The Babywearer’s Guide to Hiking – Part Three: Packing

You’ve got your kid. You’ve got your carrier. You’ve got your diaper bag. Oh wait, that is unrealistically large and stuffed way too full to take on a trail. Whatever shall you do? It’s time to scale down and choose an appropriate vessel for how you carry your child, and I’m here to help!

family walking 1

*Note: In this post, I will sometimes mention brand names or show specific brands in pictures. I am not endorsing any particular company over another, but simply relating my personal experiences and opinions and what I have seen out on the trails.

 

THE ESSENTIALS

It’s time to empty out that diaper bag (c’mon, you’ve been meaning to do this anyway, right?) and boil your supplies down to what you REALLY need for a hike.

  1. Water – This is an ESSENTIAL essential. I even have a whole separate section for it down below. Check it out!
  2. Snacks – I usually pack one bar and fruit for myself, and more for my little lady. Snacking helps to urge her on whether she’s walking or worn. At a minimum, I pack her a bar, one or two fruits, a fruit leather, and one or two cheese sticks. I can also add on one or two crunchy snacks or even a sandwich for both of us, depending on the length of the hike. Snacks are not as important as water, but they are definitely essential, especially on longer hikes when it’s been a few hours between meals and you’re feeling the physical strain from hiking with a little one. snacks
  3. Diapers and Wipes – As your kids get older, you can ignore the first item, but this is definitely an important consideration for the littles who have not been potty trained yet. I usually can get away with packing one diaper now for my 22-month-old daughter, but if it’s an extra long hike or we’re having a particularly–ehem–hard day, I pack two. If you cloth diaper, definitely bring a wet bag and at least one or two cloth diapers. The wet bag is even nice to have if you’re using disposables to carry out a dirty diaper or dirty clothes. Wipes will continue to be on my list of hiking essentials while I’m still responsible for tiny, sticky humans. You never know when someone will stick their hand, elbow, or nose in dirt or what you hope is dirt. You’ll be so thankful in those moments to have wipes. Or if nature calls for those who are potty trained, wipes are always good to have around. I never take a whole big package, but I try to choose a package that’s nearly finished or even take out 5-10 and put them in a resealable baggy. Trust me. You’ll want them. disposable diaperscloth diapers
  4. Keys, Phone, ID, etc. – This may be obvious, but bring your keys so you can get back in your car. Bring your phone so you can take beautiful pictures, contact the outside world if there is an emergency, or use your map app to track your progress. Take your ID in case of an emergency. Also, be wary of what you leave in your car for hours at a time. It may be easier to pack cash, credit cards, and other small items that would be difficult to replace if your car was broken into while you were on the trail. ID keys
  5. Bandages and Alcohol Wipes – It’s a great idea to take a few bandages and alcohol wipes with you, especially if you have little legs attempting some big trails. They don’t take up much space, and you’ll be grateful to have them for the occasional cut or scrape. If you have extra room, it might be nice to invest in a small first aid kit or to keep one in your car. first aid
  6. Bug Spray and Sunscreen – These may not be essential items to pack on every hike, but I definitely recommend keeping them in your car. Out here on Oahu, many hikes have mosquitoes. A good rule of thumb: If you plan to encounter mud, streams, or waterfalls, use some bug spray before your hike. If you plan to cross any streams, bring some with you so you can reapply. If your hike will take more than two or three hours, it’s also a good idea to bring some with you to reapply. Mosquitoes love me, so I find the only bug sprays that work are the heavy duty kinds that have 25% DEET. According to the Center for Disease Control, it is safe to use these products on children as young as two months. However, some families choose to use more natural alternatives like essential oils. Find a bug spray or insect repellent that works best for you and your family. Then stock up and keep some in your car for when you want to chase waterfalls. Same with sunscreen, although I usually find I need sunscreen more on the exposed hikes that lead to scenic viewpoints rather than waterfalls.bug spray sunscreen
  7. Plastic Bags – These are another item that you may not want to bring with you, but that can definitely be an important car item. I tend to bring at least one folded up plastic grocery bag on each hike with me in case my daughter’s shoes get really muddy and then she wants to be carried or in case there is a whole lot of trash we need to pack out. I also leave a plethora of plastic grocery bags in my car for muddy shoes or clothes. I also usually keep a few small resealable plastic bags in my car in case I’m doing a particularly wet hike or it starts raining while I’m getting ready to start hiking. This way, I can put my phone and other valuable materials in the bag, safe from any potential moisture. Some hikers bring a roll of small plastic bags most commonly found in the pet aisle for cleaning up after our furry friends. These are nice because the rolls are small, but come with a lot of bags. Some even come with a clip so you can attach the roll to your carrier or bag rather than have it take up space inside.
  8. A Change of Shoes or Clothes – Another set of items that you probably won’t carry with you, but that are good to have in your car. I usually wear flip flops to hikes, change into my hiking shoes, then change back when I’m done, regardless of how clean or dirty my hiking shoes get. I definitely always keep a change of clothes for my daughter in the car and, if I know I’m doing a very muddy or wet hike, I’ll bring a simple change of clothes for myself too.

 

OPTIONAL ITEMS

The items are not necessary for every hike, but they may be good options to consider for specific hikes or conditions.

  1. Flashlight/headlamp – These are good items for sunrise or sunset hikes. To experience the true beauty of the sun greeting the Earth, you will have to start hiking in the dark. Likewise, to really capture the majesty of a perfect sunset, you’ll be finishing your hike with little light. During these hikes, flashlights and especially headlamps come in handy.flashlight headlamp
  2. Toys – Depending on the age of your little one, it might be a good idea to pack some toys. When my daughter was still a riding baby and always hiking on my back, I usually wore a teething necklace or attached a toy or two my carrier to keep her occupied and away from my hair. Now that she walks on some hikes, it’s fun to bring her doll so that she can wear her own baby.
  3. Rain jacket/poncho – If the forecast is more rain and you’re doing a hike that will still be safe with a little storm, it could be a good idea to bring a rain jacket or a poncho. Although, sometimes a little rain is welcome at the end of a long and hot hike.

 

THE VESSEL

Now that you know what to bring, you need to pick the best option for how to bring it. This may depend on how you plan to carry your child.

  1. Backpack – These work best if you plan to front carry your child or if you have a second caregiver to accompany you. They are a great option for longer hikes, since they have the largest capacity for packing. I used a backpack for about two to three months, until I started wearing my daughter on my back for hikes. I would not recommend a backpack if you plan to back carry your child and do not have anyone else to help wear the backpack. I’ve seen many caregivers try to wear a backpack on the front while they carry their child on their back, but, to me, this is uncomfortable and unsafe. One of the reasons I prefer wearing my daughter on my back is so that I have a clear view of the ground beneath me. Wearing a backpack on my front defeats that purpose.
    1. PRO TIP – When your child is old enough and will be walking for the majority of the hike, buy a backpack just for her! She will love the independence of carrying her own snacks and water, and this means you have less to carry. That is until she gets tired and wants “uppies.” Then you have to carry your child, your bag, and a tiny backpack that you may be less than happy you brought at
      that point. toddler backpack
  2. Shoulder Bag – These work best for shorter hikes, when you’re carrying a smaller child, or when your child will be mostly walking. They are not as supportive or secure as some other options, but they get the job done in a pinch. I used a one-shoulder, tote bag for a few months when I was over my backpack but had not yet discovered the amazing world of fanny packs. It worked, but I would have prefered to have both of my hands and arms free during certain sections of some hikes that tested my skills. One of my fellow hikers also prefers to use her shoulder bag when she is tandem carrying her children (i.e.: wearing two children at one time; in this case, one on back and one on front). shoulder bag
  3. Cross-Body Bag – These can be great options, especially when carrying a child. Although they are still technically one-shoulder bags, the cross over your torso distributes the weight a bit more evenly, allowing for more support and comfort. If you can find one with straps that can tie, that’s even better since you can adjust the bag to fit you any way, which you might like if you are sometimes wearing your child and sometimes not. Some baby carrier companies even make their own adjustable, cross-body bags since they are so popular with the babywearing crowd.
  4. Fanny Pack – Although the cool kids are apparently calling these “hip sacks” these days, let’s be real: a FANNY PACK is a great addition to any hikers’ supply list, especially if another thing on that list is “baby carrier” and another thing is “child.” I was a bit reluctant to purchase a fanny pack, as the old, dorky stigma had stuck with me from childhood. But I am so glad I did! I can fit pretty much everything I need in my fanny pack and then clip it to my body so that I am handsfree. Perfect.

 

HYDRATION

You need water to keep your body going so that you don’t injure yourself or your kiddos. If your kids are old enough, you’ll also need to pack water for them too. A good rule of thumb is to bring 16 oz of water per mile per person under normal conditions. Bring more if it’s hot. For extra long or hot hikes, I like to leave at least 32 oz in my car. My thirsty, post-hike self always appreciates the forethought. When my daughter is only riding and not walking, I usually just pack her 8 oz sippy cup, and she is fine with that. I will, of course, share my water with her though if she is extra thirsty. If you’re planning a long or hot hike, it’s also a good idea to drink a good amount of water before you even start hiking. Dehydration can happen quickly and can really compromise your safety out on the trails.

Carrying enough water can be a whole task within itself. Here are some further tips to make sure you and your family stay hydrated on the trails:

  1. Get yourself a good water bottle. – Here in Hawaii, many of us prefer Hydro Flasks. They do not sweat. They keep cold water cold for hours without ice. You can purchase different lids for them. However, I started off with a Nalgene and loved it…until the handle broke. My daughter uses a small, 8 oz plastic cup that has a lid that snaps closed. She is usually okay with this amount of water, but if she needs more, I can always share some of mine. Bottom line: find a water bottle that will not break if you drop it on the trail and that you can use on all of your hikes.two water bottles
  2. Figure out how to pack it. – This was a puzzle to me for a while. My water bottle is big. It holds 40 oz of water. I can’t fit that in a fanny pack. I used to be able to carry it in my backpack, but then the backpack itself became too cumbersome when I switched to back carrying my daughter. I was able to put it in the shoulder bag, but I also didn’t love that vessel. Since I started using a fanny pack, I’ve just been carrying it in my arms, which sort of defeats the handsfree benefits of the fanny pack. I’ve recently bought a cross-body water bottle holder that I love! It’s really allowed me to be hands free on a hike while carrying my daughter, all our stuff, and our water. Some people use fanny packs that come with water bottle pockets. The water bottles are usually on the smaller side, but there is space for multiple containers.
  3. OR SKIP ALL THAT and get a water bladder. – The most popular kind is a CamelBak. They come in various sizes, and are mostly worn like backpacks, although I’ve seen many caregivers wear them on the front if wearing a child on the back. They are more comfortable and safe worn on the front than a backpack, in my opinion. They can hold a ridiculous amount of water, so many caregivers who choose this option only bring one for their family. Bonus: They make child sizes as well, so when your little one gets big enough, she can carry her own water. Bonus bonus: Some, like the ones pictured below, come with additional storage space. For some, this is all they need.

    camelback open

 

You’re packed with the essentials and have enough water for a full day on the trails! But before you get going, we need to talk about safety for you and your family. Come back next week for the last, but certainly not least important post all about how to keep you and your loved ones safe while hiking.

kids on the trail

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