What to Know When Hiking With Toddlers
September 9, 2021
Searching for a fun outdoor activity your family can enjoy together? Hiking with toddlers may sound daunting at first, but it’s an awesome way to bond and be active together. Although you may travel at a snail’s pace, you’ll be amazed at how much ground you can cover with a child in tow. The best part? Exploring nature at an early age helps kids develop healthy habits while nurturing a love of the great outdoors.
Whether you’re a seasoned trail-runner or a complete newbie, hiking with a toddler will be an adventure (to say the least!). Remember that the same safety rules apply to solo hikes and family outings, so always plan your route carefully, check the weather ahead of time and let someone know where you’re going. Keep reading to discover more helpful tips for family excursions—plus, a list of essential items to add to your packing list, from carriers to raincoats and everything in between.
Hiking with toddlers is a whole different ball game, even for experienced trekkers. That’s why it’s important to take time to plan and prepare for each and every trip. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind.
• Plan your route. Research the trail in advance and, if possible, pick a less-travelled route that won’t be too busy. Opt for a toddler-friendly walk, with an easy-to-follow trail that doesn’t involve too much climbing. Start your journey in the morning, so that you can avoid the midday sun and be home before it gets dark.
• Pack the night before. Prepare your hiking gear and pack a bag the night before to ensure that nothing is left behind. For longer trips or hikes over difficult terrain, the National Park Service recommends hikers pack 10 essential items to help in the event of minor injuries, sudden weather changes or unexpected delays. These necessities include water, food, sun protection, tools, first aid supplies, extra clothing, firestarters, emergency shelter, a flashlight and a compass or map.
• Invest in a hiking carrier. Odds are your toddler will want to be carried at some point during your trip. A carrier makes it easy to transport babies and toddlers for leisurely strolls or long-distance treks. Unlike ring slings and baby wraps, a toddler hiking carrier has a free-standing structured frame with a seat for a child and space for supplies.
• Give your toddler a small bag. Get your mini excited about hiking by making them responsible for their very own rucksack. Pack a toddler-sized backpack with snacks and other age-appropriate supplies—they’ll be proud to carry a bag like a big kid. Keep the pack light to avoid weighing your tot down as this will sap their energy.
• Bring plenty of snacks and stay hydrated. Healthy snacks are key to a successful (read: tantrum-free) hike with a toddler. A snack break provides a much-needed energy boost and can be used as an opportunity to coax tired tots onwards. If you want to eat on-the-go fill up a snack cup and attach the handles to your pack using a pacifier clip—that way your tot can munch while you walk without fear of losing the container. It’s also vital for hikers (big and small!) to stay hydrated, so bring enough water for the duration of your hike and give your kiddo a child-sized water bottle to sip from.
• Take a spare set of clothes. Dress your child in comfortable clothes that’ll withstand the elements (think: raingear if it’s cloudy or a sun hat for warm weather), and bring some additional layers. Hiking can be tough on little feet so always have a spare pair of thick socks handy to minimize chafing and blisters. You may also want to pack an extra outfit in case your child gets dirty or has an accident.
• Be patient. Little kids will want to stop and inspect every leaf, log and critter while they walk, which is all part of the fun, so be patient and factor in some extra time for meandering. Remember that toddlers tire easily, so you may have to walk at a slower pace, and be prepared to carry them for some of the journey.
Ready to start planning your first adventure with a toddler in tow? Here, you’ll find a few essential items to add to your packing list—including the best toddler hiking carriers, shoes, backpacks and more.
Toddler hiking boots
Good footwear is a must for any outdoor activity—and for rough terrain, it’s worth investing in a pair of sturdy toddler hiking boots.
This pair of toddler hiking boots by outdoor specialists Keen is hard to beat. The padded collar and hook-and-loop closure provide ample ankle support, while the rounded top prevents stubbed toes. Plus, a flexible, ridged rubber sole will help your little explorer gain traction on slippery surfaces. Better yet, the breathable textile upper is protected from the elements with a waterproof membrane—because nobody likes wet feet.
Buy it: Keen Kids Ridge Flex Mid WP, $75, Zappos.com
Timberland is well-known for its iconic adult footwear—but did you know they make toddler hiking boots too? Constructed from premium waterproof leather with rubber soles, these shoes have a molded footbed making them comfortable and durable. Other features include a rounded toe, an adjustable toggle closure, a breathable lining and a pull tab, which makes them easy to take on and off.
Buy it: Timberland Kids Mt. Maddsen Mid Waterproof, $70, Zappos.com
Toddler hiking sandals
Hiking sandals are a great lightweight alternative to boots—especially for summer excursions. Opt for a pair with a reinforced toe to protect little tootsies.
Your kiddo will be ready to tackle any terrain in these durable hiking sandals. A sturdy rubber outsole offers stability and traction, while the mesh upper wicks moisture away to keep feet dry and cool. The hook-and-loop ankle strap keeps the sandals securely in place, and painful stubbed toes are a thing of the past thanks to the toe bumper.
Buy it: Keen Kids Seacamp II CNX, $55, Zappos.com
Searching for water shoes that double as hiking sandals? You’re in luck. This pair from Columbia has a water-friendly lining and a quick-drying finish, making them perfect for coastal hikes. The closed-toe and flexible grip sole protect little feet and provide traction on wet surfaces. Available in three cute colors.
Buy it: Columbia Kids Techsun Wave, $35, Zappos.com
Toddler hiking socks
Whether your kid is wearing sneakers, sandals or boots, hiking socks are essential. Designed with extra cushioning, they won’t rub or chafe the skin helping to prevent blisters. Our advice? Stock up on toddler hiking socks so that you always have a spare pair handy.
Smartwool is a go-to brand for many hikers—and with good reason. The high-quality Merino wool socks are breathable and warm, without adding extra bulk to the feet. We’re big fans of the colorful kids’ styles, which feature an elasticized arch brace for a secure fit, mid-weight cushioning and a flat knit toe-seam for added comfort.
Buy it: Smartwool Kids’ Hike Full Cushion Margarita Crew Socks, $14, Smartwool.com
Designed with comfort (and performance) in mind, Darn Tough Vermont’s hiking socks are another great option. Made from a Merino wool blend, this pair is naturally fast-drying and odor-resistant. Plus, extra cushioning on the sole and heel provides all-day comfort for little feet.
Buy it: Darn Tough Vermont Kids Light Hiker Micro Crew Lightweight Hiking Sock, $16, DarnToughVermont.com
Toddler hiking backpack
Kids love to take responsibility for their own gear, but they can tire easily. Carry the majority of supplies in your own bag and give them a mini backpack to hold lightweight items they’ll need close at hand.
Designed for children between the ages of 2 and 5, this backpack will take them from the classroom to the trails. It has a roomy main compartment and a mesh water-bottle holder. But it’s the bonus safety features—like a breakaway sternum strap and a reflective bike-light loop—that makes this backpack a real standout.
Buy it: The North Face Kids’ Sprout Backpack, $35, TheNorthFace.com
Next up is a durable, water-resistant backpack from Mountaintop. The lightweight bag has plenty of pockets for stashing treasures your tot picks up along the trail. And it has adjustable chest and shoulder straps to make sure the load is evenly distributed.
Buy it: Mountaintop Camping Childrens Backpack, $25, Amazon.com
Toddler hiking carrier
Frame carriers are best for trekking, as they’re easy to load and provide extra back support while babywearing. In general, frame carriers are suitable for children up to 40 lbs, but you should always check the manufacturer’s weight guidelines. It’s also a good idea to test the carrier at home before using it for the first time. Now that you’ve got to grips with the basics, here are two of the best toddler carriers for hiking.
The Deuter Kid Comfort Child Carrier makes hiking with toddlers a whole lot easier. It has a comfortable seat and a cushioned headrest so your tot can nap while you’re on the move. The pack is fully adjustable to suit Mom or Dad, with padded hip and sternum straps to keep it secure and distribute weight evenly. The best part? Say goodbye to a sweaty back thanks to Deuter’s clever Aircomfort system, which connects the flexible steel frame to an airy mesh back with a gap for airflow.
Buy it: Deuter Kid Comfort Child Carrier and Backpack, $315, Amazon.com
Parents that like to travel light will go wild for the Osprey Poco LT. This carrier is perfect for leisurely strolls and longer hikes. Once you’ve reached your destination, the stainless steel frame folds up for easy storage. Other awesome features include a built-in UPF 50 sun shade, zippered pockets and adjustable straps for a custom fit. And, if the weather takes a turn for the worst, you can keep your little one warm and dry with the Poco raincover, which fits snugly over the carrier.
Buy it: Osprey Poco LT, $260, Osprey.com
You can’t always predict the weather, so it’s important to pack rain gear to stay dry during sudden downpours or mountain mists. After all, hiking with toddlers in soggy clothing is no fun for you or your kiddo.
Patagonia is famous for its high-quality outerwear for explorers of all ages. We like this water-repellent windbreaker, made from 100 percent recycled polyester. It’s easy to pack away with a detachable hood for added protection.
Buy it: Patagonia Baby Light & Variable Hoody, $59, Patagonia.com
For even more protection, opt for this all-in-one rainsuit by Tuffo. It has an elasticated hood, double-front zippers and reinforced nylon on the knees and seat. Plus, it’s machine-washable and comes with a waterproof travel bag.
Buy it: Tuffo Muddy Buddy Size Rain Suit in Blue, $42, buybuyBABY.com
Sun hat and sunglasses
This cap by Outdoor Research is a great choice for tiny hikers. Made from a moisture-wicking nylon fabric, it’s stretchy, soft and water-resistant. Plus, the peaked brim and neck flap offer shade and full UPF 50+ sun protection.
Buy it: Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap, $28, BackCountry.com
JAN & JUL toddler sunglasses are the best in the game, with tons of rave reviews on Amazon. Offering 100 percent UVA and UVB protection, these shades are flexible, shatterproof and pretty darn stylish to boot!
Buy it: JAN & JUL Baby Toddler Kids’ Flexible UV-400 Polarized Sunglasses, starting from $16, Amazon.com
Water bottle and snack container
Fuel your next adventure with plenty of water and snacks. A brightly colored, easy-to-grip flask can encourage little kids to drink while an airtight container will keep nibbles tasty and fresh.
Keep water icy cold with this insulated kids’ water bottle by Yeti. It’s leakproof, dishwasher-safe and durable enough to withstand bumps and scrapes on the trail. Available in five vibrant colors.
Buy it: Yeti Rambler Jr. 12 OZ. Kids Bottle, $25, Yeti.com
This toddler-friendly snack container is lightweight and durable, making it a great option for hiking. The stainless steel cup is easy to clean and the airtight flip-top lid keeps snacks fresh. Plus, the side handles are designed for even the littlest hands to grasp easily.
Buy it: Munchkin Snack+ Stainless Steel Snack Catcher, $11, Munchkin.com
This list of toddler hiking gear is not exhaustive, so it may be worthwhile creating your own checklist of essential items. With that in mind, here are three things we always recommend bringing on a hike: sunscreen, insect repellent and a first aid kit.
Bumps and scrapes are inevitable when hiking with toddlers. Soothe and bandage boo-boos using this clever travel-sized first aid kit by Welly. The set comes with a mix of fabric bandages, triple antibiotic ointment packets and hand sanitizer.
Buy it: Welly Quick Fix Kit Floral First Aid on the Go Kit, $7, Walmart.com
Whether you’re hitting the trails or off to the park, sunscreen is a must-have item. Thinkbaby offers the highest UVA and UVB sun protection possible and earned a top rating from the Environmental Working Group. The handy travel stick is easy to apply on-the-go and the non-greasy formula is quickly absorbed into the skin.
Buy it: Thinkbaby Sunscreen Stick SPF 30+, $9, GoThink.com
Avoid itchy bites with this family-friendly bug spray by Repel. It contains 15 percent DEET and repels mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, gnats, chiggers and fleas. Plus, the aerosol can is easy to pack and the sweat-resistant formula is perfect for toddlers on the move.
Buy it: Repel 64136 Insect Killer, $40, Amazon.com