Kids Hiking Gear: The Early Years
First off, the term “hiking” might be a stretch when describing outdoor outings during the early years—if nothing else it’s aspirational. There’s an ebb and flow that happens from baby to toddler to a capable, yet reluctant, five-year-old. But one thing is for sure, getting out on the trails will save your sanity and having the right gear is key.
In the earliest years, it’s more about the calming benefits of being outside for your child and the mental and health benefits of exercise for yourself. You have the option of using an all-terrain stroller or wearing your baby. We did both. Once your kiddo can start taking on hikes themselves, which for us was at age 5, the challenge becomes more tactical in motivating them and, well honestly, tricking them into hiking. The right gear can make a big difference here, too!
While wraps are great for errands or for carrying baby around the house, when you’re out on the trail you’ll want more support. Structured soft carriers are definitely the easiest way to initially get out of the house and onto the trail—bonus, they’re very affordable new and even more so used (Bonus bonus, they’re machine washable!). A good hiking carrier will have the structure to keep your baby’s growing head, neck and back adequately supported. You’ll want to look for models with the comfort of padded shoulder straps and a thick waistband to disperse the weight of the baby. A good carrier should also offer the versatility of using front carry (on your chest) with the baby facing inward toward you and then forward-facing when they’re older. Some carriers also have the option of switching to carrying your child on your back when it’s safe to do so.
Popular brands include Ergobaby, which offers timeless and durable models including its Original carrier and the newer Omni Breeze model that’s focused on breathability and keeping baby cool while you’re working up a sweat. Tula Explore Coast model, also features plenty of padding on the shoulders and waist and a stay-cool mesh panel for baby.
At some point, once your kiddo is able to sit upright and weighs at least 16 pounds, you might decide to upgrade to a more structured backpack carrier with a frame, storage and all the bells and whistles. These are great for longer outings as your little one gets bigger ... and heavier. These larger backpacks offer ergonomic support for your kiddo including headrests, chin pads, foot stirrups, and even sunshade. You’ll appreciate the comfort features of the pack, which includes padded shoulder and waist belts, suspension to offset a wiggly passenger, and adjustability to accommodate multiple wearers. Unlike soft carriers, these packs are ready for the most ambitious hikes from daylong missions to multi-day treks. Some of the most popular brands include the Deuter, Osprey, and Kelty. The great news is that the wear-and-tear on these packs is generally minimal, and they hold their value for resale.
Strollers On The Trail
Yes, you can take a stroller hiking! In the greater category of strollers, there are jogging strollers and all-terrain strollers—and somewhere in the middle there are strollers that do both, which is the category that makes the most sense to me. You’ll also want to keep an eye on the suggested ages—there’s a range of 8 weeks to 6 months for when you can start using this category of strollers. The younger range requires that the stroller be car seat compatible so your baby can recline. I opted for the stroller that would get me out of the house ASAP, so that narrowed our search down considerably.
With this in mind, the ideal stroller is an all-terrain stroller that accommodates a car seat, with a front wheel that can both swivel and lock into place (for running), suspension, and beefy wheels that can navigate through dirt, mud, mulch and the like. A hand brake is also a great option. This combination allows you to navigate moderate low-angle trails and maybe get a little cardio burst on the straight, flat sections. A brand that checks all these boxes is the ever-present BOB. When we bought ours in 2016, the go-to model was the BOB Revolution PRO with a brake. This stroller easily accommodated a compatible car seat. The current version of this model is the BOB Flex and BOB Flex Dualie (for two kiddos).
Once your child is older, there are more options, like the Chicco Activ3 Air Jogging Stroller. This stroller has similar features to the BOB models and while it holds a car seat, jogging is only suggested for ages 6 months and up. Past models include the Chicco TRE. Also, Baby Trend offers a range of joggers including the Expedition model, which also includes beefy off-road tires and a locking front wheel.
When it comes to your kid, don’t overthink it—especially during those early years. Bring along sunscreen and a sunhat, water, snacks and an extra layer. Make sure they’re dressed for the temperature, be especially aware of not overdressing them if they’re traveling in a close-fitting carrier.
For footwear, we’ve always tried to have a good pair of river sandals and a good pair of walking shoes, not necessarily hiking shoes, but a pair with grippy soles. Some brands we’ve turned to are See Kai Run and Stride Right, as well as Keen for river sandals. At a certain age, you’ll turn to whatever shoes your kid is most comfortable in—our son did his biggest hike in Glacier Park in a pair of Vans. One other piece of gear that has enabled us to get out on the trail is the Camelbak Mini Mule .1.5L backpack. Our son loves that he can carry his own water and snacks (and drink out of the tube!). The backpack has been the ultimate motivator for both hiking and biking.
UnNew Outdoor Kids Gear
UnNew Outdoor Kids Footwear
UnNew Outdoor Small Hydration Packs
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See you out there!
Annie Fast writes about winter sports and outdoor adventures from her home in Bend, Oregon.You can read more about her and her work at anniefast.com
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