Little Feet on the Trail: Hiking with Toddlers
Shane started hiking in the womb. Yes, it is difficult to hike up a mountain with a fetus swimming around in your belly, but I did it. It’s never too early to start, right? I had Shane wandering around trails on foot by 18 months old. He is now 2 months away from being 3 years old, and now asks to go hiking. YES!
A few weeks ago, Shane and I were taking a kiddie hike with my best friend and her nephew, Shaun. They have questioned us about The Appalachian Trail before, but on this particular day, things got serious. “Mommy, I want to go to The Appawachian Trail”… how could I deny such a request. Shane knows I’ve done A.T. maintenance. He knows that when his grandparents spend the night with him, it means mommy and daddy are off hiking somewhere on the A.T. He suddenly became intrigued. That was the day we decided we would go ahead and introduce the little ones to “The Appawachian” and let them in on our little secret.
Drew and I decided The Smokies would be an ideal spot. I know the area very well and there’s a ton of evening activities for little ones. BUT first, we would have to explore Max Patch. This is a great section for beginners!
The next day, we hit up 2 sections. Clingman’s Dome was so busy, it made me imagine what a zombie apocalypse would be like during peak tourist season…
Newfound Gap was a little less crowded and actually offered more exploring for the little ones.
Hiking with little ones can be extremely challenging. We always hear the term “hike your own hike”, but when it comes to miniature hikers, you must hike their hike. Here are some tips for taking little feet on the trail:
- Distance and Exits- I started Shane out at about a half mile. He runs lap after lap in the backyard, so this intro distance seemed safe. Once I knew he was comfortable with this distance, I slowly increased it. Only hike trails with easy outs. Our local state park has many intersecting trails that can add up to any mileage you we want. This also means we can get back to the car very fast if necessary. Don’t force them to continue hiking if they want to leave. This will put a negative taste in their mouth.
- Food- This seems like common sense, but even adults have a bad habit of not eating until we actually feel hungry. Have plenty of snacks and offer them often. Just think of how many steps little feet take compared to adults. That’s a lot of energy being burned! Finger foods work best, something that is easy to eat and not very time consuming. They will get distracted while eating.
- Get Into Their Imagination- When I first showed Shane a picture of Clingman’s Dome to see if he showed interest, he immediately called it a spaceship. When he saw mountains off in the distance, he called them Spongebob mountains (still can’t figure that one out). He has reminded me that clouds turn into animals. He has reminded me that trees dance. Whatever your little one tells you, just go with it. Put your imagination to work and make it fun for them. You’ll be taking a lot more breaks with them, so get creative during thsee times.
- Get Them Some Gear- They want to be like you, that includes helping you carry things. Get them a little guy pack. Shane usually just carries some juice and a few wipes in his. That is just enough. Never let the pack get too heavy. 10% of their body weight would be a good rule of thumb.
- Sun screen and bug repellent- enough said…
- Be Prepared to Carry a Heavy Load- While you have to keep their pack weight extremely low, this means you’ll be carrying everything they need. Also, be prepared to carry the little ones at times. Sometimes they need a break, but want to continue on the hike.
Hiking with little ones can be an awesome experience. You just have to remember their needs before yours.
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