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9 Tips for Hiking with Toddlers

Playing catch or an exciting game of tag are great outdoor activities when you have a toddler. But when you’re more on the adventurous side as a parent, looking for thrilling outdoor activities with a toddler in tow may bring it’s own set of challenges. Hiking with a toddler may seem nearly impossible, but with the right tips it can be truly rewarding. From what extra clothes to pack and timing the hike just right, to the perfect snacks for you and your toddler, we’re covering it all and then some.

9 Tips for Hiking with Toddlers

Trekking through the great outdoors with your kids can be a memorable activity no matter the season. Hiking is great to do with the family in the spring or even as a summer activity for kids.

It is important to remember however, no matter if you are a hiking enthusiast or a newbie on the trails, staying safe is the top priority. Taking time to research and plan your route carefully, double checking the weather beforehand, ensuring someone outside of your hiking group knows where you are, and having the right toddler hiking gear can help keep you and your little one safe while out on your excursion. Continue reading for more helpful tips and a list of most commonly asked questions about hiking with kids.

hiking with toddlers father carrying child

1.  Pack Extra Socks

Packing for a family hike is a lot like packing for a summer vacation. You need to keep comfort and “backups” in mind. Which means always bringing extras, especially socks. Depending on the route you take, if there is any water along the way you can bet your toddler is going to want to splash around. Having extra socks for just this, will keep your little one comfortable for the remainder of the hike. Even if there is no water on the trail keep an extra pair of socks in case any bugs decide to hitch a ride.

2. Bring Spare Clothes

No matter how many times you check the weather, unpredictable things happen. Dressing your toddler in clothes that can withstand the elements and are made with their comfort in mind is ideal. Our Logan Boys Classic Tee is made from super soft cotton stretch fabric that is lightweight and breathable. It also comes in a three pack so it's perfect for packing when hiking with kids.

The Gracie Girls Organic Cotton Camisoles are amazing for layering, have flatlock seams for extra comfort and longer hip length to prevent annoying rolling and bunching while out on the trails. Pair these camis with our Kylie Girls Organic Cotton Leggings for the perfect foundation ahead of hitting the trails. Depending on the temps outside, don’t forget a pair of gloves. Even in the summer, those cool mornings can cause little fingers some discomfort.

3. Time the Hike for After Naptime

Depending on the age of your toddler, hiking with a 3 or 4 year old means being mindful of their nap schedule. No parent wants to deal with an epic meltdown in the middle of nowhere. Hiking earlier in the morning would mean packing everything the night before which may be best if you want to miss the afternoon heat. If your toddler takes two naps during the day, time the ride to the hike during the first nap. This ensures they can get as much rest as possible before the hike begins.

Keep an eye on the clock, making sure to head to your car before their second nap. Or if you have a hiking backpack, you may be able to put them in so they can nap while you finish your hike. Be mindful that if you wait until later in the day to hike, it may be good to wait until after 5pm as the hottest part of the day is typically around 3pm.

toddler hiking on a gravel trail near water

4. Pick the Right Trails 

Most places have an abundance of wilderness and trails to hike, but it's best to look for easy or moderate routes when hiking as a family. While you may want to get out and climb the highest cliff possible or take on the Grand Canyon with your three year old, not too many toddlers - or parents - are equipped for such a feat. Be realistic about what your toddler can achieve, realizing that taking them out on the trails will mean moving at a much slower pace then you may be used to.

Picking routes that offer a variety of scenery will help keep you and your little one entertained during your hike. It may also help you determine what obstacles your tiny tike is capable of overcoming in a more manageable way. Paths with small hills, creeks to stomp, and rocks big enough to climb can engage your toddler in a safe way while also developing the skills needed to take on much tougher trails the older they get.

5. Don’t Forget the Sunglasses or Stroller Shade

No matter the time of day, having protection from the sun is always a good idea. Sunglasses play an essential role in eye safety for kids. Which is why when looking for sunglasses opt for the most UVA and UVB protection you can find.

If you opt for a stroller friendly trail, make sure your stroller has a shade. Having some sort of shade for your little one from the beaming sun will help keep you and their sanity during the hike.

6. Manage Your Expectations

As a parent we’ve all been there. We come up with this grand idea, plan every little detail out, and then when it comes time our toddler has a complete meltdown, shows little interest or things just don’t go how we expected them to. Trekking with toddlers is going to be as unpredictable as the weather. They may be super excited about hiking and absolutely love the outdoors. Or they could care less and ask to go home every five steps.

Keeping this in mind, do your best to keep your expectations low. This may mean starting off with shorter trails and working you and your toddler's way up to longer treks. This could also look like being prepared to stop more times then you’d care to. There is no doubt that your toddler is going to want to stop and explore as much as they can. Enjoy this time. Try to look at the world through their eyes. Remember they are seeing most of these bugs, plants, etc.. for the first time. Allow them to soak that newest in, safely explore it all, and take a little extra time to observe the world around them.

7. Pack Plenty of Snacks

Snacks are a given once you’ve entered toddlerhood, but they are definite essentials for hiking with toddlers. Pack things that don’t require utensils. Easy on the go things like apples or bananas, reusable bags full of strawberries,blueberries and squeezable applesauce can all help make a successful, tantrum-free hike. Don’t forget to pack some things for yourself. Same rules apply, the less fuss the better.

toddler hiking with trekking poles next to mother

8. Let Your Toddler Walk (But Rest When Needed)

As much as we may want to keep our toddlers close, hiking is all about enjoying nature. What better way for your toddler to do that than by walking themselves. They are going to want to stop, pick up rocks, climb over fallen tree limbs, splash in the creeks and everything else in between. If you’re looking to raise an adventurous nature lover then grant them such joys at an early age. Give your toddler the space to walk and explore but also have a carrier if they need rest but you’d like to keep going.

9. Make It Fun with a Scavenger Hunt

Toddlerhood is basically synonymous with tantrum. One way to hike with toddlers without any tears is to make a game of it. Scavenger hunts are a fun educational way to engage your little one in everything around them. Try finding specific birds, pointing out “X” amount of lizards, taking in all the colors of the leaves, and looking for certain species of bugs.

Another great game is nature bingo. Draw everything they may see along the hike on a bingo board and then have them try and find it all. Once they do, they can put a sticker until they get B-I-N-G-O. No matter what game you choose, this is a sure fire way to make the hike more memorable. Plus also giving your little one something to look forward to as you two take on the trail.

Common Questions About Hiking with Littles

Now that we’ve covered all the essentials, lets answer some of those most asked questions.  

Is a Toddler Hiking Carrier Necessary?

This one can be answered in a few ways. Some parents prefer using a hiking backpack to carry their toddler while others would rather let them enjoy as much of nature as possible. And if the trail is stroller friendly there’d be no need. It's totally up to you, your preference and the location you choose to hike.

How Far Can Toddlers Hike Comfortably?

If you are an avid hiker you may be up for a long trek, but start off with shorter, simple hikes. Every toddler will be different, and you know your little one best. Is your toddler more active and completely capable of going on longer hikes? Or bugs could be something your toddler doesn’t care for which could mean coaxing them through the hike. While we can give advice, such as remembering to manage your expectations and having extra essentials like clothes and snacks. Ultimately, it comes down to listening to our little ones and following their lead.

Can a 2 Year Old Go Hiking?

Age does not limit your toddlers ability to hike. As long as they can walk - and even if they can’t - taking them outdoors to explore nature with you is always a good idea.

Do Toddlers Need Hiking Boots?

While some things can be left up to personal preference this shouldn’t be one of them. Keeping our littles safe is top priority, especially when outside. Having the right hiking boots can make all the difference on the trails.

What Altitude Is Safe For Toddlers?

There are a few different schools of thought on this particular one. While there are no studies that show any dangers to having a toddler at higher altitudes, it is best to do so slowly. Gradually ascending in altitude will help with acclimation.

toddler walking with mother on a fall day

What Are Your Must-Haves & Don’t Needs for Hiking with a Toddler?

No matter where you hit the trails with your tike, there are just certain things you probably won’t need. Things like water bottles, sunscreen, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, first aid kits, a safety harness and leash, and bug spray probably aren’t it. However, ipads / tablets, their favorite toys, lovely, and blankets really have no place out on the trails.

All in all, remember your goal here is to foster a love for nature and encourage family bonding time. Don’t get upset if your little one isn’t a hardcore mountaineer just yet. We are aiming for a lifelong hiking buddy and these are the first steps to achieving just that.