We love spending time outdoors in beautiful places. It’s one the most valuable times for our family. We all slow down and spend time together, exploring nature. Our family ramblings are about teaching Little F to love nature, to help him make the right decisions to protect it when he is older. These sort of trips are much higher on my family bonding list than noisy funfairs and theme parks. Little F is now big enough (just over 2) to do a good bit of walking himself, so we no longer need to take the buggy with us. This opens up lots more hiking paths to explore.
As in any aspect of life with a toddler it all comes down to planning. I have put this guide together based on our experiences of family walks. I hope you will find it helpful when planning your walks.
Guide to hiking with a toddler
Choosing your walk
Be realistic about the length of the route. Toddlers are not known for going long distances – in fact any distances – quickly. When it comes to hiking they have the correct approach – it’s not about the end goal (reaching the summit) it’s also about enjoying and exploring the route. Us, adults, too often forget about it in our rush to the top. It took us 2 hours to walk a 45 minute round walk – there were lots of sheep, sticks, cones and grasses to examine. Not to mention stones, leaves, ants and beetles.
Check the weather
Weather in UK can be quite unpredictable. This is especially true in hill and mountain ranges, which create their own microclimates and affect the regional weather. It’s always a good idea to pack a lightweight waterproof windbreak. Even if there is no rain it may be windy on the top. If the forecast is heavy rain it’s definitely not worth taking a long walk, as your toddler is unlikely to speed up to avoid rain…
ModeS of transport
Not taking the buggy opens up many more walking routes. We have an off-road buggy, but even they are no good on steep narrow paths, not to mention crossing stiles. Be prepared that your toddler will be catching a ride on your shoulders – or carrier if they are still within the size/weight limit.
As I have mentioned a light weight waterproof/windbreak is indispensable. As are comfortable shoes. I wouldn’t recommend wellies – especially on steep walks – as they often don’t have much grip, can be stiff and will make feet sweat.
Hat on sunny days and sunscreen (no need to carry it around, just make sure to put it on before you leave the house/car)
Brightly coloured clothes for your toddler. It will make them easier to spot between the trees or in high grass.
I find pashimans surprisingly versatile. They are great for: keeping me warm, easy to adjust or take off without stopping, adding colour to my outfit. Daddy also likes to use one. And it turns out Little F also likes them wrapped around him with a little cape trailing behind – it looks great when he travels on Daddy’s shoulders (and keeps him warm while he’s not moving). Here’s a few more uses for a pashmina.
I prefer a shoulder bag over backpack. It’s easier to access without stopping – to reach for water or hang your jacket through the shoulder straps. I use one of my cloth shopping bags, which has perfect length shoulder straps – long enough to put my arm through, but not long enough to bang on my hip while walking. The minus is that it’s not water proof and you can’t pack as much.
An OS map is a great companion, though not essential if you are going for a short, local, well signposted walk.
Wet-wipes, either washable or disposable. Always handy to wash mud off hands before a snack.
Plastic bag for rubbish. There’s unlikely to be bins on the way and it’s unacceptable to leave litter behind.
Apart from lunchtime sandwiches it’s good to have some snacks with you. You might want to get that little bit further before you sit down for a rest and a meal. Healthy treats can also double up as bribes, to get your toddler walking. We take fresh and dried fruit, and some bread sticks/plain corn puffs/crispy bread.
Don’t lose the goal from your sight: it’s about quality family time and not reaching the summit. If things are going slowly and it’s getting late, or the weather starts to turn, just turn back. There’s no point stressing everyone out and rushing unnecessarily.
We found that gates are great fun – ‘open the gate, walk through the gate, close the gate’. Toddlers do like repetition, and of course gates also have various opening mechanisms – good way to train puzzle solving skills. Some stiles have little openings at the bottom blocked with a removable piece of wood for dogs to walk through – Little F enjoyed squeezing through those!
That’s it from me. I’d love to hear from you if you have anything you would like to add to my list, so do leave me a comment or get in touch on Twitter.