Hiking with Kids & Babies

Archived Q&A and Reviews

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How long a hike can a 4-year-old take?

March 2003

What would be the ''average'' hike a 4 y.o. would take? How about a 3 y.o.? m

My 4 year old can go on pretty long hikes. Once we took a wrong turn in Tilden and ended up going the loooong way around. I think it was about 3 miles, maybe 2+ hours hiking. It really depends on the energy level of the kid that day, but I would say a long hike would be 1 hour. Plan on one hour but allow yourself the flexibility to either stay longer (i.e bring plenty of snack food and water) or cut it short (be prepared to carry the kid a long distance or bring a stroller). Laurel

At that age, our hikes were about 1/2 mile to a mile. From the Little Farm to Jewel Lake worked well. After 5 they can do a lot more and do much better with friends along. Always bring extra 'snacks'. Enjoy!

I've been hiking for almost 10 years with kids, and read somewhere that kids can hike their age ... i.e., one mile for every year. This has held out pretty well in my experience. They always CAN hike their age if it's pretty flat, whether they WILL hike their age is another question altogether.

We use lots of motivation, including songs, stories, and this silly faux hide and seek game where you pretend to hide but don't do it well, and the finders have to make you laugh. (we limit the hiding b/c of poison oak off-trail.) And, candy when things get bad. One day I got 3 kids (ages 3-6) up a very long & steep hill after they had already hiked 5+ miles by promising one m every 20 steps. And if they counted too fast they had to start over again...I had a very limited supply of m's and it had to last. They loved it. Meghan

My daughter will be 3 in two months and can do 2 miles without a problem, but the walk we take her on is totally flat. Hills are a completely different story...not sure she could walk even one really hilly mile without needing help. sidney

I did not see the original posting, but I can tell you, as an avid hiker, that my 1 year old already goes with us 'hiking'. I choose the distance (maybe 4 miles) and he walkes as much as he wants to, usually around 20 minutes, then wants 'up'. Then he goes in the backpack, and we sing, discuss tree genus/species :) flower colours, the sky, birds.. we stop and have snacks, another walk for him, etc. until we're done hiking. He just loves being outdoors, loves looking at everything, I get a hike in and if he's tired, he'll even fall asleep in the pack. I realize that a 4 year old is much bigger, but my brother has a 4 year old and they hike with their 1 yr old, and again, as long as you have someone who can walk with him on their back, lots of opportunities open up. Just think, a full pack is 45 lbs or so, so schlepping a kid... Also many paths in Marin (Alpine Lake, etc) you can take a jogging stroller if you can't carry your little one.. Have fun! fl

Hiking with a 3-month-old

July 1998

Re your questions:

1) Is there any kind of insect-repellent that is safe to use on a baby's skin? My opinion is no - don't use anything on a tiny baby. I used flappy hats and loosely-tied bandanas on my kids and generally keep them inside around dusk - the prime mosquito-biting time.

2) My baby loves to be carried in our over-the-sholder baby sling, but with her now 14 pounds she is getting too heavy for that (at least if you want to go for more than just an hour or so). We tried a snugli, which is uncomfortable for both her and us. Is there any backpack-type thing that works at an early age? Is there any kind of expandable backpack seat that can already be used now (with some kind of head support, I guess) and still in a year or two? 'Til my kids were 6 months old, we used a Baby Bjorn front pack which were better constructed than most front packs and therefore could last comfortably for longer. Good luck! CM I would like to respond to the person asking about backpacks for babies. Our son has always loved to be outside. From when he was little we put him in a Baby Bjorn frontpack which we and he loved. One downside is that at about six months he got too long for it and we had to move him to a backpack carrier. The other downside is that these are very expensive, but I've seen used one's at Lauren's closet on College. I highly recommend our backpack carrier, too. We have the ToughTraveler Bronco, which we ordered by mail directly from Tough Traveler (I have only found the top-of-the-line Stallion around here). Its a great pack for day hikes, and my son seems to like it even more than he did the frontpack. We have used both types of carriers on hikes of 5-8 miles, with both carrier and carrie-ee being happy and comfortable. Pia

Hiking with a two-year-old

Last summer we tried hiking with our then 2-year old son. He refused to go into the backpack, which he had previously really enjoyed. Given that he's a huge kid, it would have been hard to carry him very far anyway. He wanted to walk, but stopped as soon as we started walking. I read somewhere that is a characteristic attachment behavior of that age. They want the parent to be still and be a home base, and then they will range widely around the parent. When the parent is moving, they stop, as it gets them worried when the security base is in motion. Thus, we found that hiking and 2's were not a good fit. We were camping, so we ended up not going further than 50 yards from the campsite. When the adults finally stopped trying to walk, Aaron explored absolutely everything in range and had a great time.

This summer has been a completely different story. Our now 3-year old just climbed a mountain with us in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. He hiked up nearly 2 miles, and back down, over rough terrrain, no complaints or carrying... He just loves hiking, but we have to remember to be attentive to making sure he is fed/hydrated, and pay attention to his need to stop and watch bugs and hit things with sticks.