Stepping Off-Topic: Adventuring with Offspring

A couple days ago, a new #scimom from twitter messaged me and asked if I’d write a post about adventuring with a little one. Seemed like a good way to get back to blogging, so here we go!

We do get out for a lot of adventures – of the hiking and cross-country skiing variety, primarily – with our toddler. She’s 17 months old now, but we started when she was only two months. In fact, the very first hike I took her on was on Mother’s Day the year she was born. I’d hoped that would be a tradition but, well, on my second Mother’s Day we got a foot of snow and the roads were all closed. You win some, you lose some.

In some ways getting out with a toddler is easier than with an infant. Our daughter is down to just one nap a day, so getting something in between naps isn’t an issue any longer. These days when we have a hike planned we tend to get up at our usual time (anywhere between 6 and 7), have breakfast, and play for a little while. If we’re going close by I’ll usually try to leave by 9. For longer trips or any further away (an hour or so) we’ll leave earlier. We’ll also hit the road earlier when afternoon thunderstorms look likely to make sure we’re down from any exposed areas, and preferably back to the car, before that might be an issue. Luckily the timing of storms is usually reasonably predictable around here.

Our biggest challenge hiking with a toddler (we haven’t tried skiingĀ  yet!) is…..toddlerhood. This little walker wants to walk when she wants to walk. If she has to ride when she wants to walk, she’s not a happy passenger. So, we let her walk the easier sections and she rides through the tougher parts. The only advice I have for ensuring a happy hike with a headstrong toddler is – adjust your expectations. Give up on the distance goals, the speed goals, all of it. Enjoy seeing nature through your toddler’s eyes – every wildflower, grass, tree, pebble, stick, is fascinating to those little eyes and hands. Those little legs can only go so far and so fast but a happy toddler will walk much further than you’d ever expect. I’ve taken to calling our toddler hikes “interval training.” We have some fast intervals when I carry her, some slow intervals when she walks on her own, and some passive recovery when she sits in the middle of the trail to check out…whatever. Some of my favorite memories of this summer are of my little girl stepping to the side of the trail to look at a flower, play with a tall blade of grass, or pick up a rock. She’s just so full of wonder.

Back in the infancy days the logistics of getting out were more complicated. Naps and feedings were too close together to really do anything at all without messing up “her schedule.” Unfortunately or fortunately, our daughter was a terrible napper as an infant. Wherever we were, she’d only nap for 30 minutes. Those 30 minute naps were just as reliable in the carrier (I use a Boba Air – white, so it’s not so hot in the sun) as in her bed. So, when she woke up from a nap at home we’d feed her and then jump in the car, just trying to get to the trailhead before she melted down (seriously). Once we got moving, whether skiing or hiking, she’d eventually fall asleep and she was usually really happy in the carrier, even when she was awake. As she got older I started pulling her in a borrowed KinderShuttle while skiing, instead of wearing her. I’d make a nice cozy bed of blankets in the sled, bundle her up in her snowsuit, and off we’d go. She absolutely loved riding in that thing – I really hope she enjoys it as much as a toddler! As long as I put her in there fed, she’d let me ski for two hours or more and be perfectly content.

Feeding her on the trail was more of a challenge. She was formula fed and formula is only good out of the refrigerator for 2 hours. That meant maybe I could carry one bottle already mixed up, but not two. Being caught without a bottle and needing one would be absolutely dreadful so I always packed kind of an obscene amount of formula (powder and water) – usually enough for 3 bottles, at least. That’s on top of the water we carried for ourselves and frequently the dog, so the weight of it all was not trivial. Still, worth it to be sure we had all we needed. I always watched the clock really closely to make sure that by the time I thought she’d be ready for a bottle, I had one ready and we were at a good place to take a break.

Some things are the same: I still use the Boba a lot (we have an Osprey Poco Premium for longer outings), I still pack an excessive amount of food and water (but it’s not formula now), and mid-hike poopy diapers are always fun.

[Pro-tip for the backpack carrier – sun shades make excellent low-hanging branch shields.]

I wouldn’t trade this time in the outdoors with my girl for anything in the world. It’s frustrating sometimes, sure, and I do frequently wish I could pack less or hike faster. But as soon as she stoops down to smell that flower, there’s nothing else I’d rather do.


Please weigh-in! How do you handle the logistics of getting out of the house with kids in tow? Outdoor adventures not required – we know how hard it can be even to get to the grocery store (and leave!) with a happy kid.