Baby’s arrival need not mean the end of parents’ hiking trips. With a little bit of extra preparation and planning, baby will enjoy the hike as much as the parents.
Make Baby Part of the Hiking Group
Avoid hiking alone while out with an infant. Generally, it is safer to hike (especially in the mountains or longer trails) as part of a group. With a baby, this is even more important, as one person can carry the baby and the other person can carry the daypack. With a larger group, people can take turns carrying the baby and the daypack, giving everyone a bit of a break.
Carrying Baby on the Hike
A good baby backpack is essential for hiking with a baby. The backpack should be ergonomically designed, with a waist belt so most of the baby’s weight rests on the carrier’s hips, similar to a good backpack. Nobody wants a sore back or shoulders after a hike (especially a longer hike)!
Broad, padded straps make the backpack more comfortable. It should also be easy to get in and out of the baby backpack, for taking breaks on the trail. Baby will want to take a break from the carrier as well, and possibly explore his new surroundings (under supervision, of course).
The carrier should also be designed for baby’s comfort. A good carrier supports baby’s hips. I recommend an Ergo, which I’ve used for all three of my daughters from birth to age four or five. For more tips, check out this post on Safe Babywearing.
Preferably, the backpack should fit more than one of the hikers, so that they can take turns carrying the infant (if baby will allow!). I’ve been on hikes where my child refused to be carried by anyone but me, so this plan doesn’t always work.
Know which position is most comfortable for a sleeping baby, and where baby will rest his or her head while sleeping. Babies will fall asleep when they are tired, even in the baby backpack (or, because of the soothing walking rhythm, especially in the backpack). Some baby backpacks come with hoods or straps that help support a sleeping baby’s head, and can be used with baby in either the front or back position. In other backpacks, the sleeping baby should be in the front, where mom or dad can hold baby’s head securely while hiking.
Baby Carrier Safety
Always make sure, before starting the hike, that baby is properly seated in the baby backpack and that all straps are secured and adjusted. Follow any safety tips or instructions included with the baby carrier or backpack.
A younger baby should be carried in front (chest to chest), so that mom or dad can keep an eye on him or her and provide extra support with their hands. Older babies may enjoy being carried on the back, and this may be more comfortable for the carrier, as it is more like a regular backpack. If baby is in the back, have your hiking partner or another person in the group follow you to watch the baby.
Before carrying the baby, Dr. Sears recommends a “safety rehearsal” for sudden movements: “Suddenly twist your upper body to grab something, and at the same time embrace your baby with your other arm. After you have frequently rehearsed this reaction, you will instinctively clasp your baby with one hand while lunging with the other” (The Baby Book, Little, Brown and Company, 2003).
Avoid any sudden movements while carrying the baby; make sure your footing is secure and accept help from handrails or your hiking partners when necessary.
To bend over with a baby in the backpack, “bent at the knees, not at the waist, and hold baby . . . with one hand while picking up something with the other” (Dr. Sears). Also be aware, if you are hiking through trees or narrow areas, that baby may reach out to grab something interesting. If baby is in front, you can keep an eye on his arms; if baby is behind, have someone else watch her and warn you.
With this preparation, parents can continue to enjoy the great outdoors, and share their enthusiasm for hiking with their babies.