This is my first post here, hoping to exchange some thoughts on hiking with babies and toddlers and see how many other people are out there who do and enjoy that.
We are curious to hear about how other people do things, what their trips look like, their gear solutions and strategies, to learn from other's experiences - so for everyone who is looking for the same kind of information, here is a brief description of some of our so far experiences; please excuse if it's a bit long, but I thought for people who are serious about going hiking with their babies / toddlers, it's probably nice to have a description of a day or two on the trail, morning til evening, even though there's still lots of details that are missing here. So here goes:
We went car camping with our son the first time when he was about four months old. Sleeping in the tent, cooking and eating outside, sun, rain, bugs and everything else honestly, really were no problem, with some preparation and his great attitude to everything, which probably has to do with us doing things at his pace and letting him explore most things that he was interested in - he was very happy and curious in the tent, and as he's co-sleeping with us anyway, he didn't mind to have a bit less space (= even more cuddling!). Breastfeeding was a bonus that made things easier again. Crawled around the campsite a lot, wanted to go into the rivers all the time, we had a great time.
We carried him in a sling until he was about seven months old, that's when he didn't like it very much anymore.
Started to carry him around in town in a Macpac Vamoose soon after that, he enjoyed the views and having more space than in the sling - and we were amazed by how much easier it was to carry him, it was almost as if he wasn't in it! (By the way, we do have a stroller, but we only used it once and never thought about it again. It feels clumsy and slow in the city, annoying off paved ground, and most of all it makes communication between baby and parents almost nonexistent, as you can't see each other, and hearing each other is not that easy either. With the carrier, nothing stops you - you step on a bus, you cross the road like any other pedestrian, you walk around in the supermarket, you are much more flexible in general, and if you're lucky, your toddler strokes your hair - melt!)
Went on with strolls in the park and soon started to do afternoon hikes in the hills that became longer and longer. We figured out lots of helpful little tricks pretty quickly, and things got easier and easier; so we cranked it up a little.
Currently he is 14 months old, walks around home like a pro and is very active most of the time, climbing things, investigating everything etc.
Our second to last hike was near Arthurs Pass in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, a steep alpine setting, where we walked up a steep climb for about two hours, of which he walked himself about 20 minutes while holding our hand, as it was really steep and there were lots of rocks and little steps he had to climb. He was SO proud of being able to do that, he made about 500 metres and about 70+ metres altitude; and of course looked at one billion pebbles, bugs and flowers and poked lots of things with a stick. He was much more motivated to walk up this steep mountainside than he is usually motivated to walk in the city park with us, which he does like also; he seems to like the challenge I think. The rest of the trip, probably due to the tough terrain getting a bit much for him, he was quite happy to sit in the carrier and point and "talk" about all sorts of things he could see. In one very exposed area on a small snowfield (it's springtime here) it was very windy and pretty cold, so we put on the rain / wind cover of the Vamoose carrier, which only leaves his face and, if he sticks them out, his hands exposed. He was a bit upset about the cold wind, so we retreated at that point and decided that we're going to try a balaclava for him next time. On the way down, a curious Kea joined us and actually walked with us for a while - that's when he wanted to get out of the carrier and on the ground again and made that very clear to us! We then enjoyed watching our toddler and the curious bird playing hide and seek with each other around a pile of rocks for about fifteen minutes - they were equally cheeky and curious about each other. The whole trip took about three hours in very windy early spring weather and onto some snow fields, starting at about 1200 metres altitude, going up to maybe 1500, and returning. He slept through the whole two hour drive back home and ate like a hungry wolve in the evening, even though he had loads of snacks during the trip as well.
Our most recent noteworthy hike was in the Porthills near Christchurch, closer to sea level and in much warmer weather, at times t-shirt weather. We walked from Christchurch over the hills - which actually are the rim of an old large volcanic crater - and down to Lyttelton, from where we took a bus back to Christchurch which goes through a tunnel underneath the hills. This walk covered about 9 kilometres and went from near sealevel to about 500 metres altitude and back, accumulated altitude about 700 metres, total time from start to finish maybe four and a half hours. As our son fell asleep almost immediately when we put him into the carrier to have his lunchtime sleep which he often does, we decided to cover some ground; a bit over an hour later, we were at the crater rim on a saddle, that's when he woke up. We had a picknick with cheese, meat balls, bananas and other stuff, watched the sheep, chased a butterfly, threw around some dried cow pats and waved at some cyclists going past on the summit road. When we wanted to walk on after half an hour, he didn't want to go back into the carrier, so we switched to "ambling around" mode. He was quite happy to walk (roughly) into the direction we wanted to go, as long as he could take his little detours every few metres, look at all sorts of things, pluck some grass, and do all sorts of other stuff. Mum was ambling ahead a few dozen metres, dad was following baby around to make sure he wouldn't harm himself by falling off big rocks or eating stuff he shouldn't, and mum would stop every now and then and let us catch up with her, providing "directional motivation" in doing so. Every now and then, we held him from one of his wrists each, walked a few dozen metres quite quickly, while swinging him forward in "giant leaps", which he enjoys a lot and it's a good way of "breaking" him free from something that has captured him to a degree that he seems to want to stay there for the rest of the day. Overdo this though, and the mood goes down quite quickly! In about an hour of ambling and playing, we made about just under a kilometre - not too bad for a 14 month old and considering that as a result, he was in a great mood and also exhausted and satisfied enough to be happy to go back into the carrier again; he actually asked for it! For another hour we walked along the ridge quite fast with him pointing at things and "talking" about everything and anything until he finally fell asleep again for an afternoon nap. We stopped for a few minutes to refuel ourselves with snacks and water, and then decended down the other side towards Lyttelton. This kneebending steep descent took us another hour or so and increased our already strong committment to develop a clever equipment system that allows us to be comfortable and safe while being reasonably light. Our baby / toddler now weighs 11 kilograms, and for training purposes I had additional 10 kilograms in the carrier, which is a total of 21 kg and about the limit below which I hope to be able to keep our total pack weight for a 10 day summer trip in the Southern Alps this year, including food and a bit of water (which can be found about anywhere where we are going). More on that when we find out if and how we can make that possible! When we arrived in Lyttelton, we all had some icecream and more snacks from our packs, walked around town a bit, and finally took the bus home to Christchurch. Due to a useless bus plan, we ended up having to walk another half hour during dusk, and were surprised and happy to find that our little one had enough energy again to want to walk by himself and bang on about every single letterbox we passed. All in all we've been out from about 1PM to 7PM, were pretty tired, had learned a lot (once again), and now feel more confident than ever that we'll be able to do a 10 day roundtrip like (for example) Routeburn Track + Greenstone Track in summer.
Next, we're planning on doing some overnight hikes, as well as some day hikes in terrible weather close to the car or home, to see how we cope with that.
It seems that as we started doing these things with him right from the beginning when he was really little, he just feels that's just what you do, he's very used to adventuring around and enjoys himself, and is not very fussy about things at all. That's our theory at least, maybe we're just lucky, who knows.
Details about our gear setup for that summer trip will probably follow at a later date when it is more finalised. We have some great solutions already, but are still working on others. It has become clear to us that there IS a way to do such trips with a toddler and two parents, without breaking your back and without reducing gear to the point where it is unsafe - we are inspired by the ultralight philosophy and feel that the thinking that has been born through it is necessary to achieve what we want to do, but we always want to be able to cope with serious bad weather, as this can happen here no matter what time of the year it is, and we do want to have a minimum level of comfort as well. Twenty kg per parent, including a 12kg toddler and food and a bit of water, seems achievable at the moment. One hint about the Macpac Vamoose: It's well thought through and very well made, and it is a great basis to build your customised perfect child carrier from. I say basis, as in it lends itself very nicely to lots of relatively simple modifications that make life a LOT easier, add hugely to its versatility, and save time and hassle on the trail - which, especially when hiking with a baby, we find at least equally important as low pack weight.
That's it for now! Best greetings to all others out there who are working on breaking through common misconceptions of what can and can't be done. Looking forward to hearing from you!
My personal experience with toddlers in backpack carriers is that the little ones are more apt to pull the parent's hair than stroke it! At least with my grandkids, one of the parents did the carrying instead of me.
As the toddlers get older, they'll want to walk more and more, which actually slows you down for a while, but that's OK. Keep the trips short and let the kid explore his environment. I found that it can be really exciting exploring the wilds from a toddler's point of view--ants and beetles and slugs suddenly become lots more interesting than larger wildlife.
Edited by OregonMouse (09/27/0903:29 AM)
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey