UPDATE ON THE TODDLER HIKING EXPERIMENT

Our ninth hike: Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver.

Our ninth hike: Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver.

Back in May, I set a goal: to take Oliver hiking every week throughout the summer. Not for the purpose of increasing my fitness by hauling him around in his cushy backpack carrier, but to help him learn to hike on his own two feet.

We are 11 weeks in, and so far we’ve managed to hike on all but two of those weeks. One week we were out of town, and the following week I had to attend a medical appointment.

Initially I was tracking distances, trying to measure Oliver’s improvements metre by metre, week by week; but I have since realized the futility of this endeavour. Because of the way toddlers hike — walk 15 steps, stop to admire a bumblebee, pick up a stick, wander a few steps in the opposite direction, sit on a tree stump, say “hi” to a passing dog, continue walking  — the distance we cover is, in a sense, irrelevant.

Action shot!

Action shot!

Instead I focus on time: How long can I keep Oliver moving under his own steam, before having to pick him up and carry him, or put him into the backpack? As he grows, I assume that he will naturally be able to move faster, and thus cover more ground in the same amount of time.

I am looking for growth in his physical skills: his balance, coordination and agility on uneven surfaces; and his endurance.

And perhaps most importantly, I am looking for improvements in Oliver’s enthusiasm and enjoyment of the experience. Is he whining incessantly, or is he content? Is he willing to walk, or constantly asking to be carried? Is he eager to challenge himself on more difficult terrain, or grasping desperately for my hand whenever the ground becomes uneven?

I think we have made great progress in all of those areas. Yesterday, Oliver hiked for an hour and forty-five minutes! That included a 15-minute snack break mid-way, but Oliver was on the move for an hour and a half, without being carried even once.

Stopping for a snack break.

Stopping for a snack break.

Lately I’ve been sticking to shorter and easier trails, and leaving the backpack carrier at home. Out of sight, out of mind. Oliver will still ask me to carry him (as in carry him in my arms), but it’s a lot easier to say no to that request than to refuse to put him into the backpack. Or at least he seems to more readily accept that I can’t (or don’t want to) carry him in my arms.

Despite Oliver’s protestations, I’ve been insisting that he hike at least part of each trail without a death grip on my fingers. I’ve realized that when he holds my hand, he blunders along, relying entirely on me to keep him upright. When he walks on his own, he can quite skillfully maneuver over small rocks and roots. He just lacks the confidence to go off on his own without my encouragement.

I’d like to get a little more ambitious as the summer progresses. Not Chief or Grouse Grind ambitious, but I’d like to challenge Oliver to some more difficult and unfamiliar terrain. As a side benefit, because I know that on longer or more difficult trails Oliver will need to be carried sometimes — at least for the sake of time-efficiency — I will have the opportunity for some much-needed outdoor exercise of my own.

The view of Point Atkinson Lighthouse and English Bay.

The reward: a view of Point Atkinson Lighthouse and English Bay.

Has anyone else been hiking with kids this summer? Do you have any tips or exciting achievements to share?

10 responses to “UPDATE ON THE TODDLER HIKING EXPERIMENT

  1. We have been hiking a few times but the heat and humidity have been killer here. I love getting my 3 yo out but it’s harder with a 5 month old.

    That being said my 3 yo seems to love exploring while hiking. Saying hi to dogs throwing sticks into the water collecting rocks and things. I take him to the park I use to trail run at and it brings me back to my Pre child days were I would spend all weekend running in the woods!

    What shoe do you have your son wear while hiking? Mine has been in keen sandels but I’m curious about a sneaker option as well.

    • I, too, have been regularly taking Oliver to one of my favourite pre-baby trail running spots for our hikes :).

      For now, Oliver wears his regular day-to-day shoes. He’s been through four shoe sizes since February, so until his feet stop growing so quickly, he only gets one multi-purpose pair of shoes at a time!

  2. We have a 3 1/2 yr old boy who loves to hike and has been for the last 2yrs now. I started on easy 30-45min trails in Darrington on the Cascade Hwy and have increased the distance and times or terrain.

    He first started out wanting to run the whole hike, which would turn into me packing him. We practiced taking small rests and playing “follow the leader”.

    He is always encouraged to explore so long as he stays on the trail we also point out different bushes or trees. His most recent hike was Wallace Falls on Hwy 2. I had him in the stroller for the first 1mile but he made it all the way up and back!

    As for gear he wears: tennis shoes or his timberlands have worked out well.

  3. I thought this was a great idea when I saw the first pics on FB, but now that I’ve read through how it’s going – you have inspired me to take Jack out next weekend and ‘turn him loose’ on any wilderness we can find!!

    • Go for it! I find that taking Oliver out into nature has a very calming effect on him (and me too 🙂 ), and is a great counter-balance to downtown life.

  4. My little dude refuses hand holding even when the terrain is less than ideal. I guess that is a good thing =)
    We just returned from vacation, and except when he was timid around strangers, or touchy around the water, he was quite happy to walk himself about. Locomotion in the direction we are going seems to be our biggest obstacle… He isn’t old enough to really follow direction at this point, and gets far to much enjoyment out of mom and dad chasing him down. 😉

    • When Oliver was your little guy’s age, we actually had to insist on hand-holding, as he was *not* very good at sticking with us. Since we live downtown, we had zero margin for error with letting him wander off.

      Now that he’s older and more cooperative, I allow him to walk on the sidewalks without holding my hand (though he usually does prefer to hold either a hand or the stroller), as long as he remains on the sidewalk. If he veers off, it’s back to hand holding or into the stroller.

      But I find it’s a lot more difficult now to encourage him to let go of my hand when we’re in situations where it is appropriate for him to explore a little on his own.

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