We occasionally get inquiries from intrepid parents who want to go trekking with their little ones – by little ones, we mean children that can still be easily carried by their parents, so young people aged between 6 months and 3 years.
This blog provides some useful considerations about whether you really want to head out on the trail with a very small child.
For children that can no longer be carried, but still have short legs and even shorter attention spans, e.g.; kids between the ages of 4 to 6 years, many of these questions also apply.
1. How often do you trek yourself? Do you like to do long distance trekking and are you comfortable with camping and sleeping in a tent?
2. What kind of trekking have you done with her recently – and how did she like the backpack? For 4 years plus: have you gone trekking recently, what were the difficulties, and how many hours were you able to go without stopping?
As parents know (or soon discover) children have very unique personalities. My daughter was generally a tranquil child, and walked at 14 months. Within reason, she didn’t mind hiking for several hours while in the backpack, though we needed to stop frequently (every hour or so) and that added to the overall length of the day.
My little boy walked before he was 1 and is an active and determined child. We took him to Machu Picchu when he was 20 months old and had 2 different styles of backpacks and a harness. We left the ruins after several hours: his screaming was in no way enjoyable for us or for the other visitors!
So – before you decide to tackle a long trek ask:
Is your child going to be OK with 6-8 hours a day in the backpack? Have you taken her on hikes of that length in recent times?
3. Sleeping – how will you and your child feel about sleeping in freezing cold temperatures in the high mountains?
4. Altitude- The best advice I have ever read regarding travel at high altitudes is, “how well do you know your baby/toddler and can you distinguish between bad temper/terrible twos/ teething, and altitude sickness?” The answer is that it’s pretty difficult, as symptoms of altitude sickness can be anything from sleeping poorly to headaches to vomiting.
5. Are you a relaxed parent, or do you get stressed? Imagine that you are 2 days’ walk from the nearest road. Your child has a temperature – are you going to be able to cope with this? Or your child is vomiting at high altitude… Having had this type of experience, it’s very stressful and even though I know the mountains, I was still very worried. How will you react under these conditions?
We strongly recommend 3 days minimum at Cusco for acclimatization of a small person (e.g. under 3 years); longer if you can- before tackling the high mountain treks like Ausangate, Salkantay or the Lares trek to Machu Picchu.
I recently took both of my kids to 4300m for an overnight stay and even though I am experienced in hiking in the mountains, when they woke up more frequently than usual I had to ask myself – is it altitude sickness? (This is despite them having been in Cusco for the 2 months prior to the trek.)
6. Who will carry them? Depending on their age – they can weigh up to 20kg and still be carried in a trekking backpack. How comfortable is that backpack for you (and again, for long distances)?
I like my Ergobaby for short trips around town and find it much easier to maneuver than the proper trekking backpack: for short hikes of less than a couple of hours, that’s my choice. For longer treks, we use a Deuter 3 with sun protection.
Most people find a smaller baby of up to about 12 months ok to carry – but by the time they are two, they are quite heavy!!!! So consider getting a porter to help!
If you are enthusiastic to do a hike in the Andes with your little ones, the very first thing to do is a day hike near your home and see how it goes with the kids. If it’s a ‘piece of cake’ then a trek in the Andes might be OK for you. Happy trails!
Coming soon: Trekking with older children and tweens.