Honestly, hiking with a two-year-old can kind of suck (though the same can be said about doing anything adultish with a two-year-old). But, once I made some changes to the way I hike, it started to actually be fun.
Here’s what you need to know about hiking with a two year old so you both enjoy it.
1. Redefine What Hiking Means to You
Are you still holding onto your definition of hiking from your pre-baby days? A definition that involved heading off early in the morning to remote trails? Or going on long, tough hikes to reach stunning vistas?
While these types of hikes are possible with a two-year-old, it’s not easy. Two year olds get cranky if you wake them up too early. They get annoyed sitting in a backpack carrier all day. And it is hard work to carry a 25+lb child on rugged terrain.
I’m not even sure I consider what my two-year-old and I do hiking. It’s more akin to wandering around nature looking at bugs and plants. But we are outside interacting with nature. Who cares if we get far or not?
2. Understand Hiking with a Two-Year-Old Is Tougher than with a Baby
Once you get over the whole fear thing, hiking with a baby is actually pretty easy. The same can’t be said about hiking with two year olds.
At two, your child is too small to walk long distances on their own. But they are also too heavy to carry in a hiking carrier on long hikes.
With two-year-olds, you’ve also got to worry about a lot of things like:
- Safety issues, like injuries or wandering off and getting lost
- Poison ivy, stinging nettles, bee stings
- Peeing their pants. Or worse – crapping their pants and you have to carry those crapped-in pants for the rest of the hike!
It’s important to realize these things so you don’t plan a hike which will end up miserable for the both of you.
3. Bring a Stroller or Carrier
You WILL end up carrying your child if you head off on a hike without a stroller or carrier! While every kid is different, it wasn’t until my older daughter was almost 4 that she was able to complete a hike on her own (and even those hikes weren’t very far).
4. If Using a Hiking Carrier…
- Use trekking poles. It will help redistribute the weight and prevent falls.
- Choose an easy hike. I turned back once because I didn’t feel comfortably carrying my kid on a tough part of the trail near a steep ledge.
- Keep it short. Don’t overestimate your ability to carry a heavy child on a long hike!
- Plan lots of breaks. So you can get a rest and your two-year old can get out and explore.
- Get the right carrier. Read soft carriers vs. hard frame child carriers for hiking
5. If Using a Stroller
- Actually read the trail reviews. Just because it says “stroller-friendly” on the trail, doesn’t mean all parts of the trail will be.
- An umbrella stroller won’t cut it. You need a stroller with big wheels
- Bring a bike lock. I have a bike lock on my stroller so I can lock it to a tree. This gives us more flexibility as we can go part of the way with the stroller and then continue on foot or with my daughter in the carrier.
- Get a wrist strap. It gives me peace of mind that the stroller won’t roll away if I fall on a steep slope.
Read: The best off-road hiking strollers
6. Your Two-Year-Old Doesn’t Care about Vistas
Maybe your two-year-old will be different, but mine definitely isn’t interested in pretty views. She’ll get bored on hikes if I don’t plan something interesting for her too.
What does interest a two-year-old on a hike?
- Tearing apart flowers to see what’s inside (but follow Leave No Trace in sensitive areas!)
- Animals – she loves country hikes where we can see cows and sheep
7. Two-Year-Olds Get Distracted Easily
As in: I let my daughter out of the hiking carrier for a bit. She sees a leaf and spends 15 minutes happily shredding it to pieces. Meanwhile, I’m standing there trying to encourage her to keep moving. I finally drag her away and she starts crying…
At this pace, it would take 6 hours to go a mile!
This goes back to what I said about planning short hikes. Or, if going on a longer hike, make sure to plan LOTS of time for breaks so your child can get out and explore.
8. Following Leave No Trace
Following the principles of Leave No Trace can be tricky with a two-year-old. They definitely don’t give you much warning before having to poo, so you won’t have time to dig a cathole to bury the waste. You’ll have to do it after the fact, which can be a big pain.
Make sure you pack out any wet wipes you use as these can take 100 years to decompose!
9. Dress Your Child Correctly
Since your two-year-old will probably be sitting (in a stroller or carrier) for most of the hike, he/she will need an extra layer of clothing than you to stay warm.
While it’s best to wear materials like wool or synthetics, I don’t think you need to spend a fortune on special hiking clothes that your kid will just grow out of in a season anyway. I have been able to find a lot of good hiking clothes at secondhand stores.
Even if it’s hot out, I usually make my daughter wear pants and not shorts. Pants help protect her from things like stinging nettles and thorns – remember that the woods looks like a jungle when you are only 33 inches tall! Pants also help protect the knees from scratches from inevitable falls.
10. Consider a Harness or Leash
It’s really difficult to constantly hold a two-year-old’s hand while hiking. Having a harness means you can let your two year old hike a bit without having to constantly watch to make sure he/she doesn’t run off or fall off a cliff.
11. Be Prepared to Turn Back
If neither of you are having fun, there’s no shame in turning back. You don’t want to turn your two year old off of hiking forever because you forced them on a miserable hike.
12. Ignore All the Instagram Influencers
Look through Instagram (or any other social media platform) and you’ll see endless pictures of happy parents hiking in gorgeous locations with their two-year-olds. They make it seem so easy…
What those pictures don’t show are all the tantrums, poop accidents, scratched knees, the back pain after carrying a child for hours…
So be realistic and plan a hike which makes sense for your family instead of trying to meet unrealistic expectations.
Do you go hiking with your two-year old? What tips can you add? Let us know in the comments below.