You are motivated, you have your carrier, and your stuff is all packed up and ready to go! But, we have one more topic to discuss before you and your family hit the trail, and it might be the most important: safety. The hike descriptions we provide in our Hiking with Keiki group hikes always end with the same few sentences: “…[O]nly you know what you and your family are capable of. Always be prepared!” This couldn’t be more true. When you’re out on the trails with your kids, you are responsible for everyone’s safety, so there are a few important ideas you need to keep in mind.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR CARRIERS
Periodically inspect your carriers. Better yet, give them a once over every time before you put them on. Although many brands make quality carriers, none of them are guaranteed to last a lifetime. If you have a framed backpack carrier, soft structured carrier, mei tai, or ring sling, check the seams at obvious weight-bearing areas. If you have a woven wrap or a carrier made from a woven wrap, check for any pulls, broken threads, or holes. Make sure you are comfortable with the carry you are trying to do. If you are attempting a back carry for the first time, make sure you have a spotter or that you are practicing over a soft surface like a bed or couch.
If your carrier has the option to allow baby to face outward, this may not be an ideal position for a hike. Some manufacturers only recommend facing out for a short period of time. Since many hikes last longer that 15-20 minutes, wearing a baby facing out does not seem practical for a hike. The risk of injury to a baby if a caregiver fell while forward facing out is higher than in other positions since baby cannot tuck his head into his caregiver and the caregiver cannot as easily guard baby’s head and face. Also, it is not recommended that babies sleep while facing out, so if your baby were to be lulled to sleep by your steady footfalls on a hike, you would have to take him out and switch him around for optimal safety. Some babies do like to see more of the world around them, but they can be easily overstimulated. While facing out, they cannot tuck back into their caregivers, which removes their ability to self-regulate. Both hip and back carries allow for the curious child to look around more, but still give him a chance to turn away from the world if over-stimulated. However, it is important to wait for your baby to fit properly in his carrier without any modifications and to have enough trunk control to sit with minimal assistance before attempting a back carry. If you do choose to forward face out, be attentive to your baby’s cues, listen to your own body, and do not put yourself in a position where you are likely to fall.
FROM MOLEHILLS TO MOUNTAINS
You know yourself and your family better than anyone else. Even if your BFF says a trail is easy, do your own research before going. A molehill to one person may be a mountain to you or your two-year-old. If you do research on a trail and it seems too difficult for you or your family, don’t let someone talk you into it. If you must do the trail, try going without your children first so you can truly gage how difficult or dangerous it is. If you wind up on a new trail with or without your family and you get to a point where you feel unsafe, turn around. Sometimes going back is the smartest and safest choice for everyone. You can always work yourself up to a more difficult trail and come back to it another day.
If you and your family are completely new to hiking, you may not know your limits yet. In this case, it’s best to start with the easiest trail you can find. If you want to wear your child but haven’t done so very much or if you have little walkers who need to build up their endurance, you can even start with walks around the neighborhood or through a local park. Then, work yourself up. Use the Internet, buy a local trail guidebook, or, better yet, join a local hiking group. Bonus points if it’s a group focused on family hiking. Find different trails rated by difficulty level and make yourself a list. Start with easy and work your way up.
SO LONG SOLO
In Hiking with Keiki, we recommend that our members never hike alone or as the sole adult with their kids as long as they can avoid it. Even the most experienced hikers sometimes have accidents. Trail conditions can change at a moment’s notice; a safe trail on the way in could turn into a hazardous obstacle course on the way out. You don’t want to get stuck by yourself in a dangerous situation or, even worse, you don’t want you or one of your family members to get hurt with no one else around to help. If you must hike alone, stick to well-traveled trails. Ideally, find a group to hike with!
If you live on Oahu, join Hiking with Keiki! We offer several group hikes every week that we encourage members to join and we also allow members to post looking for other caregivers to form temporary hiking groups. On the mainland and on Maui, Hike it Baby has formed numerous chapters across the country that also offer group hikes. If you can’t find a hiking group near you, hit your local parent and caregiver groups and see if anyone else wants to start hiking with their families. This was how Hiking with Keiki was born: a post in Babywearing International of Oahu about hiking while babywearing and then an explosion of interest. You never know what you might spark in your own town!
So get out there! Start hiking with your family. Find the perfect carrier to hit the trails and pack the essentials for you and your kids. And remember, safety is important! You know yourself and your family better than anyone else, so listen to your instincts and do proper research before exploring any new trails. Find a group to hike with or start your own. Catch the hiking bug and then pass it on!