How to Hike With a Toddler

Are you struggling to combine parenthood with your passion for nature? Do you love being in the great outdoors, but you’re not sure how to share this with the people you love most? As all outdoor enthusiasts know, taking a hike can be unpredictable, adventurous, and potentially even dangerous. These are all factors that can make the prospect of going hiking with your toddler a little intimidating. 

But never fear! With the right planning, products, items, and considerations, going hiking with your toddler doesn’t have to be a worry. In fact, it can even open your eyes to the joys of nature, as you watch your child’s eyes light up, experiencing for the first time the beauty of untouched nature. For more tips and tricks on how to hike with a toddler, read on to find out how to best combine parenthood with the outdoors. 

The first step to preparing for your hike for young children is preparing the right kit. These are the two pieces of equipment you can’t leave home without: 


A kid on the beach.

Hiking with a toddler can be a difficult task but that should be the reason for your little one missing out on the adventure.


Invest in a backpack child carrier 

Every parent is used to having to carry their child around, whether it be around the house, garden, shops or your local town or city. While there are many products to ease your walks in an urban environment, such as strollers, in the great outdoors there’s only one thing you need. And that’s a backpack child carrier. Trust us: there’s no point in going traveling with your toddler without one. 

Every avid hiker knows that hiking can be very tiring. In fact, that’s often even the measure of a good hike! But if it’s tiring for us, think how tiring it can be for tiny legs. It might be that your toddler wants to toddle or crawl around, if you’re breaking your hike, paddling in the water of a stream or frolicking in a meadow. If your toddler is a little older, you might even want to let them walk free for a little while, or let them walk on a toddler leash. 

However, eventually, they will get tired, and maybe even a little sleepy. And this is where the presence of a backpack child carrier becomes even more irreplaceable. It gives you a break from having to concentrate on your child’s movements. You can just look straight ahead and concentrate on the hike, backpacking knowing that they’re safely attached. It’s also a wonderful experience for your toddler too: they get to see the world from your height, the world from your perspective. 

The idea of a backpack child carrier might sound like an unnecessary extra faff, as you have to carry your child with you on your hike. However, for serious outdoor enthusiasts, you’ll already be used to carrying a heavy pack or expedition bags, or heavy climbing packs for instance. Carrying your child in a backpack child carrier is thus no real extra weight for you on your hike if you’re used to outdoors adventuring. 

For the best backpack child carrier, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Make sure that the backpack child carrier has a great suspension system, to make it easier for you to carry, and the trip more seamless for your baby. Make sure the materials are very hardy too. This is a product that you want to really rely on, as every parent knows, the safety of your child is something you cannot gamble with. 

Think about the extra features you might want in your backpack child carrier too. For example, you’ll need a big, accessible pocket, to keep all the necessary items for your child’s happiness, such as their pacifier or their favorite toy. We would recommend buying from a trusted backpack company, as these backpacks usually offer the best suspension, materials and extra features. 

Furthermore, it’s best to buy the backpack child carrier in a store. This is not only so that you’ll be supporting local businesses, but also you can get some tips and tricks from the staff there about how to use the backpack child carrier to best suit your needs, and they will help you fit it properly. 

Once you’ve purchased the right baby carrier for you and your family’s needs, now you have to work on getting your toddler comfortable with it. One of the main things you need to consider is that your child needs to be able to sit independently in a backpack child carrier. We would recommend wearing your backpack child carrier with your toddler, and taking little walks around your house and yard, to get them comfortable sitting in the backpack. 

After your child is happy with the concept of the backpack child carrier, start a slow introduction program to hiking with your child. Keep taking them to the great outdoors, increasing their comfort levels slowly so as not to scare them off from the experience. As you head out on hikes, make sure to increase the time and distance of each slowly, to build up your child’s stamina. Also, be wary of cold, windy and rainy hikes, because toddlers aren’t great at regulating their body temperature at this age. 


A small boy with a blue hat in the fallen leaves.

Bringing along a folding changing mat and child carrier are essential to keeping your toddler comfortable.


Invest in a folding changing mat

A folding changing mat is good to carry with you for your little one, not just for hikes. We would recommend investing in a folding changing mat early on, and getting your child used to changing on it whenever you’re out of the house. This way when you come to hiking, it won’t be a new experience for them, making changing on the move a breeze. 

One of the great features of these folding changing mats is that they fold up small, and are often lightweight, meaning they’re easy to take with you everywhere. Whether that be to a coffee date in the city, or in your backpack as you’re hiking across some of the Appalachians, your little one will get used to being as flexible as you are. 

As all new parents know, the first few years can be a stressful and scary experience. If you get your child used to flexibility, with a folding changing mat, then you can live your normal, active life, and have the new addition to your family along with you for the ride. Also, being in the great outdoors can be a huge stress reliever for new parents, so the earlier you can get your kids out and comfortable in nature, the better!

When looking for the right folding changing mat, as with all of your outdoor gear, make sure that the materials are robust, and will withstand a lot of wear and tear. Some come with special pockets, to put in some of the things you’ll also need to change your child on the move. We’d recommend getting a folding changing mat with a velcro strap so that you can attach it to your belt or the back of your backpack for ease. 


A little girl and a boy playing.

Bringing along some items to play with will also keep your children from getting bored.


Toddler checklist 

So now that you have the basic extra kit ready, to carry your wee one on your back and change them on the move, what else will you need to bring with you? Some of the products and objects you need to bring with you for your hike with your toddler are just the same as what you would bring for a hike on your own.

For experienced hikers, we all have a checklist of things we make sure we take with us before every hiking trip. For a more comprehensive list, check out our ultimate checklist for camping here. 

Here’s a more detailed list of exactly what you’ll need to take on the hike with your toddler, and how you can make it more enjoyable for them with what you bring: 


  • Everything you usually take. Make sure you follow our aforementioned checklist, ensuring that you take with you all of the items you always take with you on a hike to ensure safety and comfort for your entire party. 


  • Older toddlers really love the responsibility of having something to carry of their own. This makes them feel more a part of the journey and the experience and means it’s more likely they’re going to have an enjoyable day. Consider bringing a mini backpack for them to wear, in which they can carry something lightweight, like their jacket, jumper, or the folding changing mat!


  • Remember to bring a water bottle. It’s of the utmost importance that your toddler, as well as every member of your family or person on your hike, doesn’t get dehydrated. This is especially important in hot countries, or on sunny hikes, to keep you cool while camping. One great way to encourage your child to take the initiative, and pick up the water bottle themselves, is to give them their own, personalized water bottle. Think about making it colorful, buying a bottle with their favorite cartoon characters on, or adding stickers onto the outside to grab their attention. 


  • One extra bit of kit you don’t need to get for your toddler is boots. Although great walking boots are of paramount importance for adult hikers, at the toddling age, it really doesn’t matter and will weigh you and your toddler down more. A worn-out pair of sneakers is totally fine for hiking with your toddler. But do remember to pack extra socks, as they might jump in a puddle, and you don’t want to leave them in soggy socks all day. 


  • Remember everything you need to protect your toddler from the elements. This will include a broad-rimmed sun hat, and lots of high SPF child-friendly sunscreen, if you’re hiking on a sunny day. If it’s really hot outside, keep your hikes short so as not to tire out your toddler too much, or risk them getting dehydrated. If you’re going hiking in colder climates, and perhaps there is a chance of rain, make sure to bring a raincoat, hat, scarf, gloves and any other outerwear that will keep your little one warm and dry.


  • If your toddler is at the younger end, make sure to bring plenty of diapers, wipes, and many waste bags so you can double seal them. This will keep them sealed as you carry them back to the tailed to dispose of them. Also, if your baby is formula-fed, consider bringing along powdered formula, as it weighs less and so is easier to carry in your backpack. 


  • Make sure you bring enough food and water for your whole party. Consider inventing a fun, delicious family snack to take with you on every hike, such as homemade cookies. This can be used to motivate your kids to keep up with you and will help to make great childhood memories for them as well. 


A kid jumping in a puddle of water.

Bringing along waterproofed shoes and a proper raincoat will help keep your toddler dry.


Toddler tips

Now that you have everything you need ready for your hike, here are some more general suggestions for making the most out of hiking with your toddler: 


  • Have fun! The most important part of hiking with your toddler is about having fun with them. Use this as an excuse to rediscover your inner child. See the world through their eyes, play with them in the mud, or splash along with them in a stream along the hiking trail. You could also think about different games or food rewards for good behaviour, such as spinning them around in your backpack if they remember to take a big drink of water. This advice is not only important for bonding with your toddler, and allowing you some time to relax with them in the great outdoors, but also for positive association. If you have loads of fun with your kid in the great outdoors, they’re far more likely to want to go on longer and more challenging hikes as they grow, meaning that you’re encouraging in them a healthy love of the great outdoors. 


  • When your kid is a toddler, you’re in the years of half-carry-half-walk. Therefore, in your planning, and your hike, adaptability is key. While you’re hiking, make sure to constantly be looking out for flat, hazard-free areas, where you can let your little one run loose for a while, and feel the invigoration of being free in nature. 


  • While you’re hiking, always keep an eye on the trail markers, your map, and compass. It goes without saying that you don’t want to get lost while you’re taking your toddler with you. So find some simple, clearly marked trails that you can follow easily, even if you’re distracted sometimes along the way with looking after your toddler. Also, at every point of your hike, always keep aware of where the trailhead is. Even a toddler, who seems to have limitless energy, can tire out after a day of trudging along on little legs. You don’t want them to get tired out at the halfway point of a long hike, where you then have to carry them back all the way. You might even want to plan a hike that’s downhill for the last part. It might just help ease your hike’s end, making it that much easier to bundle in the car, and let your wee one nap on the ride home!


  • Embrace the muck! Your toddler certainly won’t mind getting dirty on the hike, and in fact, will probably love it. They might even want to make mud pies, or try and climb up little boulders or onto branches. Unless they’re uncomfortable, don’t worry about changing them into clean clothes. They’re bound to get mucky again sooner rather than later, and if they’re happy ‘mucking in’ with nature, what’s the problem? 


  • If your toddler is at the younger end, then think carefully about the time at which you take them hiking. The motion of hiking on your back lulls most toddlers into a deep sleep. So if you’re trying to regularise their sleeping schedule, consider heading off on the hike during their nap time, so as not to interrupt it. 


A father and his kid observing wildlife.

Now that you’ve learned the in’s and out’s of hiking with a toddler, it’s time to see some wildlife.


Final Verdict:

Our last piece of advice, for people planning hiking trips with their toddlers, and the whole family, is to personalize the experience. Perhaps your child has a favorite toy that keeps them motivated, or calms them. Make sure to bring these along, to avoid tantrums, and to help your child associate hiking with a fun, happy experience. 

Or if you have any special imagination games as a family, try rolling these out, hiking style. Being surrounded by jaw dropping nature is an incredible way to build and make memories as a family. If you play a game that brings you all joy, and you’re all familiar with, then the hike will feel like an extension of the fun and safety you feel at home. 

For example, you could play some nature imagination games with the whole family. You could ask your kids to imagine that they are one of the animals you spot on your hike, such as a raccoon. What does the raccoon think, how does he feel during his day? How does he walk?

This will not only keep your family entertained, it will help your children to feel more involved in nature, and will grow a fascination inside of them for natural creatures and habitats. 

However you decide to motivate your toddlers, and all the members of your group, just remember to be imaginative and have fun! Except for all the necessary kit and safety precautions, this is the most important piece of advice on how to hike with your toddler. 

Bonus tip: For some more useful tips on hiking with a toddler, check out the video below!


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Riley Draper

Riley Draper

Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.