Toddlers on Trails – Preparation is key!

Toddler Trail

Getting out of the house can be important when you’re a new parent, and teaching toddlers about nature can protect them later in life. Exercise for you both might also be very welcome after being cooped up for the winter. However, if you’re planning on going hiking with your toddler, there are some hazards on the trail that we might be able to help you avoid! Let’s go over some trail tips and see if we can make the outing as child-friendly (and parent-friendly) as possible.

How to prepare:

1. Hit the trail solo:
Taking some time to scope out the lay of the land before hitting the trail with your little one can save you a lot of time and hassle. A vanguard solo venture will give you a chance to familiarize yourself with the trail length, any hazards that might be on the way, and will give you a better idea of how to prepare for the journey ahead. Are there wasp nests or poison ivy patches to avoid? You’re on top of it! Muddy spots that require rubber boots? You’ll know. Windy cold areas that require an extra layer? No problem. You’re sure to have more fun if you know what to look out for.

2. Set realistic time goals:
Everything takes longer with children, especially young children. While you may think that you’ve budgeted enough time for you to pack, get to the hiking site, conduct your trek, and return, it is likely that you’ll need more time yet. It is advisable to plan for much more time than you require. Not only does this flexibility keep the pressure off, but it leaves room for both disasters and fun, unexpected adventures! There’s nothing to stop you from exploring that beautiful flowered glade or to look for fossils along that shale outcropping when time isn’t an issue.

3. Set realistic distance goals:
Little legs tire far more easily than bigger ones, and you might end up walking for two. Does your little one walk independently all the time? Are you planning on using a carrying pack, and how far can YOU go walking for two? Kids in carriers can sleep when they are tired, but walking tots can get tired and cranky in a flash. Picking a trail that’s appropriate for your youngest hiker can hold you back a bit but will keep everyone happier in the long run.

4. Head out early, if that’s your jam:
The combination of fresh toddlers, fresh parents, and fresh air is magical… for some people! For those people, we recommend taking advantage of the magic, and heading to the trail before the morning coolness gives way to the midday heat. You could even be home in time for lunch (and a nap for you both!). For people who (by preference or circumstance) get a later start, it is advisable to still avoid the midday sun, which can burn both you and your little one fiercely and can sap energy levels with the heat that it brings. It is important to get back before the sun sets, however, for safety reasons.

What to bring:

1. Ten essentials for survival
Most responsible hiking blogs will suggest that you pack the Ten Essentials for every trip, on the off-chance that you might get lost. This hazard is even greater if you might be distracted (TODDLERS!) due to impatience (TODDLERS!) or if you are responsible for someone else’s life (TODDLERS!). It never hurts to be prepared, even if you don’t use everything in your pack. The worst that can happen is a bit of extra fitness from lugging around a few more items.

2. Water:
Bringing plenty of drinking water for everybody is key to happy trekkers. Even kids in carriers will need to stay hydrated. Remember, that everybody’s liquid requirements increase on hot days! Juice boxes can be a fun treat, but some hikers find them bulky and heavy to carry – your patience with carrying drinks other than water may come down to personal preference, distance, and how much other gear you have with you.

3. Food. So much food:
Food breaks can be fun and rewarding. It isn’t uncommon for meltdowns to happen on long walks, and unhappy hikers can be distracted by cereals, crackers, dried and fresh fruit, and softer nuts like cashews that can be easily broken up. If your little one is old enough to recognize checkpoints or to understand time/distance intervals, snack breaks can be used as motivation. While we don’t advocate using food itself as a primary reward (let’s keep our relationship with food healthy!), some parents restrict certain fun foods to the trail to encourage healthier physical activity. Sugar-free gummy worms or coconut chips are a healthier alternative to higher-calorie snacks.

4. Tools for exploring:
The types of tools that you’ll want to pack will depend on the type of topography that you’ll encounter. Is the ground sandy and soft? Maybe a bucket and shovel are your best allies. Expecting a field of flowers? Perhaps other curiosities may be found along the way. Containers for safekeeping will prevent them from being crushed and wilted in small fingers. Make sure you keep some pockets free for the extraordinary rocks that just HAVE to follow you home.

5. Day pack:
Plan for the day ahead! It might be a good idea to pack a carrier, even if you are confident that your little one can walk the trail alone. A blanket (with plastic backing to guard against wet terrain) is nice for sitting. Does any of your food require spoons? Maybe a spray bottle to keep cool? Should you bring diapers, or perhaps tissue paper for the trail? As much as we would all prefer to wait until convenient bathrooms appear, it might be advisable to pack some toilet paper to prevent the “trail tragedies” that might come from being ill-equipped.

6. Weather-appropriate clothing:
Hiking shoes or boots for you both are recommended and are preferable to open-toed shoes or sandals. Dressing in layers is recommended for adult hikers as well as for younger ones. Layers can come off or on as the person/environment warms and cools, and this adaptability helps with comfort and endurance. Also, long sleeves and pants can help to ward off insects without having to resort to repellents and can offer protection from the sun. Brimmed hats help to keep sun off faces and necks for both you and your little one, although we’ll forewarn you about wearing a hat with a wide brim in the back if you have a child in a back carrier – this is a fast way to a cranky passenger.

7. Sunscreen:
We probably don’t have to tell you that it is advisable to keep babies younger than 6 months old out of the sun, or to use sunscreen (sparingly) if that is not possible. Kid-friendly sunscreens exist and are less irritating if your little one should get some in his or her eyes.

8. Bug repellent:
Saskatchewan contains beautiful wildlife. Unfortunately, its insect life isn’t always so beautiful. Mosquitos can be unrelenting, and ticks can be unwelcome hitchhikers on little legs. The additional concern is that ticks can carry diseases. Clothing may be the best protection against bugs if they are not bad. Kid-safe repellents are always an option too, although there have been concerns with repellents with high DEET concentrations. It is important also to make sure that hands and eyes are avoided.

What to do on the trail:

1. Stay positive:
The whole point of getting out into nature is to have fun! Praise, encouragement, and a positive attitude go a long way in keeping both of your spirits high and in making your trail hike a bonding experience. The fresh air, lovely scenery, lush flora, and sunshine are not to be taken for granted these days. This IS your chance to stop and smell the flowers!

2. Weather-watch:
In this land of living skies, the weather can turn on a dime! Checking the forecast the day before (and even the day of!) the hike can mean the difference between success and sorry. You won’t be caught unprepared if you’re forewarned, and you’ll know if you can sit and wait out this little drizzle, or if it is the signal to pack up and head back.

3. Keep your expectations in check:
How far your child can wander, curiosity, and tolerance to the elements will depend on how old they are. Your own stamina and your child’s will largely determine the rest, although there are other considerations. Are you using a carrier? Are you or your little one used to the carrier, or will the extra weight or confinement be distressing to either of you?

4. Rest often:
Breaking often might be frustrating for seasoned hikers, but it’s important to remember everyone’s limitations. It’s tempting to forge ahead but accommodating for little legs and small attention spans means that breaks to rest and refuel will be frequent. Goal-directed hiking is a good way to proceed with toddlers and encouraging them to check out the scenery ahead might be a great way to set achievable objectives before giving them a chance to rest.

5. Play games:
Educational and fun games help to pass the time and can distract cranky kids from their distress. Sit down beforehand with a book of local bugs and flora so that you can recognize them together with your tyke. Sing songs, play chase, and tell stories along the trail to keep children interested in the activity of hiking. If you encounter stairs or fenceposts, you can practice counting. Bodies of water can never have too many rocks skipped into them, or objects floated downriver.

6. Explore!
Toddlers get fidgety and cranky when they haven’t been moving around enough. If your passenger is fussing in his or her carrier, you might try letting them wander for a bit to see if that is the remedy. Letting them walk until they are tired enough to need carrying again may be the way to avoid fussiness. Kids love to collect, dig, explore, and learn in a hands-on environment. Collecting and exploring is a great way for them to connect with nature and to enjoy the sensations and smells of the trail.

We hope that this list contains some advice that will help you prep for your trail hike with your toddler and that will make it more fun for both of you. Remember, it is your job to do all the planning and to bring all the gear! Our final piece of advice is to check and double check your packing before your leave. Make a list and make sure that you remember all items. Have a great time on Saskatchewan’s trails!