A winter walk always presents additional challenges – it is darker, colder and tends to stay wet underfoot for longer than the summer months and walking with a baby or toddler adds in a whole new set of considerations.
Last year my daughter was so tiny I rarely took her out for a winter walk of more than 30 minutes so this is the first proper winter I have been out with her. I have learned (and had old lessons re-enforced) that whilst a blast of fresh air over the winter months is great (and incidentally this is a lovely, quiet and moody time of year to enjoy the great outdoors) you need to be well prepared to make sure that baby enjoys your winter walk as much as you.
Here are a ten simple tips to help make your walks with baby this winter more enjoyable for both of you. Also, most of these tips are also relevant for long or exposed walks with a baby or young child at any time of year, regardless of the weather.
- Hats are hip: whatever else you forget to take with you on your walk, do not forget your child’s hat! A baby has a proportionally larger head than an adult and so loses a huge amount of heat from that area making it doubly important to keep their hat on! There are loads of different hats out on the market, including ones that tie under chins or have ear flaps so with a little trial and improvement you are bound to find one that works for your child. For extra warmth, put a hat on underneath a hooded layer.
- Keep hill-top walks brief: walks with a view are top of many people’s list and in winter, with no leaves on the trees, it can be a great time to see for miles but keep any walks with a baby that take in a section on an exposed hill top short and sweet and save them for calm days with winter sunshine. If you are walking along a ridgeway and are weather savvy, try and plan your route to be walking with your back to the wind. Even on a good day tree-less hills will be a bit windy and there is nothing a baby hates more than watering eyes and a blustering breeze coming straight at them whilst strapped to your back. You also need to be careful with wind-chill – with their small bodies it doesn’t take long at all for little ones to get very cold, no matter what the actual air temperature is.
- Avoid picnic breaks at viewpoints: following on the the previous point, make sure that if and when you stop for a break or something to eat, that you do it out of the wind and in a sheltered spot. This is unlikely to be a trig point with the fantastic views! Don’t forget to bring extra layers to bundle up an active baby with in winter – they will chill down very quickly once they stop moving and you’ll be needing something with some insulation to sit on to avoid baby getting a chilly behind!
- Layers, wind-proof layers and more layers: all little winter trekkers need lots of layers and appropriate clothing to keep them warm on winter walks. This is even more important for children being carried or pushed as they will not be moving to help keep them warm and so will feel the cold more. Remember this as you are puffing up that hill and stripping off your coat and make sure to bundle baby up with an extra layer or two than you are wearing before you set off. A front wrap carrier is really good for a winter walk so you can share some of your body heat with baby and even tuck them up a bit inside your own coat – just check to make sure that they do not overheat. In winter it is particularly important to include as a wind-proof layer to help fight against chilly breezes and lock in the warm air. For a baby in a pushchair you can get some great quality winter cocoons with wind/water resistant layers – well worth the investment if you are out much. It goes without saying that you should have extra clothes and waterproofs packed with you.
- Fight against freezing fingers and frosty toes: Children in backpacks spend a lot of their time on winter walks with their hands and legs dangling down which doesn’t do much for blood circulation and increases the risk of them getting very very cold in no time at all. Put baby in thick walking socks (or double layer them), opt for fleece lined or leather shoes and avoid unlined plastic wellies which provide little insulation. Dress baby with thick lined gloves and where possible, tuck hands away in sleeves. Check your child’s hands and feet are warm enough regularly during your winter walk – they may not like you poking your cold fingers into their warm gloves but better that than taking off their layers to expose red, raw hands or feet at the end of your trip out.
- Keep it simple: no matter what you were capable of before baby came along, winter is not the time to embark on long or complex walking adventures when you have a small passenger with you. To keep your winter walk enjoyable for everyone, make it fairly short and on good and easy-to-find paths. Getting lost is a risk at the best of times but lost with a young child in winter is simply dangerous.
- Be prepared for bogs: recent years have proven that it is not just winter that is wet. However in winter, the cooler weather means that saturated ground tends to take longer to dry out and muddy conditions can prevail a lot longer. Even if you are following established paths be prepared for mud and puddles – it is well worth taking an all-terrain pushchair on even the easiest of walks over the winter months and keep your wellies close to hand and take spare carrier bags in the car for dirty shoes and clothes from your little bog-woppits!
- Start early: in winter the daylight has often completely gone by as early as 1600 and it starts to get gloomy from mid-afternoon. Leave plenty of time to return from your winter walk before dark.
- Refuel and refresh: if you are out with baby for more than a short winter walk then take a warm flask of drink of warm dilute squash with you. Winter walks are also a great excuse to stop off at that tea shop or pub at the end of the walk – that way everyone gets to warm up before heading home.
- Nippy nappies and cool drool: in summer, nappy changing on the go for seasoned walking parents is not much more complicated than at home and many a baby or toddler has found themselves being unceremoniously wiped down on a patch of grass whilst taking in the surrounding countryside! On a winter walk though it is to be avoided. Check nappies before you start, opt for a route with baby changing facilities en route or wait until you get to shelter to change a dirty nappy. If you are forced by a ‘poosplosion’ to change baby out on a winter walk then provide as much shelter as can using rucksacks and coats, insulate the changing surface from cold ground and remove as few layers of clothing as possible. Finally, for those parents whose baby likes to ‘taste’ the cold air and spends a large chunk of of any winter walk with their tongue sticking out, make sure they aren’t getting too cold and wet on clothes or rucksack straps within licking reach!