Going hiking with a baby doesn’t have to be a disaster – the right gear can help a day out, make everyone more comfortable and enable enjoyment of the great outdoors. That is not to promise your baby will behave well, play nice and give you the chance to enjoy being out, but at least gear won’t limit you. The list below assumes two adults and one baby on a chilly (7°c/45°F) dry day, so nothing too dramatic. The place is a local forest after a few wet days, so mud is in abundance.
So what to take?
1. Kid carrier (+ rain cover) – A solid child carrier is a must for any parent who aims to take their kid outdoors. For very young babies a front carrier is best, allowing the baby to be warm and get the much needed sleep easily. Until about 9-10 months we used the Ergobaby performance and it was perfect for our needs. For bigger babies who can sit on their own and are much more curious (you’ll know it when you see it) – a backpack style carrier is best. We use the Deuter Kid Comfort 3 and it works great for us, our daughter is sometimes a great fan and sometimes a true hater.
2. Changing mat – Find a mat that folds easily but gives a big changing surface, durable and has enough storage room for diapers, wipes and dirty diapers to pack away. Just make sure you check before going out that it is fully stocked. We use the Baba Bing Flip Out Changing Mat and it is great for any outing with a baby, not just when hiking – it has clear compartments for everything, folds nicely and it is really robust and easy to clean.
3. 20-30L Backpack (For the other parent) – Simple day pack to carry the extra gear that won’t go into the storage department of the kid carrier. Doesn’t need to be a more “serious” mountain pack, just a good old zippered day pack is great.
4. Synthetic insulating jackets that can be put over the waterproof jacket, like a belay jacket. These are life savers when you want to have a break but not undress to add layers and then strip again when you go back on the move. They are perfect for a 20-30 minute break, trapping all that heat you generated while walking. Done eating? Stick it back in your bag, and you will be ready to go with you waterproof still on.
5. Food – When hiking with a baby you need to be thinking about more than just your regular trail mix, as there is a lot more to take: a bottle ready with powder only (if applicable), some fruit that can be eaten by all ages, potential light lunch for a baby (including a spoon) and extra snacks. Having a big variety will increase the chance your child will eat in an unfamiliar environment and hopefully fuss less.
6. Water – here I recommend to pack a little more than you think you’ll need, just in case. Babies sometimes need their hands cleaned, you are at a greater risk of an open bottle falling over etc. And while you are at it, don’t forget to pack a way for your child to drink – bottle, sippy cup or any other trick. Having their own water vessel gives you a way to keep an eye on their drinking.
7. Flask with a hot beverage of choice – no matter what you prefer, a hot beverage on a windy ridge always feels like a spoil. In our family we always take a small flask with coffee (0.5 litre) and a big flask of decaffeinated tea (1 litre), which keeps you from being over caffeinated but still fully warm. When we hike with our daughter, the big flask holds only hot water so it can be used with the tea bags (that we pack) and to make a bottle of formula for our daughter.
8. Seating pads – this might seem like a spoil, but it will make all the difference when having a break and can really make a difference on a day outside. A cold bum on a short break will only hasten you to get back to walking, and sometimes it is too soon. Having a few more minutes of rest can be amazing and is only achieved with a comfortable bum. When hiking with a baby it has the added bonus as a novelty – your child will love sitting on a mat to be like “the adults.” A seating pad will also make bottle/breast feeding much easier. It can be a simple closed cell foam, self inflating or air mat – just make sure to enjoy the view!
9. Emergency carry – headlamp, flint, first aid and a space blanket. These items should always be in your bag on winter (and summer) hikes. They can, and probably will, save your life one way or another. Just make sure the headlamp has fresh batteries.
10. Navigation (map and compass) – even if you’ve been to the place many times, having a child with you might increase the need to find a quick exit point, so having the navigation tools to escape are vital. Also, it is a good time to gain some extra navigation points, or, if your child is a little older – get them involved!
11. Spare clothes for your child – if you have been a parent for more then a day you know by now that if a child can make a mess, they will. A diaper disaster is always around the corner and outdoors this is even more true – pack at least another vest and trousers.
12. Dry bags – Even if it isn’t supposed to rain, you want to keep most things dry, especially when hiking with a baby who has a whole new set of things – extra clothes, food, changing mat etc. Keep it all dry by packing each category in a dry bag (clothes, food, accessories, emergency and so on).
13. Every day carry – wallets, phones, keys and a pocket knife, do I need to say more besides: keep them in a dry bag and try and enjoy some “phone free” time.
14. Light neck gaiter – this is becoming my must carry while hiking. It is great for anything from blowing your nose to cleaning glasses or having a quick face/neck/head protection. I’m a big fan of the Buffs (original) and keep a good range at home and at least one on me at all times.
What you don’t see here is what we are wearing: Synthetic first layer – dries fast and will prevent getting chilly Softshell trousers and jackets – more comfortable than waterproofs but will withstand some light rain and is a good wind protection and breathability combo. Gloves, hats and neck gaiter – skin protection and easy temperature regulation. That is it – you don’t need much to go hiking with a baby, but you do want to make sure you keep everyone comfortable to join again next time, even if it’s winter. Found any must have gear to get your family to join you on a wintery day hike? Let me know in the comments.