Hiking with a One Year Old

This summer was all about noticing how much life has changed for us as a family over a year.  For Miles, of course, his years’ worth of growing opened up a whole new world of summer fun that was not quite accessible for him as a newborn.  For us as parents, we were able

Miles petting a treeto experience the joy of sharing more summer trips with a little one who is becoming more self sufficient by the day!  No more stopping ten times on the way to Rainier to breastfeed, for instance, made our longer distance driving this summer much more feasible.  Most of all, the joy of watching our son’s ever-increasing ability to marvel at the world has been a joy and a pleasure.

In my opinion, hiking one of the best ways to safely nourish Miles’s unrestricted desire to experience the world.  Strapped onto his daddy’s back or crawling around on the forest floor, there is so much for him to see, touch, and taste (yes, my son is a dirt eater).  When we enter the shadowy depths of old growth wilderness, he is peaceful and mesmerized – just like his mama and papa.

We started off hiking with our little guy when he was barely a month old.  At that age, he would mostly eat, taking short naps in between long snacks (this behavior was not exclusive to the trail).  Now that he is a year old, sleeping and eating take a backseat to exploration and wonder – so hiking is a perfect fit.  However, as with any activity at this age, you are at the mercy of the early toddler mood swings and individual needs and desires.  It is super important to be prepared for this (or other emergencies), especially if you are planning to put some considerable distance between you and the trailhead.  You do not want to be five miles out on a rough trail with a screaming little one (or a cranky mama, for that matter) and no more snacks.  Seriously.

We have a pretty standard packing list for these outings:

Kelty Backpack

A good backpack.  We started out with our tattered old daypack, which served us well when it was just the two of us.  Now that we have to haul diapers, our needs have changed.  I finally broke down and started shopping, thinking I would need to spend big bucks.  Much to my delight, Kelty came to the rescue.  The backpack holds a ton, comes with a hip belt, and has straps tapered for women.  I can fit the entire list to follow in this pack with room to spare – and the weight of is almost unnoticeable.  It is even hydration compatible – two three liter hydration packs fit snugly in the compartment.  I really have never been happier with a backpack – and my Osprey is a tough act to follow.

Baby Carrier.  Unless you are planning to end your hike after a few yards, you will need to carry your baby some of the way!  We managed to make it through 14 months using our trusty Mei Tai, but our last (and longest) hike of 8 miles was too much for my husband’s shoulders.  We will soon upgrade to a proper carrier to avoid further injury.  But for now, I think the Mei Tai is still good for a few miles here and there.

Mei Tai in Action

Note that we need four hands to mount the carrier on my husband’s back.  I don’t think you could safely do it alone.

To minimize discomfort when carrying a heavier child in the Mei Tai, make sure the straps are wide and flat on the shoulder and that the baby’s butt does not dip below your waist.  This will prevent too much weight from sagging on the shoulders.   We have to adjust it every once in awhile to maintain comfort.  Still, eight miles with a 14-month old Miles caused some pain.  I suggest upgrading earlier than we did!

Diapers.  Yes, duh.  We try to bring as many diapers as will fit, just in case.  Also wipes and covers.  I do clip the wet bag to the outside of the backpack so it doesn’t mingle with the lunch ;).  One more essential diapering item – a simple oilcloth changing pad.  We lost ours that came with our diaper bag, and we definitely miss it.  For now, we spread the Mei Tai out on the ground.

Food.  Food is my favorite part of hiking!  There is something exponentially satisfying and delicious about food that is eaten outside – especially when you have hiked several miles to eat it!  Our go-to trail menu is made up of some items that Miles enjoys and some that are just for mama and papa.  For those readers in the Pacific Northwest, QFC almost always has everything on this list for about $20.  If you can’t find one (and you are a day away from the nearest TJ’s), I think Safeway might have some nitrate free meats.  It’s worth a look.

Our main course of choice is something like an inside out sandwich.

Hiking Picnic

  • Cold cuts, usually ham, usually Boars’ Head – but always nitrate free.
  • Cheese, usually white American, and again with the Boars’ Head.  Land ‘O Lakes is also acceptable.
  • Potato chips, Tim’s Cascade is our local favorite.  For this recipe, you actually want the potato chips to be pretty crushed.  To prepare ahead of time (and save room in my pack), I let the air out of the potato chip bag and then cram it in as unceremoniously as possible.
  • Espresso chocolate, my #1 way to avoid an adult-sized trail meltdown.  Quick energy and mood elevating deliciousness all in one convenient square.
  • Milk, for the boy.  Helps avoid pint-sized trail meltdowns pretty quickly.

To construct the inside out sandwich, the adult diner takes a piece of ham, tops it with a piece of cheese, and sprinkles the potato chip particles on top.   Roll and devour.  Repeat.  Follow up with espresso chocolate as needed.

Be sure to tear the baby up some pieces of cheese and ham as well.  We bring a flexible bowl for him to use.  He loves it!

All perishables are stored in an insulated lunch bag.  The one I linked to doesn’t even need a separate ice pack.  How awesome!

Sturdy Shoes and Hiking Poles.  Same as for backpacking, if you are carrying a big boy (or all his stuff) on your back, you need to support your feet and your joints.  Don’t tempt fate!  If you are just strolling on easy terrain for a few miles, go ahead and throw on your Keens and leave the poles in the car.  Personally, anything over 6 miles (or anything with substantial weight on my back) requires my Lowas and poles.

Toys.  While nature provides its own entertainment, there is also something to be said for having something handy that is 100% safe for little man to chew.  Much to his chagrin, dirt is not really on that list.  We usually bring a couple of small, outdoor friendly toys.

THE TEN ESSENTIALS.  Just as essential, if not more so, than they were a year ago.  Map, compass, sun protection (hats all around!), extra food, extra water (and your purifier if you like!), extra clothes and raingear (double the usual for the boy), headlamp, first aid kit, fire starter (not just a lighter), and a knife.  All mandatory, seriously.

Once you finally assemble your gear, the rest is a walk in the park!  (Couldn’t help myself).  Aim for a trail that will challenge you, but don’t overextend any member of your family, big or small.  Leave lots of time to sniff flowers, admire spiders, and enjoy the scenery.  Sing!  It keeps the bears away.  Most of all, bask in the amazing stage that nature sets for a family outing!

Family Hike


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