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Hiking with a Toddler- What Can Go Wrong and How to Prepare

Hiking with a Toddler- What Can Go Wrong and How to Prepare

Allison March 19, 2018

I have posted several times about how much I enjoy hiking. It is a catharsis for me, I try to use my time outdoors to relax and center myself. I also use this time to teach my daughter the joys of spending time outside. Even though she is only 18-months-old, I want her to appreciate nature. All of this can go horribly wrong though when problems occur on the trail. Our nice relaxing hike through the forest can turn into a panic rush back to the parking lot. Being a Girl Scout for 10 years, I learned how to “be prepared”. However, Girl Scouts didn’t teach me how to be prepared for the issues that arise when taking a toddler on the trail. Here are some issues I have faced while hiking with my daughter, and some ways to solve them.

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Problems on the Trail

How to Handle Dirty Diapers While Hiking

When Adeline was a baby I would take the entire diaper bag out with me while hiking. I would only go when I had another person to help me carry the load. Carrying a baby and a diaper bag while hiking is not easy. This covered me in case of any scenario. However, now that Addie is 18-months, I figured I could be a little more minimalist on the trail. I could time the hikes around her pooping schedule. I would just shove a diaper into my fanny pack in case of emergencies.

One Friday morning, we were hiking with some of our friends (another mother/daughter duo) and our dogs. As we started up a large hill (about a mile from the parking lot), I started to feel something wet on my back. I reached my arm around and noticed drips coming from underneath my daughter. Sure enough, the pressure of Addie sitting in the Tula had squeezed her diaper like a sponge. It soaked not only her clothes but my baby carrier.

This is when I realized my minimalism wasn’t going to cut it. We had a change of clothes in the car, but how was I going to carry this soaking toddler a mile back in the freezing cold? Luckily, my mom friend was not attempting to carry a minimalist pack. She had a change of clothes that I changed Addie into so we could make our way back to the car.

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What I Learned

Toddlers are bound to have accidents. Keeping a change of clothes for you and your kids in the car is a great idea no matter what their age. But when they are still in diapers or newly potty trained its a good idea to carry the change of clothes with you. I now put a wet-bag with a pair of pants and a onesie in my backpack. I can usually squish this down pretty compactly so it doesn’t take up much room. If you don’t know about it yet, a wet-bag is essential. It gives you a place to put the soiled clothes in without getting everything else in your bag messy or wet.

Another thing to remember is to change your toddler’s diaper right before you hit the trail. I had thought that since I had changed it before we left the house she would be fine. Unfortunately, the pressure of her sitting in the baby carrier often causes leaks even if her diaper isn’t full. So starting with a completely empty diaper will buy me some extra time on the trail.

Also, you never know when your kids are going to surprise you and poop on the trail (even if they just pooped an hour ago!). Make sure you bring wipes or whatever else you need to clean-up your kid. Sitting in that for too long can cause major diaper rash. Since I have a dog, I always have poop bags. Those are a great place to throw a dirty diaper if you need to carry it down with you in your backpack.

Preparing for Bumps and Bruises on the Trail (Not Just on the Kids)

Now that Addie is a little older, and a pro at walking, she requests to walk on the trail. While it is definitely easier for me to just carry her on my back the whole time, I want her to start to gain some independence. So I let her walk sometimes. One day on a hike with the same mother/daughter duo as before and our dogs, Addie was racing down the trail. She was doing so well that I was trying my hardest to let her go ahead without hovering over her every step of the way.

We came along a narrow part of the trail that had a steep cliff into a creek on one side. I told Addie she needed to hold my hand during this part so that she didn’t slip down the cliff. She threw a fit of course because she was enjoying her independence. I ended up picking her up.

As I tried to manage my dog on the leash, my screaming toddler in my arms, and the narrow winding path, my foot stepped off the edge. The next thing I know I am clinging to the side of the cliff. One hand holding on to the cliff and the other holding my daughter. My friend was able to pull Addie to safety while I searched around for something to grab on to and help me back up. I finally held onto a root and dug my feet into the soft earth and climbed out.

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What I Learned

At this point, my legs are shaking and my hands are covered in scrapes and cuts. My neatly packed First Aid kit is in my car’s glove compartment. My terrified daughter is now desperately clinging to me. And my dog is trying to bolt. But being a mom on the trail means I don’t have time to sit and cry about what could have happened. I put my daughter back in the carrier on my back. I brushed off my hands and held the dog’s leash tightly. My friend and I hiked down to some picnic tables and let the kids play while I decompressed.

When hiking with a toddler, falls are bound to happen, and it might not always be your toddler who is falling. To prevent falls, always hold your toddler in a safe way that doesn’t throw off your center of gravity. Instead of carrying my flailing daughter in my arms while holding my dog’s leash, I should have put her in the carrier while we navigated the dangerous part of the trail. Yeah, she would have protested, but we would have been much safer. As your child gets older, make sure they understand the rules of the trail. During steep or narrow parts they will need to hold your hand or be carried. Explaining the rules ahead of time might cut down on the tantrums later on when you need them to be safe.

Also, your First Aid kit is no good to you on the trail when it is in the car. Now I carry a pared down version in my backpack (with band-aids and alcohol wipes). Everything else can stay in the car in case we need it later. Replenish your kit after each hike. It’s easy to forget about stocking up on band-aids while you are trying to grab everything else you need for your hike. So just make sure that your stash is always full and in your backpack.

Learn and Grow From Your Mistakes

Spending time hiking with your family is one of the many joys of parenthood. I believe whole-heartedly that getting Addie on the trail as often as possible helps her development and confidence. However, it is important to realize that things will go wrong. You may be pulling your hair out in frustration at the end of a hike, or scared about what you just experienced, but don’t let it stop you from going out again. I take each experience as a learning opportunity, and then I brainstorm how I can do better next time. If we refuse to go out with our families again each time something goes wrong, we will never get to experience the joys of life with them.

One of the things I hope to teach my daughter is resiliency. This is best taught through modeling to her on a daily basis. Something goes wrong, we learn how to solve our problem and how to keep it from happening again in the future, and then we go out and try again.  I hope that you can learn through some of my mistakes so that you don’t have to go through them yourselves.


Have you had something go wrong on the trail? Share your experiences in a comment below! Don’t forget to share this article with your friends on social media!


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