Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Use a child carrier to make day hike easier

Hiking with a child carrier poses different challenges than backpacks, mainly because your child will move about as you walk, which can throw you off balance, especially on steep or rocky terrain. Seated children will have a lower center of gravity than a full backpack, and this makes achieving a good weight distribution difficult if sometimes not impossible. In addition, you can’t scoot down rocks or inclines on your butt as your child’s feet are under you and would be crushed.

You’ll need to learn how to walk with a child carrier, so before hitting the trail it’s a good idea to place your child in one, put it on, and try vacuuming (to simulate the bending you’ll need to do on ascents) and walking around your neighborhood. It’s a good conversation starter with the neighbors and certain to earn you and your child friendly waves.

Seat the infant or toddler in the carrier each time before heading on a hike so you can readjust the straps for both the child and for you. This only takes a few minutes to do and will save you much trouble during the hike.

If the day is a bit cool, a child in a carrier will need to be dressed slightly warmer than you are. Children in carriers will get cold because they’re not exerting themselves as you are on the trail. They also could be more exposed to the wind depending on your direction of travel. On the other hand, if the day is a bit on the warm side, children on your back may need to be dressed cooler than you as the nylon making up a carrier seat doesn’t breathe. Some hikers recommend jury-rigging umbrellas on the carrier to keep the child out of the sun, but if a sunhat isn’t enough to protect your child, then you probably are hiking in too hot of weather for a kid. If walking in an area where you’ll be exposed to direct sunlight, make sure they wear a hat and that their hands, legs and feet are covered in clothing or sunscreen.

Before setting out on the trail, always be sure to buckle up your child by using the carrier’s shoulder straps. Their squirming about increases their chance of falling out if they aren’t strapped in.

Be aware that during the hike younger children like to take off their sunhat and sunglasses just out of curiosity or because they’re uncomfortable in them. They end up dropping them on the trail and then run the risk of sunburn or of being blinded by sunlight. You’ll need to periodically look back over your shoulder and see that they still have their head and eye protection on. Their legs also may be exposed as baby and toddler pants creep up.

The child also will need to be taken out of the carrier for every hour you walk. This will give you a rest stop and give the toddler a chance to run around, which he’ll welcome.

Read more about day hiking with children in my guidebook Hikes with Tykes.