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My Life Outdoors

10 Tips for Toddler Trail Training – My WIFE Outdoors

This is the one of several posts contributed by my wife. We hope for this to become a regular segment on MyLifeOutdoors. A valuable resource to women (and their husbands) who love the outdoors (or who, at least, wish to love the outdoors). This is My Wife Outdoors.

Our youngest daughter is almost three years old and we have recently begun training her to hike on her own. We know it will be years before we can go on a hike without needing the pack but you have to start somewhere. People ask us all the time how we hike with the girls. It is really two different experiences hiking with our eleven year old and hiking with the wee one. Here are my biggest tips for Trail Training your two to three year old.

1. Start em young. This won’t really help you if you are just now starting out with a toddler wanting to hike. That will be a more difficult experience … but manageable. We put little R in the pack as soon as she was safely able to go, We had even done little short hikes with a Moby wrap when she was younger. Her first all day hike was when she was 5 months old.

Little R when she was just 5 months old

2. Keep it Short. I wouldn’t try to undertake a twelve hour hike the very first trip. It is important to realize that your endurance level is not the same as a small child. Although they aren’t doing any real work, sitting in a pack for hours on end can be very uncomfortable.

3. Splurge on a great Pack. We use the Deuter Kid Comfort 2. It was not a cheap purchase but well worth it! She sits comfortably inside the carrier and can now hike for an entire day without complaining of discomfort. Occasionally I like to switch things up. When she was younger and too small to fit in the Deuter Kid Comfort 2, I would use a Moby Wrap and front carry her. Sometimes if we are going on a short hike and we don’t need the storage that the Deuter offers I like to back carry her in my Ergo. To be honest I prefer my Ergo over the Deuter, Steven disagrees though, I feel like she is closer to my body and I have better balance. The downside is that the Ergo is not hydration compatible and if it is hot she makes me sweaty! The upside is that she is very snuggly and sometimes she gives me kisses!

4. Stop Often. You have to plan for this. Most packs recommend stopping every hour to let them stretch and regain circulation. Again, you might be feeling fine and ready to concur the next few miles without stopping. Realize that a break now might save you a meltdown later!

5. Dress them in the right clothes. We try to keep little R in comfortable layers. You also have to keep in mind that they aren’t exerting as much energy as you, which means they aren’t getting as hot. Put one layer more on your little one than you are wearing. Account for wind and sun. We always keep R in soft cottony clothes. You don’t want to have any kind of ties or buttons that might cause them discomfort. Bring a hat and jacket. We also try to bring a change of clothes just in case. It adds extra weight but you never know when you will have a diaper blowout or another such accident.

6. Let them enjoy the wildlife. Whether it is stopping to hold a Great Horned Lizard or hand them a pretty leaf you found on the trail, it is important to involve your little one in the process. Let them play with some snow you found on the trail and enjoy the moment.

7. Let them walk a little while. We have begun letting our two year old walk the flat parts of the trail. This gives her some time to stretch her legs and is preparing her for the endurance of future hikes. She can’t ride in the pack forever!”

8. Check out the trail. This is my husbands job. Listen up men! If you want to make your wives (a whole separate blog …consider this piece of advice a freebie) and kiddos love hiking …make sure that they are comfortable. The key to making hikes work for your family is to make sure your family can handle what lies around. Avoid trails that require bushwhacking or scrambling. We once spent a great deal of time bushwhacking and ducking in and out high brush on a hike. It is to this day the worst hike I have ever been on. We had to worry constantly about sticks and twigs poking R’s eyes Out or scratching her. Scrambles are also tough. You don’t want to get yourself in a bad situation where you may fall on the little person who is riding on your back. If you don’t think you can handle the trail ahead, turn back! Never force your children to press on if they are struggling or uncomfortable.

9. Pack with Purpose. Think of everything that could possibly go wrong and plan for it! You do this with yourself but remember to do this for your little one too. Chances are they will have a very different set of needs than you do! Here are a few items that we pack just for little R:

A small receiving blanket. You might need it to provide extra warmth on a windy summit or to wedge between them and the pack to prevent chafing.
Small sacks for diapers, wet wipes, (thrown up on clothes, etc.)  

Extra diapers.  

Wet Wipes 

Extra Clothes. It will add unwanted weight but you should bring an entire change of clothes. Babies are prone to accidents and you don’t want to hike down a chilly trail with a naked baby.  

Hat, Gloves, Jacket. Even if you think it is too warm for you to need them. Unless you are hiking in an area like Big Bend in May – August. We have found ourselves worrying about a cold baby in Palo Duro Canyon in April.  

Extra Water. They will need to stay hydrated too. 

Appropriate Snacks. Young children can’t eat typical trail fare like nuts. You might have to think outside the box for toddler friendly trail treats. Some of R’s favorites are those squeezable applesauces, grapes, and crackers. The trail is never a time to tryout a new food. For one, they may end up hating it and you will have carried it for nothing. For two, they might be allergic to the new food…and hiking on an isolated trail is not an ideal place to deal with that issue.  

Baby safe sunscreen and bug repellant. Apply sunscreen liberally. Also think about areas where their clothing may creep up while riding in the pack. Poor R has suffered many of sunburn because her shirt rode up and a tiny bit of tummy was peaking out unbeknownst to us! 

10. Think ahead. Prepare them for the trip you are on but also prepare them (and yourself) for future trips. Steven and I have a goal of getting our girls up a fourteener next year. We have already begun to prepare ourselves and our girls for this endeavor. This kind of thinking ahead will help diversify your hiking trips and will give you and your family something exciting to work on while you can’t be on the trail!

I am not a professional so this is Just advice from a Mommy. I am sure I have forgotten something, so feel free to add to the list if you can think of something! My biggest advice is to have fun, take loads of pictures. and build lasting memories!

Did you like this post? Please share it with your friends!


  • Susan

    September 17, 2012

    Good advice. Be sure to check out the trail in advance and know your kids' limits.

    Our worst hike with 8 and 12 year old boys was to Comet Falls on Mt. Rainier. It was fall. The trail gains 900' in 1.8 miles. The path was rock strewn and there were roots. We thought the kids were old enough to handle it. Our 12 year old did fine. Our eight year old did not.

    At the top, the eight year old complained loudly that his feet and ankles hurt. He wanted to be carried! We told him he was too big and too heavy to be carried. He made it down, but barely, complaining the whole way.

    Not only that, but an early snowstorm hit while we were at the falls, almost obliterating the trail. Luckily, the trail descended quickly, so we were soon below snow level.

    The next day our son could not walk. He was crawling all over the house. We took him to the doctor who diagnosed tendinitis in both ankles. The doctor recommended that we buy high-topped hiking boots for our kids to prevent this in the future.

    My son had to be out of school for four days while his ankles healed. We felt terrible. Over the years we have apologized to our kids for our worst hike ever.

    About six years ago Bob and I did the Comet Falls hike again. We were appalled that we had taken our kids on that trail without the proper equipment or trail training. Know your trail and everyone's limitations.

    Hopefully your blog can help others make good decisions. We didn't that day.


  • Nancy

    September 17, 2012

    Good advice, thanks. We just hiked yesterday, I am 6 months pregnant, so this is very timely. Although this is not my first child – I have 3 teenagers already – it's been awhile since I've had to bring a little one on the trail with me so it's a nice refresher. I also am an artist who paints outdoors, combining painiting with my hikes, so starting to think of ideas on how to manage that with a new little one 🙂

  • Steven Smith

    September 17, 2012

    I'm sure my wife will want to respond too. But I wanted to say we have a similar story. We took out oldest up Pine Peak in Texas. 1500' in 2.5 miles. What we didn't know is her boots were too small. By the end of the trip everyone was crying and her toe nails were black. Needless to say…I felt terrible. Heres a link if you care to read about it. https://mylifeoutdoors.com/2011/06/pine-peak-texas-7710-feet-trip-from.html

  • Steven Smith

    September 17, 2012


    I saw the picture you painted of the Grand Canyon. It was amazing. I would love to see more if you have a link?

  • Susan

    September 17, 2012

    Good blog about Pine Peak. Where in Texas are you located? We're currently in San Antonio.

    We all live and learn, but sometimes the learning is painful.

    Don't you just hate too-small boots? I almost lost both my big toenails in Big Bend National Park in March. They turned black, but stayed put. I now have nice big hiking boots with lots of room for thick socks and swollen feet.

    I have a pair of women's size 8 Columbia hiking boots looking for a new home.


  • Celestuhh

    September 17, 2012

    Nancy, thanks for reading! I hiked a little while pregnant and it was always…interesting! We saw a painter on the trail during our Grand canyon trip in may. I was so amazed! Sounds like you are going to need a pack with lots of storage! Let me know what you find out there!

  • Celestuhh

    September 17, 2012

    Knowing the trail and being prepared for it are definitely secrets to successful hiking with little ones. It can take one bad trip to turn an adolescent off of hiking forever! So glad your son I still getting out there with you! Man that ankle story had me in pain for him!! We have had a few hikes we have had to apologize for too…like the pine peak hike steven mentioned in his comment! We felt horrible! This boots had fit her on a recent hike so we assumed they still fit! She didn't complain on the hike in but after the descent she was in serious pain! I will definitely have to do a post on things we have learned about hiking with older kids in the near future!

  • Suzi Smart

    September 18, 2012

    Great post. We love hiking with our 3 1/2 year old and wouldn't trade it for the world. It's an entirely different experience hiking at a toddler's pace all summer 😀 You see the world differently.

  • Steven Smith

    September 18, 2012

    I totally agree. They help you see the world differently.

  • Steven Smith

    September 18, 2012

    We currently live in Midland Texas. We ended up here trying to move to San Antonio. My about page explains.


  • Android Travels

    September 18, 2012

    #9 Is my favorite. If you don't have it all with your, there will be problems. I like to pack light, but I make sure I have 1 of everything including the kitchen sink.

  • Sedona Trail

    September 20, 2012

    Love this post. And yes, I also believe it's good to start them young and involve them in what goes on during a hike instead of just carrying them around. Nice pic with the great horned lizard 🙂

  • Steven Smith

    September 22, 2012

    Hiking with little ones certainly lends a unique perspective to any trip! Glad to hear you are enjoying that as much as we do!

  • Celestuhh

    September 22, 2012

    Thanks! She carried that thing around for hours and wanted to take it home and build a cabin for it. We told her his family would miss him…so she left him in the New Mexico mountains.

  • Celestuhh

    September 22, 2012

    They certainly don't pack light, especially when they are really young. Now that little R is day and night time potty trained we are able to pack less which is always nice!

  • Birch Davis

    September 23, 2012

    Boo likes yogurt-covered raisins. They have a bit of protein.

    Once slid down some muddy steps with Boo in the Ergo on my back… She was more scared than hurt, but it could have been a lot worse.

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