children, or possibly a larger organized group. I found that many children thrive outside in a group setting and so I created the Young Adventurers Club Burlington Section. This is a subgroup of the Green Mountain Club which maintains the Long Trail. The Young Adventurers Club is absolutely free and our mission is to encourage and promote children’s enthusiasm for playing in Vermont’s outdoor spaces. This series of outings focuses on families getting outside having fun without the pressure of going far or fast. This is completely kid driven and involves hiking, playing, discovering nature, and meeting new friends. The group meets once per month, often the first Saturday of the month. We have done outings with scavenger hunts, “Discover the Colors of the Rainbow through leaf collecting”, snowshoeing (with free rentals), Green Up Day, and several “unrestricted outdoor exploration” outings.
5. Bring tools to enhance engagement with nature
Kids seem to love gadgets like binoculars, magnifying glasses, cameras, a paper and pencils, and even having their own backpack with a special snack. But don’t expect any of these tools to be used for their original purpose. In my case, the binoculars, which had a string to tie around your neck, was used as a “Moby” to carry Piper’s baby doll. It doesn’t matter if the magnifying glass functions as a microphone or a way to see bugs closer. The kids are playing with these tools and having fun while being outside. Goal accomplished.
6. Go ahead, use the I-pad
Just don’t bring it outside. The internet can ignite excitement and light the fire of curiosity. I was taking my daughter on an owl hunt late last winter just at sunset. I told her all about this, but it was not until I showed her a Youtube video of an owl seeking a mouse in the snow did I see her face light up with understanding. She was just as excited to see if we could now witness this with our own eyes. I highly recommend checking out the North American series through the Discovery channel. Many of these clips can be found on Youtube.
7. Perfect the art of helping your kids potty outside
For little girls, peeing outside requires a bit of finesse and practice. The key is having the feet higher than the bum, either on a tree stump, a rock, or held up by your hands, and having the legs spread just far enough so that once peeing is initiated it doesn’t sprout up like a water fountain onto the pants. For boys, I understand this task is much easier once they master aiming away from the body. Also, inevitably, you will be hiking and at the furthest point from anything that even closely resembles a toilet when you hear “Momma I need to go poo poo now!” This is when you need the doggy potty bags. We are not wild animals, though when my 2 yr old is still awake with wild eyes at 11 pm because the after dinner ice cream treat, which had to be Chocolate Therapy, is coursing through her veins, I’m convinced otherwise. Regardless, we need to practice Leave No Trace (which I’ll detail next). Of course you’ll have baby wipes because I don’t know a parent who leaves home without them. Voila, a disaster diverted.
8. Practice Leave No Trace
Kids aren’t born understanding the importance of protecting the pristine natural world in which we play. Unfortunately, too many adults never learned this lesson either. The basic concept of this is “Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures”. Another way those doggy potty bags will come into play is once your kids get the hang of Leave No Trace, they will find trash everywhere, want to pick it up and take it with them, and insist that it’s the right thing to do. Guess what? They’re right!
9. Just go hike!
Go anywhere there is nature and woods. Sometimes I find myself overthinking where I plan to go for a family outing. I can’t decide the best place to spend our day and waiver back and forth. Kids like woods anywhere you find them. To them, really, it’s all the same. I often find hitting up the wooded paths right here in Burlington are a perfect spur of the moment outing. Sometimes, I’m more eager to see something new for myself and find parts of the Long Trail that have close to the trail head lean-to’s, waterfalls, or views. This gives the kids a “goal” destination that we’d like to reach to add to the excitement of the day. One great way to find ideal hiking paths is to consult the Green Mountain Club guide books and maps. Also just reaching out to fellow parents can provide new ideas for natural places to take your kids.
Have fun and enjoy your summer hiking!
Written by Kelley Christie
I’m a stay home mom of my 2.5 year old, Piper, a mom to our baby to be making their arrival later this year, a wife to my husband Taylor, and a doggy mom to my 8 year old Vizsla Trigger. I am an avid hiker, mountain biker, backpacker and all around mountain lover. I’m a dreamer and spend my life trying to realize those dreams. I’ve been the Vice President for the Green Mountain Club Burlington Section for about 6 years and a trip leader for 8 years. I started the Young Adventurers Club in September 2013. Being the second oldest of 6 kids (basically helping raise all of them), I thought this mother thing was going to be a piece of cake. Well, I’m definitely had my fair share of humble pie, as 2.5 years into this, and I still have no idea what I’m doing. But my motto has always been “God will never give you more than you can handle”. He’s definitely pushing my limits.