A month ago when Josh asked me what I want to do for Mother's Day, I quickly replied, "Have some alone time." I was feeling burnt out, and the thought of taking a yoga class or getting a cup of coffee on my own sounded delightful.
But a week ago, when he asked me the same question, I had a new answer: "Find a new hike to do as a family." (Though I'd still love to sneak in that yoga class or cup of coffee!)
We've been doing lots of hiking here lately, and it's pretty much my remedy to everything. Tired? Go hiking. Bored? Go hiking. Need entertainment? Go hiking.
And my absolute favorite is to go hiking with the baby. She's six months old now, and it's a lot of fun to strap her in the carrier and head off on the trails. It's free, we both get a good dose of fresh air, I get my exercise, and Maple gets to come along. I've found some great trails within half an hour of us, so we get out as much as we can these days.
I've learned a few tips and tricks I want to share, since hiking with an infant may seem overwhelming. The first time we went I was really nervous -- what would I do if she needed to eat? Would I feel grounded in my footing? How do I balance carrying a baby and walking the dog at the same time?
And over time, I've figured those things out, and now I feel really comfortable packing what we need and getting out there.
Plan ahead. When I'm looking for a hike, I hop on the computer during nap time to find a new trail to explore. I like to find out the length, difficulty level, and average time of the hike before we head out. I usually try to leave the house after a feeding, and include a nap while we're on the trail. Timing is everything, especially with a baby.
Communicate. With any hiking or outdoor activity, especially with a little one in tow, safety is number one. Always tell someone where you're going and when you expect to be home. If the trail has a book to fill out with your information at the start, do it. This way the park ranger's will know you're there. Safety first!
Be prepared. Bring a trail map with you, or take a photo of the map. Make sure you know how to read the map, and study it a bit before you begin. I refer to the trail map all the time when I'm out hiking. And with cameras on phones these days, there's no excuse to not take a picture of the map before heading out. Also be sure to pack all of your hiking essentials. I'll share our hiking packing list later this week.
Check the weather forecast. I've become a bit obsessed with the weather app on my phone because I like to get outside as much as possible. Any time we're going hiking I check the weather multiple times to have an idea of what clothes to pack, and whether there's a chance of rain or even snow.
Follow trail markers. When you enter the trail, determine how the trail is marked. You may find marks painted on trees, or little signs hung on the trees, or piles of rocks (called cairns) on the ground. Pay attention to these markers to make sure you're going the right way. Just because the ground you're walking on what looks like a trail, doesn't mean it's the designated trail.
Start slow. I was extra cautious about hiking with a baby in the beginning, when parenthood was new, and using our carrier was new. We'd find very level hikes, and paths that were made of gravel or wood chips. Once I got more comfortable I started going on trails that were a little bit more challenging.
Allow for more time than you think you'll need. Hiking with a little one always takes longer than expected. You may have to take a break to feed your baby on the trail, or stop to change a diaper, or add or remove a layer of clothing.
Be flexible. I have learned that life with a baby is full of surprises and inconsistencies. If I'm expecting a nap to happen on the trail and it doesn't, we'll head home early. Or if she's extra fussy we'll do a shorter hike, or head back after just half an hour instead of an hour.
Join a group. If you're unsure about going hiking with your baby, go with a group! Hike It Baby is a wonderful non-profit that offers free hikes for families. It's a great way to meet people, and to feel more comfortable getting out there. We've gone on a few hikes with them, and I've even started leading them. It's fun to share my love of hiking with others, and it's an excuse for us to hike even more often.
Watch baby's reactions. This is one of the best parts of hiking with an infant. I love watching our daughter's eyes, in a trance as we walk through the woods. There's nothing like sharing a love of nature with a baby, and as she grows it'll be incredible to watch her interact even more with the natural world.
Enjoy nature. Soak up the sounds of the birds, the feel of the wind, and the smell of the leaves. Nature helps make the exhaustion of parenthood a little bit easier, and is a place of peace and renewal. Take time to enjoy it.