Saturday, May 14, 2011

How to Hike with Babies, Even if You've Never Hiked Before

My pre-baby life involved early morning trips to the gym-- by myself. For a while it also involved top roping with Morgan. I loved this period of my life because it allowed for a lot of physical activity and exercise. Unfortunately, trips to both the community centre gym and climbing gym are not child compatible. I'm fairly sure I'd be asked to leave if I showed up with Aias on my back in a kid carrier with the intention of using the elliptical trainer, and a climbing gym is no place for a toddler, especially if you are belaying. Lots of people leave their kids with sitters or with their partner while they work out, and that's great. However, we really prefer working out as a family. One of the best ways to engage in physical activity or exercise when you have a baby or toddler is to go hiking. Even if you have never been hiking before, now is the perfect time to learn.

Hiking may sound tedious, but the reality is, it's wonderful. It's also only as difficult or challenging as you want it to be, so it's the perfect activity to learn together as a family. You can start on shorter more flat trails, and slowly work your way up to longer trails at steeper elevations. Of course, you won't have to pay for a gym membership or join any sort of team, so it's incredibly flexible. You can also participate in a hike with as few or as many people as you'd like. Hiking is truly an activity everyone in your family can learn to love.

Much like any other physical activity or exercise, successful and enjoyable hiking requires proper gear. While buying hiking gear for your family won't likely be as expensive as if your whole family joined a hockey team, proper gear can prove to be an important investment. I strongly suggest taking careful consideration when purchasing your hiking gear, because you don't want to fall into the trap of buying a bunch of cheaply made gear that will ultimately lead you into being uncomfortable on your hikes. This would, of course, result in your making plenty of excuses NOT to go hiking.

Child Carriers
Before I talk about clothing and footwear, I want to talk about child carriers.  If your child is under five years old and unable to walk over mixed terrains for long periods of time, you are going to want to bring a child carrier.  For a walk in the park or your neighborhood, a soft shell carrier or sling is fantastic.  For hiking, I'd suggest something more heavy duty.  We once took a very, very short hike with our Ergo and we really regretted it. First because it got awfully sweaty having Aias so close to our bodies while hiking but also because  in the event of a fall Aias could easily have been squashed. For our hikes, we use the MEC Happytrails Child Carrier Backpack.  If you are in the United States, REI also sells various baby carriers that are similar.  I strongly suggest going to to the store to try the carriers if possible; actually putting the child in the carrier and walking around the store to test comfort and fit will better ensure your satisfaction with the carrier.  I also suggest reading through the various product reviews.

Clothing for Yourself and for Your Child
You don't need to buy a whole new wardrobe for hiking, you really just need a few basic staples.  The most important factor to consider when purchasing hiking clothes is the fabric; you want to stay away from cotton and lean toward wool or synthetics.  The reason you want to stay away from cotton is that cotton doesn't handle wetness very well, as it turns cold and doesn't dry very quickly.  The possibility of an unpredicted shower or a spill into a body of water is always there when you go hiking, and if you want to guarantee that you'll be physically uncomfortable if you get even a little wet, wearing cotton is the way to go.  It's for this reason that you will not want to wear any cotton at all when you go hiking.

If you are planning to hike fairly regularly for the duration of a season, I suggest you put the following on your shopping list for yourself:

- A synthetic or wool short sleeved shirt
- A synthetic or wool long sleeved shirt
- A pair of synthetic or wool shorts
- A pair of comfortable synthetic or wool socks
- A thin seam-sealed water proof jacket

Here are examples of the exact outfit I wear when I go hiking:
- MEC Merino Lightweight 2 Short-Sleeved Crew
- MEC Merino Lightweight 2 Zip-T
- Prana Mara Knickers
- Fox River Wick Dry Triathlon Quarter Socks
- MEC Hydrofoil 3 Jacket (rolled up and packed in case of rain)

The price of some of the items may seem steep, but compared to a gym membership, the price of gym clothes, and the price of equipment for a sport, it's relatively low.  Consider also that these clothes will last you a very long time as long as you take care of them. 

Now onto what you should have for your child.  Here are a few staple outdoor items you'll want to consider for your child for hiking and other outdoor activities:

- A rain suit
- A full body synthetic bunting suit
- Wool socks
- A basic synthetic dry-fit outfit

No matter the weather, you want to remember; your child isn't going to be doing lots of moving around while you hike with them in a carrier, so they will feel much colder than you.  Even in the hottest summer, remember to bring a full body synthetic covering for your child in the event that you are stuck in the woods overnight or if the weather takes a turn for the worst, which it can often unexpectedly do at higher altitudes.

Here are examples of the exact clothing items we have for Aias:

- MEC Newt Rain Suit
- MEC Ursus Bunting Suit
- Wigwam Merino Comfort Hiker Socks
- Technical Comfort System® Clothing with moisture-wicking Coolmax® Fabric

Ok, I know those items look pretty pricey for kids clothes, but let me swear something to you here: if you buy NOTHING ELSE for your child for going outside (even like, for going outside to your car for a trip to the mall) let it be the MEC Ursus Bunting Suit.  I'm not exaggerating even a little bit when I say that I purchased a 6 month size MEC Ursus Bunting Suit for Aias when he was 6 months old and to this day he wears the exact same one at 18 months.  The little fold up booties on it don't fit him anymore because he's too tall, but everything else about it still fits perfectly.  I have never once been concerned about him being cold or uncomfortable while he has been wearing this thing; we have one size up hanging on the back of his closet door right now so that he has it to wear the second the original one is too small. This is the best baby product ever, and all babies should have one.  It will seriously take the worry out of your outdoor trips, no matter the length. 

Footwear for Yourself and for Your Child
Improper footwear will ruin your hike and ruin your feet, so you want to make sure you head out wearing something comfortable and durable.  Lots of people like to wear hiking boots, and that's great.  I personally wear a pair of Gortex running shoes because they are so comfortable.  Whatever you choose to wear, make sure they fit comfortably and make sure they are at least somewhat water resistant.  As long as you are wearing wool socks you won't have to worry too much about them being completely water proof, but you do want something that will keep your feet reasonably dry.  As for shoes for your child, if we know Aias won't be doing lots of walking around and that it will be reasonably dry, we just put him in his Robeez.  If your child will be hiking with you, make sure to get them a pair of comfortable shoes with good grips.  Another piece of advice; your hike shouldn't be the first time you wear your shoes! Take them for a test run to the mall or grocery store first, to make sure you can stand them for a long period of time.

Before I go on to talk, I want to tell you about the two memories I have regarding socks while hiking.  The first was when I wore cotton socks and got my feet wet = what a nightmare. The second was the first time I got my feet wet while wearing wool socks = shocked at how much better it was! 

What to Pack on a Hike
Every ounce of weight you take with you on your hike needs to count, so pack light.  This can be a little tricky with a baby or toddler.  Make sure your child is wearing their synthetic outfit, and always pack their bunting suit.  If you anticipate even the tiniest chance of rain, pack their rain suit as well.  Make sure you bring a few diapers, a wet bag to store the dirty diapers, and/or a plastic bag for the disposables.  Even if you use compostable diapers, it's a faux pas to leave the dirty diaper in the woods, so don't be tempted.  As far as food goes, make sure to keep any snacks you may bring in an airtight container as not to attract bears or other wildlife.

Things you'll want to pack for your first simple hike:

- Your rain gear and your child's rain gear
- Camera
- Warm clothes
- A change of outfits for your child
- Small first aid kit
- Water and snacks (sealed tight)

If you are hiking with a partner, one of you should carry the child and the other should carry a pack.

Where should we hike? 
Every area of the world has a different answer to this question, but the first thing I'd do is do a Google search on hiking trails in your area.  If you live in North America, I suggest the Trail Peak website. Try to stick to something simple first. Pay attention to details such as the elevation and length of a trail.  If it says it will take an hour round trip to do a certain trail, consider taking on an extra 15-20 minutes or so if you have a child with you.

What are some child-specific tips you can offer?
Here are a few little tips you should consider to make your experience of hiking with a baby or child more pleasant:
- Plan on taking some breaks.  If your hike is a long one, you'll want to stop at least every hour to give your child something to eat or drink and to let them stretch their legs
- Singing songs and telling stories makes hiking a lot more pleasant for babies and kids; don't ignore them, which can be easy to do when they are riding on your back.
- Remember to bring a child safe bug spray or mosquito net if it's buggy on the trail you choose
- Leave early so you won't risk being out after dark

What are some safety tips you can offer?
Here are a few safety tips you should consider any time you hike:
- Always tell someone where you are going and what time you expect to be back; when you return, contact this person to let them know you have returned safely.  Instruct them to contact search and rescue if they don't hear back from you before a given time.
- Make sure you bring sunscreen and a form of bug repellent you are comfortable with.
- Don't hike alone with your child; bring another adult with you.
- Pack a headlamp
- Bring a Spot or cellular phone
- Start with something easy and slowly work up to more difficult trails

 I hope the above information is helpful to you in getting started with hiking with your baby.  I promise that once you start hiking with your family,  you won't regret it! It's really a wonderful way to spend time together.

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  1. Hi Im a new follower from the uk
    Love your blog its really great
    please come visit me anytime

  2. Hahaha loved this post! No one ever thinks about this!

    Found your blog from the Weekend Blog Hop! You've got a great blog here, I love it! Happy new follower :).


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