Estimating Hiking Times
with an infant / toddler
„Are we there yet?“
It is not my son asking. He is 2 years old, he is a real zen master. There is no past or future in his life. There is only “now”. And there is no “there” neither, there is only “here”. HERE and NOW. Here there are lots of little rocks on the path he needs to explore, now a grasshopper crosses his path and distracts him. It is me asking myself...
The hike turned to last a bit longer than I originally planned. The clouds are closing up getting ready for one of these typical evening mountain storms, and all I am thinking it to get THERE (at the hut where I am planning to spend the night) in the shortest time possible.
How to plan hiking times with toddlers more realistically?
During the planning stage, it is important to understand the magnitude of the day, as it will give you a realistic idea of what to bring!
After many failures, I finally came up with quite a good formula that works very well for us!
Three main parameters are generally used to calculate hiking time (for an adult), while the fourth parameter is added to comprehend the needs of the baby/toddler.
· Distance and the group hiking speed
· Elevation gain and loss
· Terrain type
· Extra time for playing/feeding/changing…
Distance and hiking speed (based on terrain type)
With or without kids, the distance remains the same… but the hiking speed changes greatly!
Hiking speeds varies depending on the terrain as well. On a good path it is possible to hike faster than on loss rocks for example. A look at the map should give you a good idea of the status of your path: for example, I generally consider rough terrain the paths located above the tree line as they are generally rockier and more challenging considering the direct exposure to the sun.
Calling for example the manager of a mountain hut and enquire about the status of the trail is always a good idea, as a hike without bad surprises, with a kid, is always preferred!
Which hiking speed to use?
In our vision, a baby or a toddler are not just a heavy load that slows you down when hiking. He is an important and functional part of the team, and he deserved to have as much fun as everybody else in the group.
They will probably be weakest link in our group, and he/she will be setting out hiking speed.
I found hiking that hiking with an infant is actually easier than hiking with a toddler. Infants are light weight and they love to be carried!
When hiking with a toddler, you have 2 main hiking speeds:
· the speed when the baby is being carried;
· the speed if the toddler hikes himself.
The following reference hiking time is a starting point to calculate your hiking time, but of course it is important that with time (and regularly) you tailor this table to your own physical strength and your kid capacity.
Elevation gain and loss
I used to add an extra hour every 300 meters elevation gain.
Considering the extra weight or the slower hiking speed of your baby, adding 1.5 hours is more realistic.
For elevation loss, I add extra time only if the path is very steep and challenging, otherwise I keep the same time as walking along a flat path.
Baby extra time (playing, relaxing...)
To make things even slower, I also add 30 minutes every 2 hours for playing, diapers change, snacking, connecting…
I prefer arriving to the hut well before the planned time, than having to run and stress for making it there too late. (“Too late”, for me, means “after my son was done for the day and just wanted to seat, play and relax”. This includes: after dinner time, after an evening storm that hit us, after dark, after bed time).
How to include a baby in the equation?
Only the parent knows how much a baby will walk and will be carried.
For example, I know that my son doesn´t like to be carried. My only chance is during sleep time, about 1.5 hours after lunch. This means that, in a day hike, I can expect to cover about 4.5 km carrying him (= 1.5 hour *3km/hour), the for the rest of the hike I must consider his slow 1 km/hour hiking speed.
We created an easy form you can fill in and estimate the hiking time with kids.
Remember, this is important not to underestimate the magnitude of the day, and bring all the necessary equipment!
On the back of the form, you can enter notes on how the hike really went. By comparing prediction with reality, it will help you to perfection with time your own prediction skills.
Let's look at an example...
I am planning to hike from Malga Caldenave (Trentino, Italy) to Rifugio Conseria. The group is composed by myself, my 2 years old, a friend with her 3 months old baby (which is very easy going).
I use the website alpenkarten.eu to learn about the path.
It is a 6.1 km hike, with 255 elevation loss and gain.
The path is mainly on a forest road, easy terrain, and in the shade, which is welcome considering that we will be hiking in August.
As my son is our "slower hiker", I will fill the form considering him, but if you are in a group it is a good idea to fill the form for each kid, because the slower one of all will finally decide the hiking time.
As we will start hiking in the morning and my son is full of energy, I will start considering his hiking speed and see how many kilometres he will be hiking before nap time. It is realistic to say you will be hiking from 10:00 am (after breakfast) to 12:00.
Let's see how to fill the form:
The result may seem scaring at first! But remember, this is considering very slow hiking times and playing time. If you need to speed things up, you can always decide to carry your baby for longer.
Leaving at 10:00 am, we should be able to comfortably arrive to the hut for the night by 5:00 pm, just before the chances of evening storms! This hike would be on my comfort zone limit and I wouldn't try anything harder (also considering that the next day we have a full day! This is day 2 of a 4 days backpacking trip).
understanding more or less the dynamic of the day will also help me understanding how will be facing uphills and downhills...