Although hiking is a simple activity, mostly requiring only a sturdy pair of shoes, you will need some basic equipment in order to enjoy hiking with babies or small children. A list of shopping resources is included here, but you can probably find equipment in good condition from friends with older children or at garage sales. Just make sure it's safe and sturdy, with all straps, buckles, and other items in working order.
Front Baby Carriers
To hike with young babies (newborn through about 6 months old), you'll need some sort of soft front carrier. Since babies this young can't hold up their heads yet, it's unsafe for them to sit in a backpack carrier. There are many different types of front carriers available, through a wide variety of sources. Some, such as a sling or inexpensive cloth carrier, you may find uncomfortable (for you and the baby) if you plan to hike longer distances.
The best option we tried over the years was a padded front carrier that can be worn with the baby facing either toward you or outward. Most infants under three months prefer to be cuddled close to their parent's chest, facing in. However, beyond three months, many babies can't stand to miss out on what's going on around them. Our younger son, Craig, absolutely loved facing out in the front carrier from three months until about ten months old. Whether we were hiking, grocery shopping, or walking around town, he'd hang there waving his arms and legs and grinning at everyone we passed. You get a lot of friendly smiles from people you meet on the trail!
In order for the baby to feel comfortable and your back to hold out, you should look for a carrier that attaches very securely, with substantial straps that cross in back. Some companies, like L.L. Bean, even make front carriers specifically designed for hiking. When we first got a reversible front carrier for our second son, it looked like an impenetrable mess of straps and cloth. It even came with a video to help parents understand how to strap it on in its various configurations! After a few weeks, though, it was second nature to us, and we could gear up in moments.
Child Carrier Backpacks
Once your child can hold up his head and sit on his own, he'll be ready for a backpack carrier. By the time he gets close to a year old, you'll need one to save your back. There are many different types and models available, so again, look for one that seems substantial, with a wide hipbelt and ample shoulder straps. It should include some way to secure the baby in the seat. Some carriers are only designed for "around town" walking, some are designed for extensive backpacking, and there are plenty of models in between.
We chose a backpack that could hold a child who weighed up to 40 pounds. We were able to carry our older son in it until he was almost four years old and we needed it for his younger brother. Other carriers can hold up to 60 pounds. Just remember that this weight will be on your hips and back! I couldn't carry our boys after they hit about 25 pounds, but my husband was able to carry them as long as they wanted to ride.
Many carriers feature nice extras or special options. A storage area is almost essential to hold diapers, wipes, snacks, and other baby accoutrements. We found we didn't need to carry an extra daypack when we had the child carrier along. Its storage compartment was large enough to hold our water, snacks, and even extra jackets or gloves. Other add-ons include sun/rain shades, insect netting, and additional storage compartments. Look around and decide what will best fit your own family's needs and budget.
Things definitely get simpler once your child can hike without being carried, but you'll still need to carry a few essentials for all but the shortest walks:
- Diapers and wipes
- Snacks or lunch
- Plenty of water for everyone
- Extra jackets, gloves, or hats, depending on the weather conditions
- Small first aid kit
- Bag for trash
Any kind of backpack or daypack will do for most hikes, although you'll be most comfortable with a sturdy daypack that has a waist belt. Some people prefer smaller waist packs to a full-size daypack. Much depends on the weather conditions and length of your hike. For a short hike in the warmer months, you may need to carry just water (don't forget to apply sunscreen before you leave). In cooler weather or for more extensive hikes, you'll need to carry extra food and clothing. Remember to use insect repellent, especially in areas where Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses are prevalent.
The following stores, catalogs, and on-line shopping resources all carry a wide variety of child carriers and daypacks. Check the websites for overstocks and sales.
- L.L. Bean - catalog (800-221-4221), stores, and on-line (www.llbean.com)
- Campmor - catalog (800-CAMPMOR), store in New Jersey, and on-line (www.campmor.com)
- REI - catalog (800-426-4840), stores nationwide, and on-line (www.rei.com)