10 Awesome Things About Hiking with LITTLE Kids


Hiking shorter distances, seeing more (N. Stern)

I have two little ones under five. While I’ve slowed down my own ambitions for hiking and climbing, I haven’t let their little legs limit the fun of being outdoors. In fact, focusing on the kids’ experience in nature has made for some experiences that rival some of my adventures in the Adirondacks and even Alaska. They don’t normally get your adrenal gland feeding the machine, but they make you feel just as alive. And isn’t that the whole point?

Here are 10 things that are awesome about hiking with the little ones that I had no idea about just five years ago:

10. You have to smell the roses. They’re slow and see the smallest things, sometimes for the first time.

9. Municipal parks come into their own. I professed to being a trail snob before kids. Now that I am a father a little woods and an urban creek becomes a gateway to sharing nature.

8. You get to teach, and talk about trees, and streams, and maps, and gear, and outdoor basics! Nuff said.

7. They get into packing. Nobody likes packing, except these little guys, and it’s contagious.

6. Rain isn’t a problem, it’s an excuse to wear rain boots and jackets. Go play!

5. Finding trailmarkers can be a game. My Uncle Tom started this one with me, albeit when I was older.

4. Puddles aren’t just mosquito havens. Before we drain them, you have to jump in them.

3. Sticks, stones, and leaves are the attraction. And it can occupy them for a real long time. (So I suggest bringing a nice picnic for you and your spouse.)

2. They’re early risers. I’m a morning person. Big people aren’t always willing to go out an watch the sunrise, but these little buddies will!

1. They make you look at everything with renewed wonder.

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Child Carriers: Advice and a Story

Taking in the view of Stowe from Mt. Mansfield with Wunderkind (Stern 2012)

If you’re like me, you’ve probably become your non-outdoors oriented friends’ and colleagues first resource whenever they have questions about the best places nearby to hike and what kind of gear do they need. Climbing never seems to come up, but that’s okay.

Now that most of my friends are parents too, I have been getting slightly different questions. One friend, who prefers the mall to the park, has a daughter in Girl Scouts. Every Spring there is a new question related to camping, presumably because the badge for that stage in her development requires something more advanced. First it was about sleeping bags, mattress pads and flashlights. This spring it was all about tents. I’m always happy to weigh in (especially when she expresses gratitude with a couple extra boxes of Thin Mints.)

Since Natalie and I have two young kids and are known to take the kids outdoors more than most, the latest question is, “What child carrier do you use?”

First off, the term child carrier mostly refer to something that resembles an old fashioned exterior framepack, and you don’t need a child carrier if you’re doing a short day hike with minimum gear. I used a Bjorn when Wunkerkind was an infant to walk a mile or so around Great Falls, Virginia. That’s the same device we used for a walk along the block or just to bring her along as I also put out the recycling. So if you’re using some sling or carrier now, consider whether that holder might do the trick.

Second, keep in mind that the younger your child is, the further you might be able to walk with them. But once you reach toddlerhood, you don’t have to go far to share great outdoor experiences with them. So if you’re not deadset on going on overnight backpacking trips to the Presidentials with your little one, you might not need the premier pack.

On the descent of Mt Mansfield via the ski runs (Stern 2012)

Natalie and I took Wunderkind on her first “real” hikes in Vermont on Mount Mansfield (Vermont’s highest mountain, which is best known for having the biggest and best ski resort… on the east coast, that is) and around the town of Stowe last fall. She was thirteen months old so we limited the experience to one day hike on Mansfield and a couple of shorter nature walks on some secluded trails.

I carried Wunkerkind in a used Kelty Kids Back Country. It had a frame that hung far from my back and center of gravity, so it was a little bulky to manuever. Still, it was comfortable for Wunderkind. We used it on the “big” day hike (four miles up and down hill) and we’ve gone a lot of places on urban hikes here in Peaklessburg, like the National Zoo. Wunderkind often insists I carry her around in it even for walks to our neighborhood Starbucks.

Unfortunately, the Kelty carrier recently had a mishap. A few weeks ago after a trip with Wunderkind’s mother, new brother and godparents to see the big cats and elephants at the zoo, I noticed something alarming. One of the plastic joists holding the aluminum frame together snapped beyond reasonable repair. I considered glue, duct tape, and the stress such a fix could handle. Caution made me decide that this was the end of its road.

Since it was bought new in the 1990s and spent most of its life in the previous owner’s garage, it was exposed to more than a decade’s worth of Mid-Atlantic summer heat without any temperature controls. I suspect that weakened the plastic the joist was made. Combined with the increasing stress of carrying a growing Wunderkind, the weak plastic — or even the old cordura — was bound to break down eventually.

Enjoying a short walk around Stowe, Vermont (Stern 2012)

When I started writing this post I was going to suggest you start looking on Ebay for a similar model and vintage, but not anymore. The model is fine, but if the equipment is old, treat it like a used climbing rope: You don’t want your child dangling off it. So before Natalie and I go off on our next family adventure, we’ll be getting a new child carrier. What’s below is the advice I recently passed on to a friend over the TSM Facebook page, but now I will also be following my own advice:

Regardless of what child carrier you choose to buy, here are three key tips:

  1. Water — When trying out a child carrier in the store, especially if you have toddler, try to see where you will keep water and how you can get some to your rider. On the Kelty, I carried a Klean Kanteen off a carabiner hooked onto the webbing and can hold it over my back to just reach Wunderkind’s arm reach — she does the rest.
  2. Mirror — Also, if your child rides on your back, carry a mirror. I used the one on my compass. It allows me to check her mood, make sure she is okay, whether she fell asleep (it’s happened) or see what she’s looking at so I can keep her engaged, particularly when Wunderkind and I are walking alone.
  3. Storage — Lastly, make sure the carrier has at least a small pocket to store anything from a hat or snacks to a spare diaper.

We investigated new child carriers last week and I think we settled on which one worked best for Wunderkind and me. I’ll share more about that later.

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Climbing matters, even though we work nine to five.

Below the Peaks through a Child’s Eyes

Natalie and I recently celebrated Wunderkind’s first birthday. She’s walking — almost running now — getting more expressive, and has an awareness about the natural things around us that has reignited something in me too.

Her mother and I love to be outdoors and we’ve seen other kids just a little older than our Wunderkind (pronounced with a German “v” sound, by the way) react quite negatively to being placed on the grass. It seems the affection for nature is either innate or it isn’t. (Grass, by the way, is a great surrogate babysitter for our little girl. Natalie and I have managed several important business discussions in the grassy parks by the Potomac.)

I recently started carrying her in a child carrier backpack, which resembles the old fashioned external framepacks — like the one my Uncle Tom, the original Suburban Mountaineer, swore by. She loves the vantage point of being high up, nearly as high as if she were riding my shoulders. When we went blueberry picking last month, she was able to reach the branches from the carrier and pick (then squish) her own. The juice has pleasantly marked the carrier.

I’ve been trying to take her around in her child carrier backpack more often, like on our evening walks to get she and I ready for when the three of us will hit the trail for some brief day hikes on our upcoming vacation from Peaklessburg (less a vacation from work than the city).

On a recent Sunday morning I “packed” her up and we went for a short nature walk in a local woods (maybe only six or seven acres) in between the homes in our neighborhood. She brought her favorite stuffed friend and I used my compass mirror to check on her. She babbled periodically as babies do, but more so when we got to the woods, as if identifying every “exotic” plant that doesn’t exist in her room or condo. I picked up a stick to point to things but that was hardly necessary; she reached for leaves and noticed the birds on her own. The expressions on her face were… not sure how to characterize them… But they were better than expected.

Our Wunderkind was clearly benefiting from all of this and so was I. I am normally focused on big mountains and big ideas associated them. I make things complex, or at least I seek complications and mysteries to unravel. It’s stimulating, but it has its limits. Sometimes I forget to smell the flowers on the approach or appreciate the birds, so to speak. I’ve found that taking my daughter outdoors helps me separate from the hectic qualities of everything in life.

As she looks at a leaf, branch or insect for the first time, I feel like I am too. Or rather, her wonder in such little things ignites the feeling that these little things are not so little. The most interesting result is that I feel alive and alert to our world at a level that seems almost spiritual.

It sounds cliche, but I get what people mean by the idea of looking at the world “through the wonder of a child’s eyes” in a new way. While it’s not the high mountains, this experience compliments them.

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