I’ve never thought of myself as a huge hiker, but after Lulu was born it became one of my favorite things to do. Probably because some physical exercise was quite welcomed after being cooped up inside with a baby for days on end. Plus, Lulu – and most babies it seems – loves being outside. Babies are happy little cooing nature lovers. Here are my top tips for hiking with a baby.
Invest in a Good Quality Baby Carrier
I love my Ergo 360 — the baby can be worn on the front facing in or out, or carried on your back.
You’re not going to want to just hold your baby in your arms while you trek up the side of a hill or mountain, or try to push a baby across rocky terrain in a stroller. Instead, you’ll want to use a baby carrier that can be strapped to your body.
I like the Ergobaby 360 since it can be worn with the baby snuggled into either your front or your back. (Or side, but that’s probably not conducive to hiking well.) It also comes with an infant insert so you can use it before your baby has head support. Even with infant inserts, most carrier brands recommend you wait until the baby is eight pounds to use.
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Once the baby has good head support (typically after six months old), then a hiking backpack that props the baby up high so they can look around is golden for keeping baby happy on hikes.
Lulu in particular hates being strapped on the back in the Ergo and I don’t blame her — she can’t see as well compared to if she’s strapped to my front facing out.
Mom, I can barely see you! Or the pretty trees!
The heavier she gets, the harder it is to hike with her on the front, though. Tom and I are planning to add this Osprey carrier to our collection next time we get one of our 20% off member coupons from REI. It props the baby up so they can look around and also has a cover for rain or sunshine.
I’ve written before about the wonders of the Moby wrap, but for hiking you probably are going to want something more sturdy and that isn’t 7 feet long. That thing’s going to get very dirty if you have to keep rewrapping it, not to mention annoying.
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Bring a Partner and a few Vital Baby Supplies
A hiking partner who knows the baby well can also take turns carrying the little one; a baby strapped to you is like having added weights on you — a good workout, but a tough one!
Hiking with a partner is smart even without a baby in tow, but becomes even more important when a little one is depending on you. If something were to happen while on the trail, the other person can run for help while you stay with the baby.
Also, your hiking partner can carry either the baby or the backpack with the baby supplies during the hike. You don’t want to bring the entire contents of your diaper bag, but a few vitals are important to have: a couple diapers, wipes, pacifier if your baby uses one, plus a change of clothes in case of a diaper blowout if the climate isn’t right for your baby to go au naturale for the rest of the hike. Don’t forget to stick in plenty of water, too! Particularly if you’re nursing, you’re going to get thirsty fast.
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Pick Hiking Trails Wisely with a Baby
Yes, I kept my distance from that edge.
Choose hiking trails that aren’t too steep or treacherous. This might seem like common sense, but it’s easy to think that because you’ll be wearing the baby and not have her strapped into a stroller, you’ll be able to easily navigate more difficult trails. While not having a stroller will give you more flexibility, it’s important to remember that the baby-wearing is going to throw off your center of gravity and you’re not going to be as firm on your feet as you’re used to. Stay safe and pick trails that are mostly flat or have a gentle slope without any need for scrambling.
Another thing to look for when picking a hiking trail is how shaded it is. It is generally not recommended that babies wear sunscreen before six months of age (though speak with your doctor if you have any concerns or questions about using it earlier or later) and walking on trails shaded by trees will help you not have to worry the baby’s fragile skin is being covered enough.
Dress the Baby Appropriately
This trail in the Olympic Mountains was heavily wooded and it was a warm day, meaning we didn’t need to worry as much about what Lulu was wearing. This is not always the case.
Sometimes you’re not going to be able to stay out of the sun, so you’ll want to make sure your little bundle of joy is covered up. This can get tricky if you’re hiking somewhere hot. When we were in Kauai when Lulu was five months old I had such trouble finding light weight clothing that had long sleeves and pant legs at the traditional baby stores.
Instead, try REI’s baby and toddler section to find activewear that is breathable and offers sun protection. It is sometimes hard to find the small sizes, but a 12-month article of clothing may work depending on the size of your baby as you may want the long sleeves to cover the hands to provide protection and you can roll up pant legs. Also, Aiden and Anais recently came out with a line of muslin clothing that looks perfect for hot summer days, but you’ll want to check it’s not so porous that it doesn’t provide good sun protection.
A big, floppy hat for the baby is also a must on a hike in sunshine, for protection of the skin and eyes. Start having the baby wear the hat around your house or on walks prior to any big hikes so he or she gets used to it. Some babies hate hats and will try to pull them off or fuss while wearing them and you don’t want to be troubleshooting the hat situation when you should be enjoying nature.
If you’re not sure how cold it’s going to get, layering is wise, too. Just remember the baby will be getting some of your body heat so may not need to be as bundled up as you think.
Nursing on the Trail
A nursing tank like this one that easily snaps and unsnaps is ideal for fast access breastfeeding while hiking.
I always nurse Lulu in the car before starting a hike to make sure her belly is full and her thirst is quenched.
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Even on shorter hikes, though, there’s no predicting when a baby will suddenly become hungry, especially if you nurse on demand. I have totally whipped out the boob on the side of hiking trails to console a crying Lulu. Wear an active shirt with long tails if you want to be able to easily cover up without having to lug a nursing cover around.
I love this Lucy cardigan that has long tails which can be buttoned up to the side for a light layer while hiking and covering up while nursing.
Otherwise, just remind yourself that people would probably rather catch a glimpse of a nursing mother during their hike than hear hunger wails instead of babbling brooks and chirping birds. Or don’t remind yourself of anything. It’s your baby and your right to nurse him or her whenever and wherever you’d like. I haven’t hiked with bottles before, so if anyone has tips for that – please leave them in the comments below!
Try a Quick Hike with Your Baby Close to Home
If you’re still feeling daunted by the thought of going out into the wilderness with your baby away from all your creature comforts and all that baby stuff you feel you need, or aren’t sure how your baby will handle a hike, just try a quick hike close to home. Even if it’s just a walk around the neighborhood, you can try out the carrier, see how your baby does on the walk, and start to get comfortable with the idea of hiking with a baby. You may even find you love it and that it’s time to get out there and explore with your little one!