Gear Up: All the right stuff for tots
To learn what it's like to travel with a toddler, try fiddling first with a time bomb. It's thrilling. Then...boom! "Will." "Won't." "Yes." "No." "Take me!" "Go away!" The typical two- to three-year-old is torn between the need for involvement and the desire for independence. Heading into the great outdoors with this teensy Hamlet requires patience--and some well-chosen gear.
Carriers and Packs
For your first treks together, use a top-quality child-carrier backpack. Look for wide, padded shoulder straps and a higher back for larger children. Tough Traveler's top-of-the-line child carriers, the Stallion (for larger parents, $160) and the Filly (for smaller parents, $155) hold kids up to four years old. As for yourself, shrug into a daypack roomy enough to haul diapers, drinks, and toddler kibble. Kelty's Super Diaper Daypack ($69) has a built-in changing pad--a long overdue innovation.
For Little Feet
Toddler-friendly hiking boots need a stiff, flat sole and sturdy ankle support. Nike's Baby Terra ($32) and Caterpillar's Kilimanjaro boots ($45) have both, together with impressive, hand-me-down longevity. To keep tot-sized feet warm, SmartWool socks (Kid's Hike, $9) insulate when wet. For hot days, Teva's Universal Nylon (infant sizes 2–9; $25) and Storm (kid's sizes 8–6; $40) sandals have long-wearing Velcro, a must for compulsive strap-rippers.
The Well-Dressed Hiker
Sun-protective fabrics will save you the saddling-a-rattlesnake struggle of smearing sunscreen on a two-year-old. Worthy choices are the Mysterioso Water Shirt ($25) and Triple J Sportswear Cargo Pants/Shorts ($44), both available from SunGrubbies.com; and Sun Protective Clothing's Toddler Playsuit ($33.50).
Since small body masses lose heat rapidly, carry a fleece jacket, such as Patagonia's soft, unconstraining Micro D-Luxe Cardigan ($44). And since hats aren't optional, you can at least make them groovy: Patagonia's Baby Cool Shade ($25) not only deflects sun, but wins approving glances. Ditto goes for Bollé's bitsy Komodo sunglasses ($20).
All mini hikers eventually tire, so you'll need a stroller. The pricey but indestructible Sport Utility Stroller (SUS) from BOB Trailers ($280 standard, $325 deluxe) has a mountain bike–like suspension that lulls wrigglers on even the rockiest terrain.
Kid campers will like PerryWorks's new HURV ($62.50), which looks like a dangling car seat but functions surprisingly well as a soft swing. When Junior hits the road on a two-wheeler, he'll need a CPSC-approved helmet like Trek's light and comfy Lil' Dipper ($30). The Specialized Fatboy Tiny Team bike ($120) is the best-built 12-inch model around. Most kids' bikes are aluminum and disposable; this one's chromoly--and even heirloomable. --Gretchen Reynolds
Photography by Clay Ellis (top and bottom) and Douglas Merriam (middle)