Hiking with toddlers is a bit like introducing new vegetables. You know it’s good for them in the long term, but the short term can be painful for all involved. Here’s what I’ve learned about why, how and what you need to persevere in instilling a love of the great outdoors in your offspring.
I am from New Zealand, where the ratio of unspoiled nature to people is vast. When I was growing up there was not a lot for parents to do but subject their kids to tedious walks through nature. I hated it as a child but since parenting is mostly a learned behavior, that’s exactly what we’re inflicting on our son. Only fortunately for us, today there’s great technical equipment that makes the task a lot easier.
But before we tackle the how, here’s the why.
Outdoor exercise is easier, more fun and leads to better health for mom and child.
Research has shown that people who exercise outdoors exert themselves more than those who exercise indoors, and have more fun doing it – potentially leading to fitter selves and faster weight loss.
According to the National Wildlife Foundation the benefits are just as good if not more for Junior, too. Spending time outdoors boosts a child’s intake of Vitamin D which is impossible to obtain from food, no matter how many vegetables you can encourage them to eat. Vitamin D can help prevent issues with bone density, heart disease and diabetes. Finally, outdoor exercise has been found to help reduce the risk of ADHD and research has even found that exposure to nature can make children nicer, caring beings.
Finding the perfect carrier for every age.
As a general rule the further you get from tarmac, the prettier the view, so you’ll need to ditch the stroller and slip on a baby carrier. You can find some great tips on how to find the right baby carrier for you here. My best advice is to either pay $30 to sign up as a member to BabyWearing International in Kansas City attend one of their monthly meetings at one of three different locations across the city where you can try on and borrow as many carriers to find the perfect fit for you. I also recommend a visit to Itsty Bitsy Bums, where for $15, redeemable against any purchase, you can try on all their carriers and ensure the correct fitting. They will also continue to re-fit your carrier as your child grows.
We started out with a Moby Wrap (under 12 weeks) and moved onto a Lillebaby Airflow soft structured carrier – which were both great when he was a baby. We loved how versatile it was, how it folded up into our suitcase. However, when our son turned one, he wanted to see more, he couldn’t always see over our shoulders on a back carry, and sometimes we’d also end up carrying the diaper bag as well. We started noticing structured metal frame carriers, did our online homework and bought the Osprey Poco Plus for our next trip. It was a game changer.
The Poco Plus has a built in sunshade, a lower compartment for diapers or bulky items, a pull out diaper change pad, multiple pockets that are in easy reach while working, a detachable day pack and space to insert a Camelbak water pouch. All this and it’s deceptively light and can be taken as carry-on. Another key benefit is that the metal frame pulls out so that it can stand upright alone – meaning you can insert the child into the carrier before you put it on (handy if you have a reluctant hiker); and you can leave them in there if, say you want to pause for a breathtaking view on a mountain. But the real clincher was the more our son could see, the less he whined and the more miles we could get in before meltdown. The Osprey Poco is not cheap (around $270) but divide that by the number of wears on FREE hiking trails, and you will quickly see it’s way cheaper than a gym pass.
Like anything you attempt with a toddler in tow, success is defined by how well fed and rested your child is. Go as early as you can, and take ample water and snacks. Sunblock and bug spray are essential, so too is dressing in long pants and shoes that won’t slip off easily – we once walked half way round a lake before realizing we’d lost a shoe and had to retrace our steps. Having your partner walk behind you to catch any toddler debris is a habit we’ve since acquired! Keep up a steady stream of entertainment – for my 21 month old this involves pointing out and teaching names like “water,” “bridge,” “tree,” and “flower,” and singing nursery rhymes. We also find that more populated trails work best if only to have more stimulation by way of other people and dogs to say hello to. Allowing time out of the carrier to walk is also important, just ensure they keep to the trail and watch out for poison ivy.
Safety in Numbers
The University of Michigan found that those that participated in group walks in nature reported lower levels of stress. I found something similar, when we joined a Hike It Baby Kansas City branch this month. Our son had fun walking and holding hands with other toddlers for half a mile, and stayed similarly entertained for the remaining 1.5 miles in the carrier. Hike It Baby is a national non-profit that provides regular FREE group hikes to help moms and kids get out into nature. The Kansas City branch plans weekly hikes.
Kansas City Trails
Here are 1-2 mile trails we’ve discovered within 30 minutess of the city.
- Ernie Miller Nature Center – 909 N Highway 7, Olathe, KS. Added bonus FREE visitor center has two snakes, a salamander and four Owls. No dogs.
- Lake Jacomo Larry Mattenon Trail – Cyclone School Rd and East Park Rd., Lees Summit, MO. Dog friendly.
- Tomahawk Creek Bike/Hike Trail –119th & Tomahawk Creek Parkway, Leawood, KS. Dog and bike friendly plus playgrounds.
Got other trail recommendations? Please share. We would love to try them. Happy trails all!