No one prepares you for hiking with kids. For a first-timer, it can be considered an extreme sport. Luckily for you, I’ve been hiking with my family for over three years and I more or less have it perfected to a tee.

So here’s what you need to know when preparing to hike with babies and toddlers for the first time.

Hiking with Babies & Toddlers

1) Pre-game

Lone Peak Big Sky
11K feet in the sky with our boys in Big Sky, Montana

Not in the way you’re used to, although adding that component can be an idea. But in a way where you prepare yourself and your toddlers for the hike that lies ahead. If you’re not a walker, practice walking with your toddlers. Start with conquering the block, then move to laps around the park. Every time you do it, add an extra challenge to conquer, but also to prepare you. My kids can walk pretty far, so when I planned Machu Picchu, my fears switched to elevation. To prepare them I took them to Montana to help them get acclimated to hiking at a higher altitude. Spoiler Alert – They did great!

2) Start Short & Slow

The most important step to take is this one because so many people talk themselves out of starting. But in your case you won’t do that. You’ll start but you’ll start short and slow to make sure you reach your end goal. Don’t start with your mind on Mount Everest, start small. In Yellowstone National Park, they had different trails ranging from easiest to most difficult. Be very selective about which hikes you set your eyes on. And when you do go, go slow. Hike at the pace of the kids. If going with the flow was never your thing, this leads me to my third point.

3) Knowledge is Power

Hiking with family
So proud of my boys! They did an excellent job hiking Machu Picchu!

Going with the flow isn’t for everyone. If it isn’t for you, research everything. Go wild! Find out how long the trails are. If there are rest spots. If it’s paved. Know the limitations of the trails so you can know what you need to bring to make hiking with toddlers easier on you. We most definitely had to do this to prepare for Machu Picchu. And share the knowledge. Kids’ books are everywhere. Try to find a kid book related to the hike so that your toddlers can build excitement as well!

4) Comfort is Necessary

Make sure you and your kids are comfortable. If you just purchased the cutest outdoor shoes, break them in before you go hiking in them. Make sure the kids’ shoes are comfortable too to rule out the complaining. When we were walking in Columbia, my kids made us stop just so they could check their feet cause they walked too much. We walked 12K steps before 2PM, by accident. Oops!

5) Bringing a Snack is the New Black

Mistico Hanging Bridges with Kids
Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges in Costa Rica. Let’s just say the strollers only worked for part of the hike.

Eat and/or breastfeed before you go. Some trails do not allow food as they don’t want the animals to eat human food. Arenal Hanging Bridges in Costa Rica doesn’t allow food, but they made an exception for my toddlers because they knew food is the way to a happy hike with kids. Bring food that doesn’t make a mess, such as veggie straws or applesauce packs. Sometimes this just means repackaging your toddlers’ favorite snacks in small zip lock bags- sans the crumbs. 

6) Potty Like a Rock Star

Similar to eating, before you start your hike with family, make sure everyone has gone to the bathroom, even you. For infants, make sure you change their diapers before beginning. To combat any cries for the potty while hiking, we put Pull-Ups on the boys so they have a clean and safe place to go. Problem solved. Funny enough, some of the potties in Yellowstone were just a hole in the ground. Jam wasn’t having it and neither was I. Like momma like son.

7) Transporting Precious Cargo

Hiking with family_babywearing
Hiking through the Karen Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The boys were 1 years old.

If your’re hiking with an infant or a new walker, bring a baby carrier so you can baby wear. If this is the case, also pre-game with the baby carrier so you can be prepared for the trail. I did this when the boys were infants and it worked well. I even managed to climb over a river while wearing a baby while in El Yunque Rainforest in Puerto Rico. However, once my kids turned 2, they had to hike on their own (mama developed back issues doing crazy things!) However, if your back is stronger than mine, bring a toddler carrier!

8) Make it Fun

Be prepared to take it slow but make it fun. In Yellowstone, I was too cheap to purchase bear spray, so we sang loudly on the entire trail. Always find a way to make it fun, from collecting rocks and sticks, to singing at the top of your lungs, or making it a game. This way they kids won’t notice how far they’ve hiked.

9) Don’t Be too Proud to Bribe

Hiking with family_Rincon de la vieja
What do you see in Jam’s right hand? A lollipop; our favorite bribe! He’s looking at a muddpot at Rincon de la Vieja in Costa Rica

If the thought, “what happens if my toddler stops walking” has crept into your mind while reading this, this is for you. Bribe that child! Do you hear me? We normally have lollipops in tow to encourage the boys to keep walking. But this isn’t foolproof. There have been moments we had to carry them to give extra encouragement. Luckily, we didn’t have to carry them for an extended period, so it all worked out at the end.

Should you hike with your babies & toddlers or not?

Definitely! If you’ve always wanted to hike and then your kids came, there’s no reason your dreams should stop. Become that family that hikes like our family. 

With these 9 tips, you’ll be on your way to creating beautiful memories as a family. Plus, it will get easier every time.

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