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Hiking with Toddlers

If you’ve now entered the toddler stage, things are about to get very different. Hiking with a baby might seem more complicated with the feeding and diaper changes, but your baby is going to be a lot more content to be carried for longer periods of time during the hike.

You’ll probably even find it easier to get a nap on the go while hiking with babies.

Like traveling with toddlers, hiking with a toddler has its own set of challenges. Toddlers want to be on the move, and they aren’t shy about sharing their demands.

best tips for hiking with a toddler

Does this mean your hiking days are over? No, they aren’t, but expect that they will be different for the next few years. If you can keep it up, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your toddler turns into a great little hiker.

You just might need to put those epic hiking days on the backburner for a couple of years.

How do I know this? Because at 4 years old, our youngest has blown us away with the hikes he’s been able to accomplish. Sure, they are at a very slow pace but we’ve been able to do hikes like this best hike in Capitol Reef National Park or trek to the Lost City in Colombia.

I never would have guessed this would be possible so soon when we first started hiking with babies and toddlers.

A toddler laughs while hiking in a Deuter Kid Comfort 3 backpack carrier

Whether you’ve been hiking all along with your baby or just starting with your toddler, here is all our best advice for how to hike with a toddler so you can have the best outings.

When we talk about hiking with toddlers, we are referring to as early as hiking with an 18 month old all the way through to about 3 and a half. You’ll find you can also start using a lot of these tips for getting kids to hike (from our Family Can Travel blog) even with toddlers.

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Tips for Hiking with Toddlers

1. Prepare for the Day

Let’s face it, just getting out the door with a toddler can try our patience. If you are hoping to get an early start on a hike, it’s best to get ready the night before. This will include choosing your hike and getting all your toddler hiking essentials ready.

The first step will be in choosing your hike, so you know how much you have to get ready for the day. Will your toddler nap on the go, or are you trying to fit the hike in between a nap?

hikes with a toddler

Are you planning on having your toddler hike the majority of the hike or will you carry your toddler most of the way? If there’s one thing we know about hiking with toddlers, it’s that they will want to walk! So take that into account when you plan how long your hike will take and how many snacks to pack!

2. Have a Plan for Naps

Some toddlers are excellent nappers – they fall asleep anywhere! Neither of our kids were those toddlers. We got lucky once in a while with a nap on-the-go, but we’d often compromise and do hikes early the morning and make it back for nap time.

We’d always have to be on the lookout for eyes closing in the car seat on the way home though!

toddler hiking snack

For toddlers who are still on two naps a day, you can do one good nap at home, then plan to do one nap on-the-go. If your toddler doesn’t nap on-the-go like you planned, you can always make up for it with an earlier bedtime. Do what works best for your family and your toddler’s nap schedule.

3. Choose Toddler Friendly Hikes

Picking a toddler friendly hike will also depend on the age of your toddler. If your toddler is newly walking, try for easier trails without a lot of rocks and tree roots to trip over.

If your toddler is older (closing in on 3 years old), find a trail with fun rocks and logs to climb on.

tips for hiking with toddlers

If you give toddlers enough time, I’m certain you’ll be surprised at how far they can walk.

how to hike with a toddler

If you plan on carrying your toddler and doing a more difficult hike, you can always pick flat portions of the hike to let your toddler out of the carrier to get their legs moving.

For extra long hikes, make sure you carve out enough time for your toddler to burn some energy. This will keep everyone happy.

Need some inspiration? We’ve got just the thing in this list of best hikes with toddlers and babies around the globe and this list of best hikes with a baby or toddler in the USA.

4. Plan Extra Time and Patience

Regardless of how great a hiker your toddler is, plan extra time. Between getting ready for the hike, driving and actually getting going once you get to the trail will all take longer than you expect.

For the actual hike, it’s time to slow down and see the world from your toddler’s perspective. They are going to be interested in every ant, every rock and anything else that you probably would have completely overlooked.

tips for hiking with a toddler

It’s best to go with no expectations other than to have a fun outing. You might not make it to your destination, or you might need to turn back earlier than you had hoped. In fact, it might turn out to be a complete disaster. But be persistent and get out often.

Some days are going to be wonderful and some days… aren’t. That’s ok.

5. Make it Fun and Stay Positive

If you want to get your toddler walking, games are the perfect way to keep your toddler moving.

hiking games with toddlers

Some fun games you can play on the trail with toddlers are:

  • Hide and Seek – Obviously adjusted to the age of your toddler.
  • Scavenger Hunt – Make up a list of fun items to find on the trail, you can even print them out with pictures for your toddler or get this fun set of cards.
  • Sing songs – Here are some great hiking songs for families.
  • Hide Animals – Have one parent go up ahead slightly and hide small animals along the trail. Kids will love running along the trail looking for the next animal.
hiking games to play with toddlers

Do what you can to keep your hike fun and positive. Praise your toddler for what a great hiker they are. This will help them be excited about the next hike.

6. Hike with Friends

Another great way to get toddlers hiking is to hike with friends. You’ll be amazed at how much quicker they hike if they have friends to run along with.

tips for hiking with a toddler

7. Pack your Toddlers Hiking Backpack

Toddlers love to feel grown up! Getting a hiking backpack for toddlers is a great way to get your toddler excited about hiking. Your toddlers hiking backpack doesn’t have to be specific for hiking, it can be something fun that your toddler loves.

Pack it with some fun snacks, water and a toy, or better yet, let your toddler pack her own hiking backpack.

We’ve included some fun options in our Toddler Hiking Amazon Shopping List here.

8. Pack Plenty of Toddler Hiking Snacks

Pack way more toddler hiking snacks than you think you’ll need. Sometimes a little snack is just what your toddler needs to keep moving.

Find a fun spot to stop for a snack, then when they have more energy you can continue on your way.

hiking with a 3 year old and toddler

If you are hiking with a toddler carrier, snack time is a great time to carry your toddler while they eat their lunch or snack. We used a spill-proof snack cup with Cheerios or easy-to-hold food (like a cheese or bread) and hiked while our toddler munched away.

9. Use a Toddler Hiking Carrier

Choose the best toddler carrier for hiking. This will differ for every family. We are big fans of the Deuter Kid Comfort hiking carriers for toddlers. We started using it as a hiking carrier for babies and used it frequently for hiking with toddlers.

We loved it so much we even began to travel with a hiking backpack carrier.

Deuter Kid Comfort toddler hiking carrier

A hiking backpack to carry toddlers is great because it’s more comfortable for both the toddler and the parent, plus it has a storage compartment to carry any toddler hiking essentials.

If you’d prefer to have your toddler do most of the walking but aren’t confident they can complete the full hike (or want to have a backup toddler carrier just in case), pack a toddler carrier in your backpack. That way you’ll still have a way to carry your toddler if needed, but it will be out of sight.

Our favorite toddler hiking carrier, besides our Deuter Kid Comfort, was a LILLEbaby Toddler CarryOn. The lumbar support was a must for any front carrying. We were still able to carry a 4-5 year old on our back in this carrier comfortably.

Lillebaby Toddler Carryon - Hiking toddler carrier

10. Get Toddler Hiking Gear

Aside from a fun hiking backpack, you don’t need a lot for hiking with a toddler. Everyone will have a different opinion on this, but we liked having toddler hiking shoes.

We started out just using running shoes or hiking sandals for short hikes, but as we hiked more we opted for toddler hiking shoes. They offered a little more traction than regular sneakers.

toddler hiking boots

We found Keen to be a great option for toddler hiking boots. They come in small sizes and the waterproof ones are a great option if your toddler loves to jump in puddles. Waterproof hiking boots will help to keep little feet dry and warm.

A good sun hat with a wide brim to cover the neck is also a must for hiking with toddlers. We share all our favorite toddler sun hats and toddler sunglasses here.

We give even more details on all favorite toddler hiking gear here.

11. Be Prepared for the Elements

A cold, muddy and cranky toddler won’t be much fun. Be prepared for the weather. If there’s a chance of rain, pack a toddler rain suit. Keeping your toddler dry and warm will keep them happy.

rain suit for toddler hikes

If you are hiking in the mountains, weather can change in an instant. Bring extra warm layers for yourself and your toddler. Even packing a pair of mitts and a wool hat will be worth it if the weather gets cooler.

12. Hiking with a Baby and a Toddler

Hiking with a baby and a toddler will add a little bit more to your preparation list, but it’s a great way to get out of the house and burn off some of that toddler energy. You’ll be able to go at a slower pace while also carrying a baby, which will keep your toddler happy if they love to explore.

Find the best baby carrier for hiking with a baby from our list of recommendations.

hiking with a baby and a toddler

If you plan on carrying both kids, I’ve seen some moms carry baby on the front in a baby carrier and a hiking backpack to carry toddler.

Hiking with Toddlers Checklist

  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Snacks in spill proof cup
  • Rain cover for hiking carrier
  • Toddler carrier or hiking backpack carrier
  • Extra layers
  • Mitts and wool hat
  • First aid kit
  • Extra outfit or two
  • Diaper change mat
  • Diapers & wipes
  • Wide brimmed sun hat
  • Toddler hiking boots
  • Wet/dry bag

We’ve included all of these items in a convenient Amazon Shopping List here.

FAQS for Hiking with Toddlers

How far can a toddler hike?

If you are just starting to hike with a one year old, plan for short little hikes with a carrier packed away just in case.

Hiking with a 2 year old will allow you to go farther, but this will depend on how much hiking you’ve done. If you are hiking with a 3 year old, you can probably plan on doing 2.5 mile hikes.

To help you plan your time, keep in mind a toddler will hike approximately 1.25 miles per hour (2km/h).

How do I take my 2 year old hiking?

Hiking with a 2 year old will take some patience, but it’s a great way to let your toddler explore and burn some energy. Find some toddler friendly hikes near your home. Start small and hike often to build up to longer hikes. Remember to pack plenty of snacks, an extra outfit, and a garbage bag for dirty diapers.hiking with a 2 year old

When should I start hiking with a toddler?

As soon as possible. The sooner you start and the more often you hike with your toddler, the more second nature it will become to your toddler. You can start by carrying your toddler and letting him walk for small sections. Then build from those positive experiences each time.

How do you carry a toddler hiking?

While a piggyback ride or on your shoulders will work in a pinch, the most comfortable way to carry a toddler hiking is in a hiking backpack carrier or in a carrier made specifically for toddlers.

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hiking with toddlers