Hiking with Kids

by Josey Walker on March 9, 2012

We are overjoyed to have Budapest Dad (yay for daddies!) Josey share his hiking expertise with us. He is an avid hiker and, although he only uses two fingers to type (he claims he uses four, but I’ve seen him in action), he is excited to share tips on hiking with kids.

Hiking gear when carrying an infant – The backpack for baby

Now that Spring has begun to show signs of pushing winter aside, its time to get the kids outdoors. If you are like me you can’t wait for the spring and summer hiking season. Oh sure, we went during the winter but after an hour or so the kids were purple and needed to go in for hot chocolate.

A lot of people (probably most, us included sometimes) load up and go to Normafa for a stroll to the playground and lunch from the wooden house rétes (strudel) place. This is a great afternoon out. You can take the children’s railway or the chair lift for something different. However, this blog is about the hiking that’s a little more serious – a full day out away from more crowded places.

The Buda hills, the Pilis and the Börzsöny all are wonderful destinations. You can wander for hours and find great lookouts and small villages. But to do this you need to pack smart and most importantly, comfortable. There are many variables in deciding what gear to take: Are you carrying a baby? Are you the only parent? How many kids? Ages of kids? Then you should consider the type of weather you might encounter and the length of the hike.

Carrying a baby: If you are alone you have to carry both the baby and the stuff. In this case a fairly serious baby backpack or a front pack and back pack is necessary.

How to choose: Babies from birth up to about 9 months (all babies are different) can be carried on the front, gear on the back. I carried Joey (now age 4.5) on the front under a rain coat in bad weather with a backpack. In 5 days we covered about 30 miles of the Pennine Way in Yorkshire when he was 8 months. Shortly after this we turned to a backpack for him. You can probably plan to carry a baby up to the age of 2ish.

What to choose: In backpacks there are a variety of features and, of course, prices. I carry a Deuter. It has a real backback harness for comfortable carrying and a pretty big load bag under the baby’s seat. The picture displayed here is our pack with my youngest begging to go for a walk. Other features important to me are: a variable shoulder strap (as I am tall in the torso), a sun cover, a fully enclosed rain cover, and lot of pockets. A good hip belt to shift weight on to your hips is also essential.

The load bag under the seat is important as you will be carrying all kinds of things, from diapers to extra clothes. The more you can get in here the longer you can be away and with your wonderful child.

What the bags don’t come with is a mirror. I found a kiddie toy mirror to work best. This way the kid always looks at it. You need to check on them from time to time and can’t load/unload every time. So, a mirror is a useful extra item. Also, consider an extra pair of socks to put under your belt against your hips. This will keep the waist belt from bruising your hip bones. Consider carrying hiking sticks for stability – you don’t want to drop the baby.

Until what age can they be carried: After about two years of age the kids want down more. My year and a half old loves to ride and hardly ever fusses. When my oldest was about two he was ready to walk. But, the distances have to be pulled back as they can’t walk too far. Until then, enjoy carrying the baby. There’s nothing as sweet as a warm spring hike to a beauty spot and play time.

How long you can carry a baby in each type of pack depends on a few things – height and weight being the most important. My oldest loved the front sling and could stay in there for hours on end – which is how we managed to hike so much. At around the time they can sit up on the floor, they are ready for the back pack – 6 months of age or so. This doesn’t mean you have to put them on back if you like having them on the front. If they are small you might prefer them on front.

As they start to sit up and crawl they will likely be too big for front and you can put them on back. For my kids they’ll stay there and be manageable until about two years old. For big children this will be late enough. So, as a VERY GENERAL rule of thumb – you can plan to have them on front for the first 6 months then on back until around age two.

One more thing: baby backpacks are great for lots of purposes – cities, malls, etc. In many places its hard getting strollers up and down stairs or hills. A baby backpack may be a lot heavier but allows for far more mobility. The downside is that babies don’t sleep quite as comfortably as they do in strollers.

Next time – other gear, children’s back packs and what to pack.

Happy hiking!

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Josey is an American expat (un)settled in Hungary since 1998.
Turn ons – Mountain streams, bluegrass music and grilling steaks in the back yard
Turn offs – People who use turn lanes to get ahead of other cars, rising living costs and war

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