It’s relatively easy to go hiking with a baby. Aside from the complications of feedings and diaper changes, babies are usually more content to be carried for longer periods of time during the hike. As you are well aware, life becomes a bit more challenging as babies turn into toddlers, so you likely won’t be surprised when you hear that hiking with toddlers is a much different experience. The good news is that hiking with toddlers is a wonderful and rewarding experience for everyone in the family!
Why Hiking with Toddlers is Important
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. Does this mean your hiking days are over? No, they aren’t, but expect that family hikes 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.
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 after a few years of consistently hiking with our toddlers, they have become very capable hikers. For instance, we’ve been able to do amazing family 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. If you are an outdoorsy family, the time invested in hiking with young kids will pay off big time down the road.
When we talk about hiking with toddlers, we are referring to hiking with an 18 month old all the way through to hiking with a 3 year old. You’ll also find many these useful tips for hiking with kids (from our Family Can Travel blog) also apply to hiking with a toddler.
What You’ll Find in This Article on Hiking with Toddlers:
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12 Tips for Hiking with Toddlers
Before kids, we loved spending our weekends and even vacations out on the hiking trails. Even our honeymoon was spent trekking in Nepal. When our kids arrived, we wanted to share our love of outdoors with them, so we just kept on hiking, giving us lots of real life experience hiking with our kids. We’re happy to share with you our best advice for how to hike with a toddler so you can have the best outings with your family.
1. Prepare For Your Hike
Let’s face it, just getting out the door with young kids 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 family hike and getting all your toddler hiking gear ready.
The first step will be in choosing a toddler-friendly hike. Knowing approximately how long you will be out helps you effectively plan for a successful family outing. For example, will your child nap on-the-go, or are you trying to fit the hike in between a nap?
Are you planning on having your toddler hike the majority of the trail or will you use a toddler carrier 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 them falling asleep in their toddler hiking carrier, but we could never count on it. Whenever we went hiking with our toddler, we’d typically go early the morning so we could make it back home for their nap time.
As always, all that fresh air while hiking with kids can tucker them out, so we’d always be on the lookout for eyes closing in the car seat on the way home!
For toddlers who are still on two naps a day, you can do one good nap at home, then try to get one nap on the trail in their hiking toddler carrier. If your toddler doesn’t nap on-the-go like you planned, you can always make up for it with an earlier bedtime. When hiking with toddlers, we recommend doing what works best for your family and your child’s nap schedule.
3. Choose Toddler Friendly Hikes
We’ve found that the definition of a toddler friendly hike depends on the age of your toddler. For example, if your toddler is newly walking, try for easier hiking trails without a lot of rocks and tree roots to trip over. However, if your child is older (closing in on 3 years old), find a trail with lots of fun rocks and logs to climb on.
If you give toddlers enough time, I’m certain you’ll be surprised at how far they can walk.
If you plan on using a toddler carrier for hiking on a more difficult hike, you can always pick flat portions of the trail to let your toddler out of the carrier to get their legs moving. In our experience, you can’t keep your toddler in their hiking carrier too long – giving your child enough time to burn some energy keeps 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 your family hike, driving to the trailhead 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.
You may be tempted to hurry them along to ensure you finish your hike, but we recommend giving them time to learn about this new environment. This stage doesn’t last forever and although you’ll burn less calories than you’d planned, your child’s development get’s a big boost. That’s a good trade-off, in our opinion.
It’s best to go with no expectations, other than to have a fun family outing. You might not make it to your destination, or you might need to turn back earlier than you had hoped.
Each hike with a toddler will be different – some days are going to be wonderful and some days… aren’t. And that’s ok. We recommend you be persistent and get out often and you’ll be surprised at how quickly your child turns into a really capable little hiker!
5. Make Your Family Hikes Fun and Stay Positive
If you want to get your toddler walking, games are the perfect way to keep your toddler moving.
Some fun games you can play on the hiking trail with toddlers are:
- Hide and Seek – Obviously adjusted to the age of your toddler.
- Scavenger Hunt – Make up a list of fun items for your kids to find on the trail. Make it super fun for them with this set of toddler scavenger hunt cards.
- Sing songs – Here are some great hiking songs for families.
- Hide Animals – A game we loved playing with our kids was to have one parent run ahead a little and hide small animals along the trail. Kids will love running along the trail looking for the next animal.
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 favorite “trick” of ours to get our kids moving well is to go hiking with another family. Something magical happens when toddlers start hiking with their friends. You’ll be amazed at how much quicker your kids will hike if they have friends to run along with.
7. Bring a Toddler Hiking Backpack
Toddlers love to feel grown up! Getting a structured hiking backpack is a great way to get your child excited about hiking. Your toddlers hiking backpack doesn’t have to be specific for hiking, it can be something fun that your child loves.
In our experience, packing a toddler’s own hiking backpack with some fun snacks, water and a toy, makes a family hike so much more exciting for them. Better yet, let your toddler pack her own hiking backpack.
We’ve included some fun options in our Toddler Hiking Gear Shopping List.
8. Pack Plenty of Toddler Hiking Snacks
One of our favorite tips for hiking with toddlers is to 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.
If you are hiking with a toddler carrier, snack time is a great time to carry your child while they eat. We used a spill-proof snack cup with Cheerios or easy-to-hold food (like a cheese or bread) and hiked while our toddler happily munched away.
9. Use a Toddler Hiking Carrier
If you are wondering how to carry a toddler while hiking, we highly recommend a toddler hiking backpack. We used a toddler hiking backpack on almost all of our family hikes because it’s more very comfortable for both the parent and child. Plus, we really liked that it has a storage compartment to carry water and any toddler hiking essentials.
The best toddler backpack carrier for hiking will differ for every family, but 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.
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 plan 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 comfortably go hiking with a 4 year old using our LILLEbaby carrier on our back.
10. Get the Right Toddler Hiking Gear for Your Family
Aside from getting your child 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 also liked having toddler hiking shoes.
We started out just using running shoes or hiking sandals for short family hikes, but as we hiked more often, we opted for proper toddler hiking shoes. They offered a little more traction than regular sneakers, plus it made our kids feel more like Mom and Dad.
We really like the toddler hiking boots by Keen. 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.
Every family has different needs, so we have listed all of our favorite toddler hiking gear for you to consider.
11. Be Prepared for the Elements
A cold, muddy and cranky toddler won’t be much fun, so we recommend being prepared for the weather. If there’s a chance of rain, pack a toddler rain suit. Trust us on this one – hiking with toddlers is much more fun when they are dry, warm and happy.
If you are hiking in the mountains, weather can change in an instant. Bring an extra warm layer, like this fleece jacket for yourself and your toddler. In our experience, packing a pair of mitts and a wool hat in your daybag is always a good idea when hiking with a toddler. They are so small in your bag, you’ll hardly notice them, but they are worth their weight in gold if the weather gets cooler.
12. Hiking with a Baby and a Toddler
Hiking with a toddler and a baby 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 hiking 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.
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
It’s easy to forget things when going out with your kids, so we hope this checklist for hiking with toddlers will make your life easier. This checklist of toddler hiking gear comes from our years of experience hiking with our small kids.
- Bug spray.
- Snacks in spill proof cup.
- Rain cover for hiking carrier.
- Toddler carrier or hiking backpack carrier.
- Extra layers.
- Mitts and wool hat.
- A compact first aid kit.
- Extra outfit or two.
- Diaper change mat.
- Diapers & wipes.
- Wide brimmed sun hat.
- Toddler hiking boots.
- Wet/dry bag.
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 (2 km/h).
How do I hike with my 2 year old?
Hiking with a 2 year old will take some patience, but it’s a great way to let your toddler explore the world 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.
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 young kids.
This post was written & edited by:
Celine Brewer is the owner of Baby Can Travel. Not only does she have years of experience traveling with babies & toddlers, but she's helped millions of new parents travel with their babies and toddlers for over a decade. In addition to writing on her baby travel blog, she has shared her expertise on traveling with a baby or toddler by contributing to articles about traveling with a baby with the Washington Post, USA Today, the Lonely Planet magazine and Pregnancy & Newborn magazine.
Celine also writes about family travel on the site FamilyCanTravel.com, which she co-owns with her husband. Being from the Canadian Rockies, she shares her passion about her home and travel to Banff National Park and area on their site TravelBanffCanada.com.