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.
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 note 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.
I’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 Garmin 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.
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.