There are few things more exciting for parents than sharing their passions and hobbies with their children. This past week my wife and I were able to get our 7 week old baby, Nora, into Algonquin Provincial Park for 2 days of hiking. We didn't tackle anything wildly aggressive, but we were able to complete a few day hike interpretive trails that The Park has to offer. Overall the trip went great and we were both excited to introduce Nora to the wonders of Algonquin Park. The trip certainly wasn’t without challenges and upon reflection we were able to put together some tips the help Mom, Dad and Baby enjoy a day on the trails.
Don’t Be Afraid To Try It: The thought of spending an entire day away from home may seem daunting for new parents. That’s a normal feeling. I have learned over the past 7 weeks that newborns are pretty hardy. As long as they are feed, changed, comfortable and loved they can tolerate just about anything. Taking that first step, literally and figuratively, can seem intimidating, but you will be glad that you did.
Reset Your Expectations: Before we had a newborn, we would simply pack up the car, drive to our location with maybe a stop or 2 along the way. We set the schedule and we travelled at our own pace. This is no longer an option with a newborn. One of the biggest challenges that we found was that travel was slower and we needed to make frequent stops. These stops also took longer as we had to take time to feed, change and take care of Nora’s needs. What was normally a 2 hour car ride stretched into 3+ hours. It took a little while to wrap our heads around this, but once we did, the experience was far less frustrating.
Be Flexible With Your Plans: Even the best laid plans can easily be side winded when traveling with a newborn. Make certain that your plans are flexible and that you can adapt whenever necessary. As an example, on our second day in Algonquin it rained. Now normally this wouldn’t be an issue for me, but with a newborn we needed to change plans. Instead of hiking, we spent a few hours at the Visitor’s Centre which proved to be a great alternative.
Also try to plan around feeding times. A milk drunk baby on the trail is much nicer than a hungry baby on the trail.
Start Small: This should go without saying, but make certain that you ease your way into hiking with your newborn. Shorter hikes of only a few kilometers will still prove challenging and rewarding with your little one. While you may not be used to such short hikes, everyone will enjoy themselves more if you start off small.
Split The Work: Carrying a newborn around can be exhausting work. If you split the work between both parents, it can make for a much more enjoyable trip for everyone and it allows both partners to be included in the experience. Keep in mind that you will also be carrying a lot of other items for both parents and baby so everyone will get the chance to carry something.
Invest In A Comfortable Carrier: This tip seems obvious, but with so many different options on the market it can quickly become daunting. On our recent trip we had 3 options available to us:
Ergo with Infant Insert
All of these options have advantages and disadvantages associated with them. Both the Monkey and Moby Wraps keep your newborn snug and close to you. They are comfortable and offer great support. The drawbacks are that they are cumbersome to wrap, very warm for both baby and parent, and the newborn doesn’t really get to look around to take in the sights.
I much preferred the Ergo as it was cooler to wear and offered a similar level of support while allowing your little one to look around. This option was also much easier to get in and out when necessary.
Regardless which carrier you choose, make sure that the needs of both parent and child are considered and that your little one will be comfortable, supported and safe.
Protect Your Little One: Keeping your little one safe should be a primary goal when you are hiking. The 2 biggest threats to your newborn are the sun and (everyone’s favourite) bugs.
Sunscreen isn’t an option for newborns so choosing trails that are well covered and limit exposure to direct sunlight is a great place to start. Creating your own shade with hats and light, breathable blankets is another option. Using an umbrella can also help shade your newborn for the sun.
The drawback to choosing trails that have a lot of shade is that you run the risk of being exposed to more bugs. Using bug spray, just like sunscreen, is not recommend for newborns. Instead it is recommended to use bug nets to create a barrier between your child and nature’s blood suckers.
Capture The Moment: Your little one will not remember the experience and that’s all the more reason that you should capture the moment. Take pictures, shoot some video, save mementos and maybe even splurge a little bit on some souvenirs. “Baby’s First Hiking Trip” has a pretty cool ring to it.
Algonquin Park also offers up badges for all of their interpretive trails. These badges can be purchased at the Visitor’s Centre for a small price and make a great keepsake.
With the proper planning, a bit of luck and whole lot of patience you will find that introducing your newborn to hiking will be an extremely rewarding experience for the entire family. Building off of these first trips you will be primed for more adventures and hopefully guide your newborn to a lifelong love affair with hiking!