What NOT to Do When Hiking in the Cold with a Baby

Hiking in the winter with a baby is entirely possible and enjoyable if you take the proper precautions.  Just because summer is over does not mean you have to wait for spring before you can venture out again.  Depending on where you live (cough upstate New York cough) you could be waiting a long time if you want temperatures above fifty degrees.  Adequate preparation and NOT doing these five things is all you need to skip cabin fever and have a delightfully cool adventure…

1. Assume baby is fine because he or she is bundled up.

Due to their teeny size, babies have a hard time regulating their own body temperatures.  Just because you layer your little one exactly as instructed (here are some great tips from Hike It Baby on how to dress kids for cold weather), that does not mean your job is done.  If you’re anything like me, odds are you over compensated and your little peanut is baking in that snowsuit.  If you’re anything like my husband then you might have a cold kiddo on your hands.  Don’t forget that if you’re carrying your child, he or she is not working up a sweat like you but is instead cooling off.  Be sure to check your baby once every twenty minutes or so and have extra layers on hand in case you need to bundle him or her up more.  When removing layers, remove the middle layers first and be sure to quickly replace the outer weatherproof covering to make sure your child’s sweat isn’t exposed to the cold (which would be like getting out of a steamy shower on a cold day and we all know how much that sucks).

2. Change a diaper in the open.

Again, babies have a hard time regulating their own body temperatures due to their teeny size.  Please for the love of your little one do not rob them of what little warmth they can maintain by stripping them for a diaper change in the open when it’s cold out.  Go to the car, find a protected area, or make a miniature tent with your own jacket to shield them from the elements.  I myself prefer to change diapers in the toasty confines of our car but admittedly that limits our hiking range dramatically.  Shorter distance hikes decrease the risk of frostnip and give me a break from carrying Giota so while we can’t hike for miles on end, it’s really not that bad.  If anything it just makes the warm summer weather all that much sweeter.

3. Offer the breast or bottle less.

Blood vessels naturally constrict in cold weather to conserve body heat.  What many people don’t realize is that this constriction of blood vessels can trick your body into thinking it needs less fluids than it does and therefore diminishes your sense of thirst.  Even if you’re not feeling thirsty, you still need to hydrate.  Same goes for your little one.  Frequently offer the breast or a bottle to ensure he or she stays hydrated.  This will have the added benefit of providing the necessary fuel to keep those little bodies warm – generating your own body heat is hard work!  I like to couple feedings with our car diaper changes so everyone gets a chance to recharge and warm up.

4. Forget to check the weather forecast.

This one should be a no brainer but you’d be surprised at the number of people who find themselves in dangerous situations that could have been avoided if they’d just done a little bit of research.  Check the weather BEFORE you go, not when you’re on the road and it starts snowing.  That’s what smartphones and tablets and laptops are for.  Stepping outside to check the temperature and count the clouds before you pack up does not constitute checking the weather.  Take a few minutes to look at the day’s forecast and use your common sense as to whether or not you should cancel/modify your trip.  Technically there is no cut-off low temperature for taking a baby outside but a good rule of thumb is that if it’s too cold for you, it is certainly too cold for your little one.

5. Wait to treat frostnip or frostbite.

If you plan on doing any kind of outdoor activity in the cold, with or without a baby, you should know the basics about frostnip and frostbite.  If at any time your child starts to exhibit symptoms of frostnip or frostbite, do not wait to treat them.  Immediately go inside and make efforts to rewarm the affected areas either with skin to skin contact or warm (not hot) water.  Should you find yourself out on the trail with a cold baby, do not wait to get back to the car or campsite to start the rewarming process.  Instead bundle them up against your chest and wrap your jacket around the both of you.  It is very important to treat frostnip or frostbite right away to minimize the chances of permanent tissue damage.  Hopefully if you avoid the first four items on this list you’ll be able to prevent the issue altogether.

Do you have a winter hike planned?  Or maybe a snowy mountain vacation on the calendar for Valentine’s Day?  Tell me all about it @bybackpacker!  I was recently at Pyramid Lake with my family for New Year’s and we had a blast despite the sub-freezing temperatures – proof that cold outdoor adventures can be fun for everyone.

I look forward to hearing about your cold trips with kiddos, both past and future.  In the meantime, happy trails and safe travels!

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