Freezing temperatures and snow covered ground can be the norm for almost half the year on the Seacoast. Just because it’s cold and snowy, doesn’t mean you and your baby can’t go for a hike. Many Nordic countries embrace the winter cold with babies even napping outside! Some studies show that cold outdoor play can boost the immune system. If nothing else, getting outside in cold months can help beat the cabin fever blues. I’ve learned how to enjoy a winter hike with baby while staying safe and comfortable.
Here are my tips for hiking with baby in the winter cold:
Footwear and Traction
The first precaution for winter hiking is – don’t fall! If you plan on regularly walking in snow, invest in a pair of warm and strong winter hiking boots. I winter hike in LL Bean Winter hiking boots, but many brands sell waterproof, insulated boots that are great for cold weather. Whatever you choose, make sure it can fit a traction device on it – soft sided winter boots will not. While snowshoes might seem like an obvious choice – this tool is only best used if you are traveling over fresh powder. My favorite is Kahtoola’s MICROspikes. I’ve owned my pair for almost 10 years and they allow me to do everything from hiking up and down ice covered mountains, to stroll a nature trail near my house, to safely walk my driveway on an icy day. Consider investing in a pair of trekking poles. With a kid up front, my center of balance is off, and for treks with elevation change the poles really give me peace of mind. With boots, spikes, and poles I feel sturdy and steady.
Layering clothing the first rule for dressing for winter chill. Babies cannot regulate temperature like children and adults. They rely on you! I start with mittens and socks, followed by a warm under layer (footie pajamas are great), then another warm, not cotton layer (fleece) pants and sweatshirt, followed by warmer mittens/insulated shoes and finally an outer layer like snowsuit or parka/bibs. Lastly, don’t forget a hat! If temps warm up, you can always remove a layer. I also always pack a blanket or another warm layer in my pack. Regular contributor, Molly, is an occupational therapist and gives excellent suggestions for the best outdoor clothing for your kids.
I started snowy day hiking with my babies just after their birth. With precautions, this is safe and comfortable. For under 6 months old, I recommend keeping baby as close to you as possible. Layer baby in multiple layers (read above), and use a soft carrier that places baby on your chest. When my kids were less than three months, I used a wrap to keep them close and monitor their temperature with my own. I wore a large maternity coat over the two of us to make sure extremities were covered so only their faces popped out. As they grew, I switched to a sturdier soft carrier like a Baby Bjorn or an Ergo.
For older babies and young toddlers, this strategy no longer works. The inability to see my feet and having all the weight up front made it safer to keep them on my back in a framed pack. For this, it’s especially important to incorporate layered clothing and frequently feel their hands and feet as you hike. Still, I hike multiple hours at a time in freezing weather with a comfy kid on my back.
Listen to Baby and Instincts
The most important advice for winter hiking with baby is listen to your baby and your instincts. During a two hour walk at Kingman Farm in Madbury, my nine month old son began to get fussy. His face and body felt warm but as we continued, he didn’t settle. I pulled him from the pack and nursed him in the snow, but it didn’t help. Finally, I felt his hands and toes – they were freezing! I ditched the pack and snuggled him into my parka for the last mile of the hike back to the car. He soon was happy and snug as a bug. If your baby seems uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to ditch your plans and return to the car…or sit in the snow and nurse.
Be Cautious, but Not Afraid
Fresh air and sunshine (even in winter) is good for new mommas as well as babies. Don’t be afraid to get outside. Start with an easy Seacoast nature walk to gain confidence. Bring a friend to help or even better, make new ones by joining Seacoast Hike it Baby outing group. It is an inclusive group that organizes toddler and baby appropriate hikes for new hikers to experienced.
Weekly winter hikes with my babies help us get fresh air, bond, and experience one of the prettiest seasons the Seacoast has to offer. Happy hiking!