Here in Canada, it’s winter for a good portion of the year so it’s essential to learn how to safely and comfortably get out year round. The options are endless in the winter, from hiking to snowshoeing, to cross country skiing, skating and sledding, you can for sure find something that you enjoy to do with your kids. The short days can impact my mood a lot so it’s essential for me to get outside every single day.. and that means that my daughter comes with me too. I’ve been wanting to put together a guide about winter hiking with babies for a while now and I’m so excited to finally have this out!
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Let’s start off with the safety considerations. It can be scary when you first start to think about winter hiking with babies AND it’s absolutely safe to hike with your baby in the winter. Obviously, you have to keep in mind the temperatures (and the wind chill), but for the most part, we are able to get outside nearly every day up here in Alberta (definitely not on those -40C days though). My daughter was born at the end of November, and she was outside consistently starting around 3 weeks old. Make sure you listen to your own body though and take things at the pace right for you. Read on to see how best to prepare to have a winter full of winter activities with your baby and toddler!
Winter adventures require a bit more planning but are oh so worth it. Here are some things to consider:
Layers are the most important thing here. And to be honest, it’s not much different than how you would layer your clothing. There are 3 general layers that make up a good system: 1. Base layer 2. Mid layer (insulating layer) 3. Outer layer (shell). The general rule of thumb is that your baby should be wearing one more layer than you. You will have to consider if you will be wearing your baby under your jacket or overtop of it. If you have your baby under your jacket, you will be sharing your body heat and your jacket will do some insulating, so you won’t have to dress your baby in as many layers. If your baby is in a carrier on your front, they will still get some of your body heat compared to when they are in a backpack carrier. So keep that in mind when selecting layers before you head out hiking.
Base Layers are meant to be worn first (so closest to your skin) and their purpose is to wick sweat away which helps keep you warm. This layer is typically made from either wool (natural) or polyester (synthetic), it should never be cotton.
Merino wool is the quintessential base layer for adults and littles alike. Merino wool is a natural fibre from the Merino breed of sheep in Australia and NZ. It’s the softest of all the wools and has the greatest benefits. Merino wool is thermoregulating (so it keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter), odour resistant, quick drying, durable, UV resistant, and much more.
If you’re looking for a less expensive base layer, look into synthetic fibres such as polyester. It offers a bit more durability and will also keep your littles nice and warm.
For babies, I like the full onesie style base layers because then I don’t have to worry about drafts. For my toddler, it’s much easier to have the bottom and top combination to facilitate easy bathroom breaks.
This is the insulating layer that traps all the heat in. Depending on the temperature and the wind, I will decide whether I go base layer + fleece layer (warmer, no wind), base layer + down layer (colder, some wind or weather), or base layer + fleece layer + down layer (really cold days).
On most days, my chosen outer layer is one of the snowsuits listed below. They’re insulated and weather proof which make for a great option. I love infant snowsuits that have fold over hands and feet to keep all their warmth inside.
For babies that aren’t walking, it’s totally okay to just have socks on and then their insulating layers overtop. They tend to stay pretty toasty warm. But if you do want a few options, below are a few we used and liked. For toddler boots, I look for lightweight, waterproof boots that are easy to get on. My suggestion is to size up for the winter boots so that you can fit a thicker pair of wool socks underneath.
For socks, I love buying wool socks in larger sizes and then they go way up to her knees and even have used bigger sized thick wool socks over her little hands/arms underneath her down suit for some extra warmth on cold days. Then they also don’t grow out of them as fast.
These are such an important layer and I usually pack a couple of different options with me in case anything gets wet. I like having a couple of different options of toques in case we need a thinner one to allow for a hood to go up or anything like that.
We didn’t really use mitts until over a year old because we just utilized wool socks on her hands underneath the folder over cuffs on her fleece or down suits. We liked the ones with cuffs that came all the way up to elbow as she got older because they stay on better.
It’s also important to remember that snow is really reflective so it’s really easy to get a sunburn in the winter. Be mindful of how much sun is hitting your babies face and use the sunshade, sunglasses, and sunscreen (if they are over 6 months).
It can be hard to keep toddler hands warm in some mitts so previously on really cold hikes I would pop a disposable hand warmer in each of my daughters gloves and that would help keep things warm. To be honest though, I would really worry about them being too hot and burning her hands. This year, I will be using Aurora Heat reusable hand warmers and I am SO excited about the much more sustainable option there. You can use code DOMCARSON at checkout to save 10% on your order.
There are a couple different options here and these might change as your baby gets older and you figure out what works best for you both. For the soft wraps and structured carrier, it’s important that you pick ones that promote good positioning of the baby so it is safe for their hips.
Soft wraps are nice when you have a newborn and you want to keep them really close to your body while hiking to share the heat. They are a bit harder to figure out how to use but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty quick to wrap up and get your baby in and head out. You can get a bigger winter coat (I always wore my husbands) or a winter coat extender so that you can wear your baby under your jacket and know that they are warm from your body heat. Here are some soft wraps that I liked:
Once your baby starts to get a little bigger, it is nice to have a structured carrier for some extra support when winter hiking with babies. I found them easier to use also. With structured carriers, you can wear it on the inside or the outside of your winter jacket (depending if you have a big enough coat to zip up around it). Depending on which structured carrier you get, you may need to purchase an infant insert for it. Here was our fave:
Once your baby is bigger, you can look into getting a backpack carrier for those longer excursions. These carriers function like backpacks and place most of the weight on your hips, which is much better for your back and shoulders. There are many different options and you want to find one that firstly, is comfortable for you and your little and also provides the extras that you want (like storage, sun shades, rain covers, etc). I definitely would recommend getting a sun shade if yours doesn’t come with one. When your baby or toddler is in these carriers they won’t be able to rely on any body heat from you, so now is when it’s really important to make sure they are layered up appropriately. Take breaks to check on them to make sure they’re still at a comfortable temperature.
These backpack carriers can be pretty expensive so make sure you check resale sites for used ones. Here is what we have and ones that friends have used and liked:
Once you have a toddler who wants to maybe walk a bit and maybe isn’t as into getting rides in the carrier anymore, don’t worry, you still have some options.
Feeding your baby when you’re not at home is always such a challenge in the beginning. It gets easier! For winter hiking, I always like to offer a feed (I breastfed, but insert whatever feed works best for you) while still in the car right before we start hiking. I knew that I had a two hour window ish and usually would pick a hike around that length in the beginning. Later on when we started doing longer hikes I figured out a system that worked for me.
For formula feeding on the go, I have friends who would bring a thermos of warm water to mix bottles on the trail and that seemed to work well for them.
There are so many great options to get out winter hiking with babies near Calgary. Kananaskis is my favourite place to spend time, winter or summer. That being said, the majority of my adventures with my little were much closer to home. We would go meander the woods by our house most days so just know that all of your excursions DO NOT have to be far away from home or on epic trails. It is the time spent outside soaking in the nature that truly counts and you can do that most anywhere.
When you do want to venture out for some bigger excursions, here are my favourite winter hikes and snowshoe trails outside of Calgary:
Note: Check the park regulations for any permits you need (Kananaskis Conservation Pass info here) and be sure to check any trail closures before you head out.
Have the most fun getting out winter hiking with babies this year! Please let me know if you have any questions. I am more than happy to help.