We went hiking a lot. But having a child changes a lot about outdoor trips. We know some parents that stop going outdoors completely or are very cautious, however, we did not want to stop. This article sums up experiences and considerations how to go hiking with a baby using a belly-mounted baby carrier.
At the time of writing of this article, my kid is nine months old. We started hiking again when he was about two months old.
The main consideration planning a hike with a baby is being prepared that the child at any point might not stop crying or have some need that cannot be fulfilled while hiking.
We started with regular hiking trails (T1) and slowly dared more, up to mountain hiking trails (T2/T3). Summing up the whole article, you will see why alpine hiking trails (T3) are not an option.
Apart from general considerations concerning hiking, we considered three things: First, the mother might not be entirely comfortable physically in general after having given birth. Second, for the one carrying the baby, the added weight on the belly changes the overall balance feeling. Third, carrying a baby has certain limitations: One cannot see the own feet anymore when walking. Usage of hands is also limited, as there is a very vulnerable person in front of you. Going too close to rocks, or just using the hands for balance suddenly becomes an extreme danger as there is the baby in the way.
We started with short hikes and increased slowly the duration to determine how patient the baby is under hiking conditions.
One lesson is that our son does not like more than one wake phase per trip. Sleep-wake-sleep is fine. Being awake twice on a trip he would get too agitated the second time and would want out of the carrier. Sometimes he would not even want to go back after waiting for an hour. The limit to our trail time is overall six hours; with security reserves, a hike of more than 4:30 hours is not feasible.
This entails that we try to have him awake during the train ride to the trail so that he is tired enough when starting. This would give us the most time to be on the trail.
We would always make sure to not get too far away from houses and huts. Built-up structures are always a good chance to have a bench on the area or some kind of resting space, maybe even sheltered.
In case something happens or if our son decides he does not want to be in the baby carrier anymore, we want a quick exit. The routes would always have an exit somewhere so it would never be more than an hour to get off the trail. Security margins reduce drastically with a kid.
With a baby, there is more to consider about the weather, as the child needs to be taken out of its safe cocoon for feeding. On sunny days, we take care to find a shadowy place or have a construction to cast shadow (a scarf spanned between hiking poles) to feed the baby. On cold, rainy or windy days, we check beforehand that there are shelters or take blankets to keep the kid warm and safe during feeding.
You know yourself better than any guide what your baby requires and what not.
Just one thing: We quickly decided to reduce what we take on a trip to fit in one backpack. With a baby mounted, it is nice not having to carry a hiking backpack on top.
A baby might require an unintended break at any time. Our kid sometimes just wants to be on the ground, out of the baby carrier. We would find the nearest place where that would be possible, sometimes having to rest there for an hour.
On a hike, whenever seeing a bench or a plane area suitable for resting, maybe a cover, I look at the time to remember how far it is away.
Normally, I have a way too strong focus on finishing a trail just for the sake of it. With a baby, this is not possible. When the condition of the baby proposes a quick exit or turning around, we of course always prefer that over finishing.
Observing the kid's behavior outdoors really helped us assessing situations. My son would generally be very calm when in the baby carrier. Either he sleeps, or he is awake and curiously and quietly observes the environment. Especially being in the forest seems to be extremely interesting and calms him down.
We do not expect the baby to gain a lot from going on a hike. Maybe there are benefits to it. I am sure one can read that being out would encourage respect and love for nature and improve health, etc. Actual evidence for that? Not so sure about that... My only big hope is that being exposed to forests and weather will improve the kid's health and not have allergies.
Going out with a baby is possible and can be fun. Careful planning eliminates most of the potential stress we would have on the hike.