The Babywearer’s Guide to Hiking: Part One – An Introduction

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” –Rachel Carson

sunset

My name is Jennifer Tolisano. I have a daughter who will soon turn two, and we go hiking at least once a week. We live on the beautiful island of Oahu, and we have been hiking together since she was four months old. “How?” you may ask. Babywearing!

In September of 2014, my shiny new baby was three months old, and I finally made it to my first Babywearing International (BWI) meeting. While I was there, I  fell in love with babywearing. I loved snuggling my daughter close and being able to complete my daily tasks while doing so. Babywearing International of Oahu became an indispensable resource to me and my daughter, and in December of 2014, I decided to volunteer.

Three months later, I became a chapter support volunteer and, three months after that, a volunteer babywearing educator (VBE). I was so excited to share my passion with others and to be able to help caregivers enter the wonderful world of wearing.

babywearing education

Babywearing education in action at a local BWI meeting

Only one month after I became active with my local BWI chapter, I found the world of hiking. This collage is from our first mother-daughter hike together. It was taken on October 2, 2014, four days before Lena turned four months. We attempted the nearly five mile long Aiea Loop hike with a new local group that had just formed called Hiking with Keiki. I think the group went maybe 1.5 out of those five miles, but it was a start. And I was hooked.

Three and a half months later, I became a hiking lead with that group and, that summer, I became an administrator. I have loved nearly every second of leading group hikes, finding trails, and helping other families explore our island together.

first babywearing hike

Our first babywearing hike on Aiea Loop in a borrowed mei tai

The truly amazing thing is that I didn’t babywear before Lena was born (this may not come as a surprise), but I didn’t hike either (there’s the kicker). I mean, I had hiked. In the two years we lived here before Lena was born, my husband and I had completed a whopping three trails on the island. I would never have called myself a hiker. Teacher? Yes. Foodee? Sure. Nature-lover? Yeah, I guess. Maybe more of a nature-appreciator mostly from my lanai (i.e. balcony) during sunset. But being able to share the world with my new baby gave me a newfound appreciation for exploration. And I needed to explore as much as I could. And then share it with others. Why?

  1. Hiking while babywearing is a great way to stay active. It is no secret that the average modern American family has trouble finding ways to get off the couch. I promise, if you go out and climb a mountain or conquer a trail, you will catch the hiking bug and you will not stop. Start while your children can’t even walk, wear them on hikes for an added workout, and then start encouraging them to walk on their own. They will love it too, and it will simply become something you do together as a family. They will ask to go hiking, climb mountains, and chase waterfalls, and you will all be off the couch, at least for a few hours.

    hiking family shirts

    Mom and baby hiking shirts by UOTC designs

  2. Hiking while babywearing gives your family a common hobby that you can share forever. Sure, when Lena and I started hiking, she didn’t really have a choice in the matter. I strapped her to my body and off we went. She still doesn’t really have a say. I’m selfish enough to make our plans without consulting her calendar, but she’s pretty amenable to running around on trails. If she gets tired, I fall back on the tried and true strapping-her-to-my-body trick. But usually, she demands to walk even when it may be dangerous for her to do so. My point? She loves hiking! Most of my friends’ children who have been hiking since they were babies ask to go hiking almost every day. They beg to see waterfalls and to explore with their friends. My hope is that they will continue to do this as they grow into adults. By hiking with my daughter at such a young age, I have given us a lifelong hobby that will allow me to stay connected to her when it becomes difficult to pry her away from her cell phone (will they even have cell phones in 12 years?). Sure, she may whine about it at first, but she’ll appreciate the beauty when she’s actually on the trails. And hopefully, one day, she’ll be wearing her own children while she explores with her family.
  3. Hiking while babywearing allows you to get back to nature. We are all guilty of being over-connected. We’re always on our phones or computers, running around in our busy lives, forgetting about the beauty that surrounds us. When I was little, I loved exploring the woods around my neighborhood. I appreciated the way the sunlight hit the trees and the rain trickled down the leaves. I had forgotten some of this until I got back out into the wild with my daughter. It is so important to take some time to go out into the world, stop, look around, and appreciate the beauty. Start your kids young and teach them that the world exists beyond them. It will give them an important perspective, something timeless to appreciate, and a priceless heirloom that they can pass down themselves.
  4. Hiking while babywearing will help you relax. The over-connectedness I mentioned in my last point leads to high levels of stress. When you are expected to be on all the time, it becomes difficult to find a second to breathe and relax. Unplug, adventure with your family, move the fresh air through your lungs, and float away on the wind. Hiking can sometimes be physically challenging, especially while wearing a child. Having to focus on step after step and breath after breath will get your mind off of your other worries. Then the amazing payoff, be it a beautiful vista, rushing waterfall, or proud accomplishment, will keep your mind on the next hike you want to conquer. There will be no time for stress while you’re out on the trails! Well, until your kids begin to walk themselves. Then you worry about teaching them trail safety, preparedness, and awareness. You take on some of that stress while you watch them become avid little hikers who will one day help you up the steep incline. And you can relish in the fact that you’re imparting valuable lessons that they can use on and off the trails: the payoff of hard work, the respect we have to give to the earth and its creatures, and the importance of getting up when you fall.

So now you want to hike while babywearing, right? Start ‘em young! Wear them on trails! Next week, I’ll be back to discuss the pros and cons of the different carriers you can use. Until then, find some way to share an adventure with your family!

Mauna Kea babywearing hike

Family hike on Mauna Kea

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