Hiking with a Preschooler: Out of Carriers and Into Independence

As we’ve reached late summer and move into early fall, the feeling of a new season and new (school) year makes me feel like I need to set goals.  Do you feel that same? I’m not one to pass-up a fresh start.

One goal that we are currently making a priority is the no-carrier hike for Bergen (3 years old).  As I’ve described in our end-of-summer bucket list and recent hike, I’m in no shape to be carrying around a 40-pound little boy, and with a baby on the way, we would love for Bergen to be more independent and build his stamina.

Hiking with a Preschooler: Out of Carriers + Into Independence | WildTalesof.com

A few tricks that are helping with the transition:

1. Don’t Bring the Carrier!

Just the sight of our backpack carrier, and the little guy is asking for a ride.  On a hike a couple months back in Colorado he wanted to hop in after just a few hundred feet!  So our number one trick is to just take away the option all together.  It’s a bit nerve-racking at first to be carrier-less, but we have found that if we follow the other tips below, it all works out just fine.  We haven’t even resorted to shoulder rides yet!

2. Choose a hike with little elevation.

Nice, flat hikes with just a few hills here and there is our best bet right now.  As our preschooler gains more strength and stamina, I think we’ll start adding in more challenge, but for now, success is more important than gaining a “better” view.

3. Choose an appropriate hiking distance.

We’re going with hikes in the 2.5 to 3.5 mile range.  Shorter than that is okay too! Just like the elevation gain, we can add more as we go.

4. Incorporate lunch or a substantial snack.

At around our halfway point, we stop for lunch or a big snack.  This takes some extra planning on our part, but the pay off is worth it. It’s a nice built-in break and it usually means we can actually relax and enjoy one of the features (creek, big open meadow, beach, etc.) of the hike.  Then we are rested and energized to continue on with the second half!

5. Allow PLENTY of time.

No matter how many “races” or encouragements-to-keep-going, we have, there’s still going to be A LOT of meandering and slow exploration of this bug or that leaf.  Just allotting a good chunk of time and knowing in my mind that this will take longer than adult pace keeps things less stressful for me.

6. Try including a focus for the hike.

Merely getting out in nature and exercise are reason enough to hike, but sometimes preschoolers (and older people) need more than that to keep going.  Just last week we tried letterboxing (organized treasure hunt) and had so much fun following the clues to our destinations, there was no need to hurry anyone along or worry about legs getting tired.  Scavenger hunts would also be a great way to turn the focus away from just getting from point a to point b.

7. Choose hikes with attractive, fun, interesting & engaging destinations or landmarks.

This is usually pretty easy.  Just plan ahead, and make sure there is something you can “talk-up” to your mini hiking companion.  Lately for us we’ve come across:

  • creeks
  • waterfalls
  • beaches
  • meadows
  • remnants of an old mining system

8. Ditch the stroller in your “everyday” life.

We’re not just taking away the carrying devices on our hikes, but when we are out and about running errands and exploring the city too.  I feel like it gives the overall message of Bergen moving by the power of his own two feet.  Also, even if he’s not on the hiking trail, walking is walking, and he’s building strength and stamina.

9. Bring along a special incentive for that last stretch…just in case!

While I don’t let anyone else know about my secret, in addition to regular snacks, I also keep a hidden stash of some irresistible treat that can be used as a little extra motivation and reward during that last, sometimes laborious, stretch.  It lightens up the mood and creates a nice, happy ending for all!

How do you keep yourself and your hiking companions motivated on the trail? Share your ideas for any age!

Hiking with a Preschooler: Out of Carriers + Into Independence | WildTalesof.com



9 thoughts on “Hiking with a Preschooler: Out of Carriers and Into Independence

  1. These are great tips! Z is getting way to heavy to carry for me, so she has started to have to walk on her own most of the time. If i know it’s going to be an extra long walking day, I bring the stroller though.

    • Thank you! Love that you are having your daughter walk so much.

      Oh yes, we are still using our stroller too…there are just times when it’s really necessary. We use ours a lot for our afternoon walks as my husband and I want/need to get in more miles for exercise 🙂 We try to balance it with time at the park/playground & a little bit of B walking on his own.

  2. Loved this post! Too funny that we seem to have opposite problems, though. My 20 month old wants to hike on her own all the time and is, more often than not, refusing the backpack or Ergo on hikes, as well as the stroller for walks around town. I’m not complaining, though, as she’s already over 30 lbs, so as you say, too much to be carried these days!

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