Tramping with toddlers (1.5-3 years)

Hiking with a toddler is a very different ball game to hiking with a baby.
They’re starting to sleep less, want to explore more on their own, but still need you to carry them almost the whole way. What’s the best way to go about it?

This resource was created during FMC’s Outdoor Community campaign, celebrating and encouraging Family Tramping. Check out the other blog articles on Family Tramping here on Wilderlife. As always, if you’ve got wisdom to share on this topic, then please get in touch and we can add it to this resource. 

Thank you to Sonia Barrish for all the images and most of the text. Sonia is a Tramper-Mum from the Back to the Wild blog who makes and sells a range of home-made ointments, rubs and products such as insect repellent which are non-toxic and baby friendly.  Also thanks to input from Dan Clearwater, FMC Development Officer and Tramper-Dad to two daughters. 

Stop Often.

Up on your back is a great view-point for your toddler. But they do want to join in the fun! You’ll have to plan on only walking about 30 – 60 minutes at a time, depending on your child. And rest time will probably be just about as long as hiking time, if not longer! So plan how much ground you can cover in a day accordingly.

At this age, rest time was best spent running around in circles, playing with rocks, sticks, climbing over things; pretty much just being a toddler. If we wanted to be super productive, we’d get her to walk as the break from the carrier.

If you want to cover lots of ground, this is best done during your wee ones nap time, if, and while they still have a day nap!

 

Let them “Walk”.

By the time Bethany was 16 months old, she was such a confident walker, that she just wanted to hike by herself! At first holding our hands, but soon enough if the trail was relatively flat, she was off! This was a great way to take 10kg of weight off my back, tire out the toddler, and still get some ground covered. However, you do need to plan on your pace being about 0.001 km/hr!

But don’t worry, by the time we approached 3 years old, if holding both our hands, and walking downhill B could walk at almost our pace. Approaching 3, sometimes she could even cover up to 1/3 of the distance we tramped!

Distances covered.

The older Bethany got, the less ground we could cover. But the more she walked herself, so the less weight I needed to carry!

Flat tracks are still easy with toddlers, but needing to carry them up hills gets much harder! While we could easily cover a flat or downhill section in line with the DOC time, the uphills can easily take even double – and we’re relatively fit! Plus for some reason, Bethany ALWAYS asks to get carried on the uphill parts – eek!

Now is definitely the time to start looking into those Great Walks and other more well formed tracks.

 

Prepare for toddler strikes

All of us have ‘bad days’ now and again, and your little person is no different. When you’re planning your trip, keep in mind a series of shorter route options and suitable camping spots enroute. If the wheels really are falling off the trip, then you’ve got backups lined up.  Maybe once the crisis is averted, you can continue on a bit more..

As you walk, take note of camping spots along the way, so you can retreat if necessary; there’s no point pushing things just for the sake of ‘getting there’.

With that in mind its worth being more relaxed about ‘failing’ to reach your intended destination. Just getting out is an achievement, anything extra is a cherry on top.

 

Start explaining the meaning of trail markers to them.

One year olds are pretty capable of understanding what you explain to them, even though some don’t yet communicate back with words yet.

If you point out the DOC markers, or whatever other markers your trail has, your toddler will soon get the hang of the fact that that’s what they’re meant to be following.

With Bethany being quite verbal, we often asked her to point the next one out, and made it a bit of a game. But it’s also been useful if she tries to run off ahead to ask her whether she can see the orange marker! That re-orientates her to follow the correct trail, rather than just run away from us.

 

Up your snack game.

A little growing toddler needs nourishing snacks on the trail! Well, so do you, but it’s much more important for tiny little bodies.

And with toddlers actually walking some of the distance, nourishing snacks are much more important than during the baby stage. But so are the bribery snacks. It’s definitely important to keep both on hand! Some of our favourites for multi-day tramps include: sultanas, seed crackers, vegetable crackers, dehydrated apricots, nuts and cranberries.

Starting from about 2 years old we also kept some jelly beans, gummy bears, and dark chocolate for when she was walking.

 

Little people footwear.

Wee little feet that don’t yet walk too much of the trail don’t need to have proper hiking boots. In fact, we found that the best footwear was good old gumboots. They keep socks dry, and that was pretty much the only consideration in footwear I found!

A pair of soft-soled shoes for around the hut, or for walking in good weather are also great.

At about 2 years old we brought some hiking sandals, which are great for summertime when gumboots aren’t a necessity – though we did still often find ourselves taking the gumboots, sandals, and soft-soled shoes on every trip!

Once she was out of the toddler stage, into the pre-schooler stage, walking more decent distances, we finally purchased a pair of tramping shoes. And in retrospect I still wouldn’t have done it earlier.

Checking the traps!

Warm clothing.

Toddlers are still not walking most of the way. And so still need super warm clothing.

Bethany’s carrier had a great rain cover, which also kept the wind out, but we’d also layer on the merino thermals, polyprop pants, soft shell or waterproof pants, fleece jersey, gloves, buff, hat, and raincoat if the weather was cooler. Two layers of socks, or fleece gumboot liners were also a must. And we still found she sometimes got cold! And seriously don’t trust their response when you ask – B could be wearing a tshirt and shivering like mad, but she’d still say she’s hot! The best measure is probably just keeping an eye on them – great to have the person without the carrier keeping an eye on the toddler.

Toddler meals.

Bethany’s always shared home dehydrated meals with us since she was first on solids – and this hasn’t changed at all. What we have changed over time is how we prepare them and how we plan the day.

Dinner sometimes happens at the hut, but in long late summer evenings, you can stop for dinner, and then cover a little more ground after the break!

Tea is great if your toddler will drink it – especially in winter time. If not, try hot chocolate – that seems to always go down a treat with little people! Plus, it gives you some time to get dinner ready while they’re having their drink.

 

Entertainment.

Toddlers are slightly harder to entertain than babies. But you still don’t need to bring any toys – there is so much excitement to be had in the bush! Because she’s been tramping with us since she was a baby, she usually doesn’t get too bothered walking, and she loves being in the carrier! But there’s definitely games we play to keep her entertained.

Spot the next orange marker is a definite favourite. And sometimes we even use it as a marker of time: “You can have more sultanas in 3 orange markers!”

Looking out for fantails, identifying trees, looking into the trap boxes to see if there’s an egg, finding wekas – it’s all fun for a toddler! Pretty much we just discuss what we can see along the way. Sometimes we even make up a story about the birds we can see. Singing songs also works great – both songs she knows from the radio, and children’s songs, just whatever we feel like singing.

At the hut, there’s often reading material with pictures – again made up stories work great here! Or Bethany sometimes even just loves pretending to put the jigsaw puzzle pieces together too if there’s any at the hut.

We also get her involved with hut chores – and to be honest, those are some of her favourite things to do at the hut! And besides – it builds great habits for when she’s older and tramping on her own! She loves helping look for firewood, and re-stocking the wood shed. Sweeping, hanging up socks, watching us make fire – it’s amazing to have her involved, while she wants to be involved!

 

Pottying.

Because we did Elimination Communication with Bethany, by the time we were in the toddler stage, we didn’t take any nappies with us at all. Not even for night time!

A potty came with us pretty much the entire toddler stage. She would only ever go poo in her own potty! (Not joking, one trip we forgot it, and she held it in for 3 days!) But it was actually quite handy for the night pees too – it meant I could just hold her over the potty, without needing to take her out to the long drop – and we would just empty the potty in the long drop in the morning.

During the night, I’d put her on the potty every time she stirred, which was about 1-2 times while she was 1, and by about 2 years old she was holding it in all night.

We’d clean the potty out with extra toilet paper (or moss!), and then sometimes boil a little extra water to put into the potty to semi-sterilise it. It was amazing not needing to carry out any dirty nappies!

 

Sleeping arrangements.

Not much changed from the baby to the toddler stage here for us! Our daughter has a 6th sense for whether someone is next to her in her sleep or not – which means even at home she only sleeps in our bed. So hut sleep is great for her! By about 18 months old, I found she was too big to fit into my sleeping bag with me – so out came the sewing machine! I ended up designing and making a quilt. It came in under 500gm, with a -1 temperature rating. But the bonus is, it’s super wide, easily fitting us both in, and only as short as I need it – saving extra weight!

Tent sleeping however does require a separate mattress unlike in the baby stage – we still share a sleeping bag, but if we share an inflatable mattress, I just end up on the floor half the night, with the toddler on the mattress – makes for not a super happy mummy in the morning! A double mattress is definitely ideal.

 

Overall, the toddler stage is harder than the baby stage, but oh so much more rewarding. There’s nothing cuter than listening to it from their perspective! And don’t worry, it gets easier from here too – they can walk longer, and you’ll be able to switch the carrier out for your regular tramping pack in no time!

 

Last updated: 17 January 2021

Wilderlife