One of Montana’s greatest features is its breathtaking abundance of outdoor activity. As the weather turns warmer and drier, parents begin to seek refuge from the monotony of being cooped up indoors and children are desperate for sunshine and exploration. Hiking is a healthy, inexpensive, and convenient option for many families, even those with toddlers. Here are 7 tips for making the most of your time on the trail with a toddler in tow and how to be prepared for the journey.
7 Tips for Hiking with a Toddler
- Find a carrier/backpack that is comfortable for you and your child. Just as you would try out any new sporting equipment, testing a carrier/backpack prior to purchasing is important. You don’t want it to feel awkward or restrictive, yet it should be sturdy and properly secure your toddler. Doing a trial run at home prior to a hike can allow you to make any adjustments without the pressure or excitement of being in a new environment.
- Plan your route ahead of time. You don’t want to be surprised by terrain that is more vigorous or advanced than you anticipated. Choose trails that are family friendly by asking other parents where they recommend hiking. The state park’s department can also give information on open space and marked trails that are appropriate for children.
- Bring lots of snacks and water. Toddlers can get fussy fast, so have plenty of snacks on hand to stave off hunger. Peanut butter crackers, granola bars, dried fruit, and baggies of cereal are easy-to-store options that can be eaten on the go. Planning a picnic for your destination can also be a fun incentive for your child to keep them motivated along the way.
- Don’t forget sunscreen and bug spray! Kid friendly sunscreen and bug spray are vital to enjoyable adventures in nature. Test them out pre-hike to ensure they don’t cause a reaction.
- Make it interactive. My husband and I have been hiking with our 2-year-old since he was about 8 months old. As he grows he has become more restless being strapped in the pack. By playing interactive games with him while we are on the trail he feels more engaged in the activity. We like to play “I spy”, where we name objects and have our son point them out (pine cone, rabbit, big rock, river, bird, etc.). Make up your own games to help pass the time and keep your child engaged.
- Let them walk and explore! Allowing toddlers the chance to get down and stretch their legs gives you a rest (30+ pounds in a pack can be tiring!) and gives them a chance to begin testing their endurance for future hikes. Observing nature from the backpack can be very stimulating for your little one, but having the opportunity to touch and feel things for themselves is thrilling.
- Wear the right clothing. Layers are best! The weather can change rapidly in our region so being prepared is always a good thing. Remember, though you may warm up as the hike progresses, toddlers riding in a carrier may not be as warm. Dress them for the outside temperature, which may not coincide with what is comfortable for you. Clothing should be breathable and not too fitted to allow room for them to move freely (you want to avoid rubbing or chaffing as they ride in the pack). Hats, sunglasses, closed toed shoes with socks, and extra outfits are great to bring along as well.
Trial and error are the name of game with toddlers. Find what works for your family and go with it. Adventure doesn’t need to be put on hold due to little ones. Grab your gear and go take hike!