Why I Put My Babies “At Risk” By Taking Them Hiking

About a year ago I read the book ‘Up: A Mother and Daughters Peakbagging Adventure’ by Patricia Ellis Herr. In the book Herr recounts several instances of people making snide comments about how children shouldn’t be bagging peaks.

When I was reading the book I had a hard time grasping this concept. I’ve rarely encountered anyone who doesn’t greet my children on the trail with a smile. If people don’t think that children belong on the trails they’ve never told me so.

Or maybe I’m just oblivious to it.

You see I grew up in an outdoorsy family in an outdoorsy town where it was the norm for parents to strap their babies and toddlers into a pack and head into the wilderness on foot, ski or snowshoe. When I had babies of my own I just did what my parents did, I invested in the gear I needed to bring my babies along and we started wandering around the mountains together. This was not abnormal for me. It was just a continuation of my way of life.

Why I put my babies at risk by taking them hiking

I’ve realized lately that some people think that it’s not just crazy to hike with babies, but that it’s dangerous, ignorant and even stupid. When a fellow hiker posted this on our community facebook page this morning I’m not going to lie, it cut deep and I took it personally.

“There are SO many possibilites of injuries and incidents out there that anyone taking their baby out there is doing it not for the baby but out of ignorance. I hike over 1500 miles per year (sometimes up to 2500) and I Rarely ever see a baby…so thank God that most people know better.”

It made me feel selfish and ignorant even though I’m sure that was not the intent behind the comment. I also wanted to brag about my yearly mileage only while carrying 1 and sometimes 2 children…

So I did what I usually do when I need time to think. I took my children outdoors–and I walked and they walked and smiled and laughed. I thought about our Hike Like A Woman community.

I really want this community to be supportive. It’s okay to disagree, in fact I think it’s good to disagree but if you hike with babies I want you to know that this is a place of love and encouragement. I believe that you should put your babies at risk by taking them hiking.

  • Put them at risk for being healthy, strong and physically fit.
  • Put them at risk for increased joy and happiness when they get their daily dose of natural vitamin D.
  • Put them at risk for great eyesight by getting them away from a computer monitor and television.
  • Put them at risk for reduced chances of ADD and ADHD.
  • Put them at risk for higher cognitive abilities.
  • Put them at risk for developing high level critical thinking skills.
  • Put them at risk for reduced levels of stress.
  • Put them at risk for a lifestyle low in anxiety and depression.
  • Put them at risk for creativity.
  • Put them at risk for understanding and caring for our planet.
  • Put them at risk for loving and protecting our wild spaces.
  • Put the at risk for fewer trips to the doctors office for common illnesses.
  • Put them at risk for healthy social behavior.
  • Put them at risk for growing up to be confident.
  • Put them at risk for an increased ability to concentrate.
  • Put them at risk for understanding difficult concepts like space and dimension.
  • Put them at risk for an increased attention span.
  • Put them at risk for low levels of diabetes, bone problems and heart disease.
  • Put them at risk for learning how to interact with the natural world.
  • Put them at risk for learning how to observe and assess risk.
  • Put them at risk for having a great imagination.
  • Put them at risk for good communication skills by giving them something to talk about.
  • Put them at risk for being HAPPY.

Why I put my children at risk by taking them hikingI’m not ignorant enough to pretend that time in nature is without risk. Sometimes I do take more risk with my children than I probably should (ie we hike alone…a lot). But, I believe that the wilderness is NOT a big bad scary place. It’s quite the opposite. I feel safe in nature. I think that the Walmart parking lot on a Saturday afternoon is a big, bad scary place, not my favorite trails.

Since I’m a huge advocate of babies on the trail and firmly believe that babies and children and even adults need to spend more time in the mountains here are a few things that we can all do to mitigate the real risk.

  • Be wilderness savvy, know your limitations and the limitations of your child(ren).
  • Be smart, practice, develop good wilderness skills, take classes or hike with someone who knows what they are doing.
  • Take a Wilderness First Responder Course or first aid course. Know how to use your brain and your first aid kit if there is a medical emergency.
  • Know your gear and know what to pack for the type of trip/duration/location etc.
  • Check in on trail registers.
  • Check on things like weather, trail conditions and wildlife sightings before you leave home.
  • Try to hike in a group but if you can’t make sure someone (or a few people) know your plan and if you can afford it, I use, love, and highly recommend a SPOT (update…I like my DeLorme inReach more)
  • Know the wildlife in your area and what to do if you encounter wild animals.
  • Know other threats in your area (dangerous bugs, snakes, plants) and how to prevent bites, stings, encounters etc.
  • Know where you are going, and have the appropriate navigation tools to help you find your way (map, compass, GPS, smartphone) etc.
  • Know what time of the day to hike to avoid things like thunderstorms.
  • Know when to turn back and trust your instincts.
  • If you hike with babies and toddlers check out this video or blog series on safe hiking with kids: Safe Hikes,  Safety Tips for Hiking with Toddlers,  How to Pack for a Hike (and not forget anything), Pre-Hike Planning, How to Prepare for the Unexpected, & Raising Wilderness Savvy Children.    

I’m not scared of my children being attacked by a mountain lion or buried in an avalanche. The odds of that happening are actually quite rare. I’m more scared about what is happening to society because children are spending more time inside than outside.

So do it, take a risk and take your baby hiking. When you do you’ll experience joy that you’ve never felt as a parent before.

Do you hike with babies, toddlers, children or anyone who acts like a child? Leave a comment below and tell us if the risk is worth the reward.

If you’re in Southeastern Wyoming check out our local kid friendly hiking group. Also check out these webpages for more information on the benefits of connecting children with nature.


29 comments on “Why I Put My Babies “At Risk” By Taking Them Hiking

  1. I’m not a parent so I have no authority that way. But I think society has become too risk avoidant. I applaud your efforts to expose your child to our beautiful world.

  2. I’m 62 years old now and due to health issues at this time no longer able to hike or get out into the “great out doors” but I did want to say 40 years ago I was taking my 2 sons ages 3 and 5 out fishing and camping, (hiking to get to where we needed to go) alone, plus all of our fishing and camping gear. They loved it and so did I. Back then I don’t know that there was any “equipment” for children as such, I improvised but as a single mother I took them out to enjoy the things I loved. We all three had a great time. I think you are doing yourself and your children a wonderful service. Keep doing what you and they love. Enjoyed the photos and your article.

  3. Considering that most accidents actually happen in the home, I think people over react to experienced people taking their kids hiking or in remote places. That said, there are a lot of people I’ve seen going for hikes where they are ill prepared (no water, or one bottle for a group of five people, poor shoes, wrong clothing)…that’s who I would worry about.

    I did get a comment from someone over Thanksgiving when I took my then 2.5 month old son on a short hike in Austin. Terrain was nothing big and he was in an Ergo, a bit fussy because it was nap time (conked out a few minutes later) when someone passing by said he was too young to be out. Psssssh. Kid has now been on several 7-8 mile day hikes with us and I can’t wait to get him out backpacking next year.

    Glad to have found your site.

    • I agree, there’s a lot to be said about preparation. I glad you found us Misti! Way to get that baby outside.

    • I agree, it kills me when I see people hiking with kids who aren’t prepared and don’t know what they are doing. There’s an education component for sure!

      • My husband owns an outdoors store and we love hiking, so we were pretty confident going out on our first hike with baby. Buuut we definitely ended up being those ill prepared people! We were so concerned getting everything ready for baby, we didn’t bring the right stuff for ourselves. The most important thing we forgot was water. We both felt like complete goobers when we realized it after about 15 minutes. We made it about 2 miles in and turned back for water.

  4. We have 4 kids and all of them have been out hiking, canoeing and/or backpacking since being babies or toddlers. I worry more about them crossing the street to get to the park. I worry more about them being abducted by some creeper. I worry more about the bad habits/phrases and behaviours they pick up from watching violent cartoons at the neighbour’s house.

  5. Yes yes yes! A thousand times yes! I just talked about this very same topic on my blog last week. I took my kid hiking a ton when he was younger (he’s getting a little heavy to carry now …) and it never struck me as dangerous. Is there danger involved? Sure. But there’s some amount of danger in pretty much ANYTHING you do. I’m pretty sure that the drive to the trailhead is WAY riskier for kids than most time spent in a backpack on the trail. Great post. Thanks for talking about this!

    • Yes, life itself is full of risks and it’s up to us parents to assess our comfort levels with those risks. We live on a busy street, I’d rather have my kids play in the mountains than in our front yard 😉

  6. i’m sorry you’ve experienced this kind of backlash when it comes to giving your kids the best childhood they could be so lucky to have. it continues to amaze me how idiotic some people are to constantly give their opinion where it is not warranted or needed especially in the realm of parenting.

    so fellow outdoors mama, ignore the idiocy and keep on sharing your hiking knowledge with us and with the world. there are many of us doing the same great thing for our kids. as you said, as long as we are heading out prepared for the hike ahead of us, we are good to go!

    personally, when we’ve gone, she’s always had a big smile on her face as a baby (well she was getting carried in the child deuter pack we had!) and as a small toddler. the sights the sounds the smell it’s all seriously amazing to behold – who am i to deprive my baby and toddler of that? and as a child hiking on her own two feet, she has had her moments as it is not easy for any of us but she presses on like a champ. she’s now an excellent little hiker and she loves the views.

    doubters and haters will continue to doubt and hate, but hiking brings joy and well, the two don’t go together.

  7. I spent a huge portion of my childhood outside by myself navigating the woods within a 5 mile radius of my home. Granted, I grew up in a very rural area of Kentucky with hardly anyone near by so my parents didn’t often have to worry about stranger danger and things of that sort. Those are some of my fondest memories as a child. Finding arrowheads and flint stone was probably my favorite past time. I would spend HOURS under the waterfall behind our home reading, digging, and exploring.

    Now, as a parent, I try to allow my children to explore as well. I do not allow them to roam freely as I did because let’s face it, it is a different world these days. I do, however, take them on hikes(they’ve even done 10 miles in Virginia!) and sometimes they do complain that it’s too long or they are tired. That is when we take a break and explore the area around us to find things to help excite them again and keep them moving. They will almost always choose a hiking adventure, creek/river play, or boating over video games every time. It is time our generations stop allowing electronics to babysit our children and have them outdoors learning and exploring.

    I think the most “shaming” I have ever gotten was recently when my daughter was still in her cast from a fractured tibia(which happened on a trampoline and not on a hike) and a lady gasped because she was walking on her own. My daughter, who is 6, quickly replied, “I can walk just fine as long as the sticks don’t poke my toes!” She kept right own hobbling along, too, as the lady eyed me as I walked by and smiled. Kids are resilient.

    (I linked my Instagram account where we like to use the #kidshike tag)

  8. I really liked this article. I’m actually new to fitness and hiking (at least with consistency). I came from a family who had a “poor” mindset. Literally everything around me was a bad influence. Smoking, drinking, mental health issues, bad diets, and lack of resources. I’m a young parent at 25 going on 26, but I vowed to never make these mistakes with my children. I wanted them to have better lives. So while I don’t come from an outdoorsy background like many commentators or yourself even, I value what this lifestyle brings to families in an intimate way because I’ve seen first hand what the alternative is.

    With that said, just yesterday my husband and I took our 2.5 year old son on a 3 1/2 mile hike. This isn’t hiking up in the rough wilderness. There are well-defined trails, plenty of park rangers and it’s close to civilization. Even still, you are definitely “hiking,” but the risk of animal attacks or human threats are essentially zero. That said, we still keep our guard up. My son hiked large swaths of the terrain himself. Steep hills didn’t even stop him. He’s a tough kid with a great zeal for adventure it seems. He went through the hike flawlessly. He curiously examined streams, branches, leaves, moss, mushrooms…He had a blast. Eventually, I had to carry him on my shoulders because he finally got tired, but that was just extra workout time for me 😉 On the way back home, he took a much needed nap and was ready to run around like crazy the moment we got back and picked his older sister up from school (who also enjoys hikes at 6 years old!) I would NEVER deprive my children of this experience. Ever. My family doesn’t understand a lot of why I do these things with my children, but we are fortunate to live in an active city where parents abound and from all wakes of life are walking the trails with their children. At least here we are in good company.

  9. Great article, my wife and I love to go outdoors and take my 1 year old on my back. I’ve taken him to one of Americas’s top ten most dangerous trails, the Kalalau Trail in Kauai. Luckily for us nobody has ever told us how dangerous and ignorant we are as parents other than my own parents saying it’s “dangerous” although they would tell me this even if I went without the baby. This comes across my mind many times before I hit a trail but preservation is key, I study the trails and reviews of the trails online while confirming with park rangers of the level hike. I basically come prepared and like you said “we have to know our limits”. When we went to Kalalau, even though it’s rated top 10 most dangerous in America, we only did the first 2 mile hike which was rated as moderate and not as dangerous as the remaining 9 miles. It still took us two hours each way and for the first time I have seen two people slip in front of me on this trail (when in Los Angeles I never seen anyone fall) mainly because they weren’t wearing the proper “gear” such as hiking shoes! Scandals and tennis shoes definitely contributed to their fall but luckily it wasn’t down the cliff.

    If anything the only negativity I would get is that “I wouldn’t be able to be outdoorsy again after having a baby”, obviously I this wasn’t the case and I ended up going outdoors more often! What I realize is that the people who would tell me this usually doesn’t even hike outdoors themselves, even without kids so it’s easy for them to say things with negativity. Many times in this case coming from their perspective, it’s dangerous because they are imagining themselves with a baby and they may have a hard time hiking with a baby themselves, my colleague at work had told me this because she didn’t grow up outdoors, but neither did I and I learned to love it mainly for the scenery and health.

    I see that comments are based from people’s own perspective but the majority applauds those who hike with their kids, like you not once in the trail has anyone told me “that’s too dangerous” and ether they tell me “wow you are an impressive parent” which are words of encouragement, it could also be that they see I’m fully geared up for the hike, wearing a baby carrier that’s fully enclosed with bars that keep baby secure. As a parent I ensure that he fear my baby is in is safe.

    I applaud you as well and happy trails!

  10. I hike alone with my 7 year old son. He’s autistic and we started very slowly to practice and learn (we’re still learning!) and we try to be as safe as possible. To be honest, I’m actually afraid of the snakes, bears, moose, etc. as well as the possibility of my being hurt and leaving him to fend for himself (it’s hard not to be when people point those risks out to me. A lot.)
    But the risks our society face right in cities, churches and schools are even more scary. And if my son is going to learn to love our world and be a strong, independent and thoughtful person then I believe he can learn some of the most important life skills and lessons out on the trails. Which hopefully will help to prepare him for the wilds of our society…and give him the confidence to seek peace and refuge away from it all when needed. I consider our trail time to be a critical part of his education 🙂

  11. I’m not a parent but I spent my childhood in a third world country , much simpler, no equipment, kids were kids , we played in the woods etc. That being said I thing there is an age when kids are the most vulnerable and I’m glad our parents without any parenting classes just owned common sense and at a certain age we were not allowed too far from their sight. I also believe people think experience and equipment makes them invisible and it takes one time ! To regret the whole forever . The child can’t decide for themselves at a certain age so it’s the parent good judgement that makes all the difference.

  12. I love hiking with my daughter who is 2 now but when we started she was about 6 months old. She loves it and so do I. Honestly it’s all about preparing beforehand, I make sure I have the gear and the 10 essentials any hiker/backpacker would take plus extras. Always keep a map and be prepared to hike back if you are not comfortable going farther. There is risk driving your child down the block. I plan to take her out on a backpacking trip to a spot I am familiar with. It is definitely wise to take precautions and plan the trip out accordingly. There will always be some judgmental people out there and they can keep there judgments, as for my daughter and I will be out in the woods having a good time .

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