An international hiking vacation with toddlers can be daunting. A stroller isn’t going to work, and the kids aren’t going to be strong enough to walk the entire way. You could wait until they are older, but where is the fun in that? When we went for a hiking vacation in the Swiss Alps, we knew that a stroller would be of limited use. Our solution was to put the youngest child in a framed hiking child carrier. Problem solved! At least until they got too heavy for us to carry.
Of course, there are other issues as well. Bringing 4 sets of hiking boots takes a lot of room in your luggage. Unexpected summer snow can be either a delight or a hassle. Changing diapers without a trash can is annoying. You can come up with tons of reasons not to go, but in the end, your kids are going to like this type of vacation much more than spending day after day in art museums. And assuming you have the physical stamina, you are likely to be happier too.
Read more about the pros and cons of travel with children of various ages!
The Hiking Child Carrier
Most hiking carries will allow for up to 40 pounds of weight for both your child and any gear you want to bring. Of course, as you approach the weight limit, it will become increasingly unpleasant, but particularly when your child (and you) are still fairly young, it can enable to you to be able to do most of the hiking trails you were able to do before kids.
With one kid, Jeremy would usually don the carrier, and I would carry the water and picnic lunch. I had the advantage that my load got lighter as the day progressed.
With two kids, Jeremy would carry the youngest in the backpack with the picnic lunch. I would carry the increasing amounts of water, and when the oldest needed a break, I would carry him in my arms on the flatter stretches. We were a bit more limited in what we could attempt, but we discovered that the Jungfrau region of Switzerland was ideal for this scenario. The train or gondola takes you up the mountain. You walk down until you are tired, admiring the couple that is carrying their two children up the mountain, then you catch the closest train or gondola to take you back to your accommodations. It’s an expensive location, but my favorite place in the entire world. If you like hiking in beautiful, but civilized and well connected, mountains, come here. Too bad Jeremy doesn’t like my idea of moving there.
As far as bringing the hiking carrier from hotel to hotel, one of us would normally need to carry our regular backpack on our back, but if the kids were in the stroller or walking, we could simply put the backpack in the stroller or the cavity in the carrier where the child normally sits. We could also use the storage space in the carrier for diapers, putting most of the heavier items in the wheeled suitcases.
Of course, there are times that you don’t want to hassle with either a carrier or a stroller, in which case, be prepared to carry the kids in your arms or on your shoulders when they get tired.
It is a bit odd to realize that our well-travelled California kids have probably seen snow more often in the summer than in the winter. As someone raised in Colorado and Alaska, this is a point of contention. I still remember James’ first snowman. There was only 2-3 inches of snow, and his final product couldn’t have been more than 18 inches tall. All my Colorado relatives shook their heads a bit, then smiled at his excitement. Of course, we can always go to Lake Tahoe if we really want to see the snow:
The first time we encountered summer snow, we knew that the air temperature was going to be cold, so we had some cloth gloves that protected James’ hands.
Other times we weren’t so fortunate. To prevent frostbite, I used up some of the kids extra socks:
We went through quite a few pairs, but the fun was definitely worth it. Who knew tank tops and snow were so compatible?
In addition to making sure you always pack quite a few extra socks, hiking boots are really a must if you are going to do serious hiking. When carrying your children on your back, you really don’t want to slip. A good pair of hiking boots will go a long ways in giving you the traction to prevent this. We particularly found them useful while hiking the Eiger Trail:
Even though they take up a ton of space in your suitcase, try to make room for them. One strategy for us has been to stuff our socks inside of the boots. It usually frees up just enough room to make it work without sacrificing too many other items vying for your attention. Of course, as your children’s feet get bigger, you will need more and more space dedicated to both these and larger sized clothes. When we went hiking in Kitzbühel, Austria, we decided to skip the hiking boots and slipped and slid the entire way down the mountain. It was fun, but one day of that was enough and we stuck to the easier trails for the rest of our time there.
The important thing to realize is that hiking and kids can be very compatible. You don’t need to wait until they are “old enough.” Train them to walk long distances at a young age, strengthen your muscles so that you can carry a hiking child carrier for long distances, and you have the makings of some wonderful memories.