Herein I am compiling all of my observations about hiking with small children – toddler to preschooler range. It wasn’t easy to find much information about hiking with such small children, so I am recording my daily observations pour encourager les autres.
This is one of those complicated topics because so much depends on the individual toddler in question. My son is active and extremely strong, he wants to spend every moment outside, and he orients intently on his grown ups – whatever we are doing, we wants to do too. Hiking with us, even though he’s not quite three, is a natural extension for him. It may not be for others. I’m trying to keep my observations general, so please forgive my small sample size.
Today we hiked The Windows, taking the primitive loop from South Window back, had a quick break for lunch at the van, and then hiked up to Double Arch. GeekBaby did very well and hiked both trails by himself, probably two miles total.
1. When hiking with a toddler, you must carry a well stocked first aid kit. (Really, it’s always a good idea, but I digress.)
GeekBaby took two minor tumbles today. He missed a step on the improved trail at The Windows and tumbled down it. I’d just finished telling my dad he didn’t need to hold a hand for the steps, he’d been navigating them just fine all morning… And down he went, earning a couple bruises and a new respect for holding someone’s hand!
Later walking down to the Double Arch trailhead he tripped himself with the hiking stick he insisted on carrying and took a header into the gravel path. A kind passerby offered his first aid kit, but I had my own. I was sure he’d have torn his hands up, but he wasn’t even bleeding. Just one tiny scratch on the palm of his hand. I cleaned it out and on we went.
In addition to proper first aid materials, a small and highly covetable snack goes a long way towards calming distressed toddlers. Falls may not hurt them badly, but do scare them.
I was very glad I had the kit even if I didn’t need to break it out. Those two tumbles reinforced the intimidating knowledge that my child’s comfort and safety on the trail are in my hands… and that no amount of caution can prevent every tumble.
2. Outfitting a toddler is tricky business. Toddlers get a kick out of having gear just like the adults, but you don’t want to really spend much money on it and it can’t be too heavy. A pack (with plenty of growing room) and a 1L water reservoir will make them pretty happy. Other gear I packed for GeekBaby was a flashlight, whistle, rain jacket, diapers, and snacks. He carried it like a champ for the first hike. The second was short enough that we didn’t bother.
Generally, children can safely carry 20% of their body weight. My son’s pack weighed in at under 5 pounds with an upper limit of 7 pounds. But don’t push that weight limit too hard and be prepared to carry their pack if they get tired off it. I pack a couple carabiners to attach his pack to mine, just in case. It didn’t come to that today, but it probably will on longer hikes.
3. You have to teach them to walk with you instead of asking to be carried. This is best done before the hiking trip, and must be done on an individual adult basis. They have to learn that just because mommy and daddy won’t carry them, doesn’t mean that other relatives or family friends along for the hike will. Toddlers can smell a sucker a mile off.
Tomorrow we head to Delicate Arch. It’s a longer, more difficult hike than today’s adventures. I don’t consider it terribly challenging, it’s only a 3 mile round trip with ~500 feet of climb, but we’ll have to see how little legs handle it. I have high hopes he can do it, and if not, there are always Daddy’s shoulders.