Activity

The Right Gear: getting outdoors with your little one even when its cold

Come on baby, take a winter walk with me! With the availability of warm and snuggly winter wear for babies, gear for parents, and accessible recreational areas, snowy weather and cold temperature need not be an obstacle for enjoying time with your baby out in nature. Properly outfitted, you and your little one can experience our own frozen Arendale, the Northwoods Winter Wonderland. Depending on your activity level and the temperature, there are safe options to get outside and enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of winter – in other words, Wisconsin acclimatization.

Depending on your activity level and the temperature, there are safe options to get outside and enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of a Wisconsin winter.

During the first year – when babies hold up their heads and weigh less than 15 pounds – soft chest or “front” packs and slings are ideal for carrying your baby on a snowshoe hike. We like the soft front pack to enjoy a hike on a beautiful sunny winter day, a candlelight snowshoe on moonlit snow, or a during a snowfall with fluffy, quarter-sized flakes. Once your baby meets minimum size requirements recommended by manufacturers, you can also use a soft backpack or lightweight aluminum frame backpack. Either way, fleece onesies, a snug fleece hat, and mittens for the hands (and perhaps an extra down coat as a loose blanket) can wrap your baby into a toasty – but not too hot – bundle. In Wisconsin, our temperatures often hover in the teens (or dangerously lower!) so the trek doesn’t need to be long. Even 10-15 minutes may be enough for a great outing. Just adjust your baby’s ambient temperature by opening and closing jackets and by measuring both the temperature and the temperament of your child.

Once your baby is big enough, you may prefer to push or pull instead of “wearing” him or her. You can use heavy-duty strollers, such as The B-O-B, which are made to go off-road with suspension systems and heavy tread tires. You can even adapt some for pulling behind bikes and cross-country (XC) skis. If you do cross-country ski, invest (or borrow!) one of the “ski” kits that attaches to the bottom of an adaptable trailer stroller that has safety harnesses – for example, the Chariot. Pulling a baby in its little caboose is not for the faint of heart, and whether your preferred style of XC skiing  is classic or freestyle, it can be challenging (and great for Birkie training). Classic XC skiing is probably easier unless you are a strong freestyle skier and have ideal wax and gravitational assistance. Either way, the rhythmic motion often lulls babies to sleep while you get a workout! Although the ski stroller kits are stable on the level, steep inclines are to be avoided. Tower Ridge Recreation Area is an ideal location: You have a choice of wide, level, and well-groomed ski lanes, plus the benefit of a warming hut for breaks.

Lastly, go simple with a homemade sled to pull behind you while walking or skiing. Once your child becomes a toddler and safely remain sitting up (1½-2 years old) in the open air, you can easily tow him or her in circles around a yard or along a smooth trail.

Many adults who enjoy nature credit their outdoor childhood experiences for building strong, life-long commitments to being physically active outdoors. Winter is no exception, and living in the Chippewa Valley, it is valuable for children to have safe, positive experiences in snow so as adults they can have positive perceptions of nature, no matter the season. Not only is a simple winter walk or ski in the woods or fields physically and mentally refreshing, but you might also share the grandeur of a frost-covered landscape or the aurora borealis, or hear the sounds of flowing ice in water or a flock of foraging chickadees. Let the snow fall on your faces and grace the trim of your hat and eyelashes. Grab an icicle, throw a snowball, and enjoy the cold.

To increase opportunities for outdoor exercise in winter, explore your own property, a local park, or a recreational area in the Valley. Many of them have maintained snowshoe and ski trails, including Tower Ridge Recreation Area, Lowes Creek County Park, Carson Park, the City Wells Area, Pinehurst Park, Hoffman Hills State Recreation Area, Lake Wissota State Park, or Beaver Creek Reserve. Some of these locations offer naturalist-led programs and candlelight ski or snowshoe treks.

This was made by

Paula Kleintjes Neff  author

Neff is a professor of biology at UW-Eau Claire. Her grown-up “baby” is now charging around faster than her on skates, snowshoes, and skis. This essay is modified and excerpted in part from “Come on Baby, Take a Walk With Me” by Paula Kleintjes Neff, Chapter 3 in Connecting Children to Nature (WnB Publishing, 2014).