Way back when my first child was little, I realized that hiking would be a good way to get us both outside and help stave off postpartum depression. I asked around in my moms group and among my friends for people who wanted to go hiking with me. This was before Facebook and Meetup, and I wrote up a monthly email with tentative plans of hikes I wanted to do. Occasionally I got friends to come with me, but after many of us had our second children or went back to work, these coordinated hikes were much more difficult to pull off. I often found myself alone on the trails, and longed for more company.
Today’s parents don’t have to muddle through like I did – there is a fabulous group called Hike It Baby that offers a way for families to meet and hike together. We are fortunate to have active groups in the Puget Sound area to join up with. As the first installment of my New Year series of posts intended to help families get into hiking, I was fortunate enough to interview Shanti Hodges, the founder of Hike It Baby. Shanti lives in the Portland area, and has overseen the remarkable growth of this community, from a small group of hiking friends to a nationwide non-profit grassroots organization. Members of Hike It Baby can search the website for local hikes to join, as well as kid-friendly bike trips, park days, coffee strolls, and camping trips. I am thrilled to offer you this interview with Shanti about this incredible organization.
The Hiker Mama: How did Hike It Baby Start? You’ve grown a lot in the past few years. Can you tell me about that journey, and what’s ahead?
Shanti Hodges: Hike it Baby started when my son was just a newborn. I was looking to get outside with other parents hiking, so I asked some women in a new mama group to join me on a hike when Mason was about 3 weeks old and the first week five women showed up. The next week 11 women and it just grew from there. Within a year people were emailing me from around the country.
We grew a lot in less than 5 years. Maybe a little too much, but it’s been a good experience learning how to grow a nonprofit and to be a supportive organization that will hopefully be around for my son to enjoy with his children when he’s older. What’s ahead? So many things, we hope to be the go to place for families looking to find information about trails when you have young children. Our focus is really getting boots on trail. We want to encourage and support as many families as we can across North America to get out with their young children as soon as they feel ready.
HM: What kind of support does Hike It Baby offer to families?
SH: We have around 2500 hikes a month. They are all crowdsourced by the community, but the great thing about Hike it Baby is you can travel to other cities and find many other like minded families who will be doing hikes like you are wanting to do, so it really opens up a whole outdoor world for families.
All of our hikes have guidelines. We ask that people keep them under five miles, look for trails that are doable for a woman who is recently post partum or for grandma joining. If they are going to be harder we like to ask that people really explain the hike so that no one shows up and feels like they are going to get left behind. On all of our hikes we ask for a lead and a caboose, so if someone does need to stop and nurse or change a baby, they won’t feel left behind.
We are also working on a lot of fronts that people aren’t seeing as well like with various nonprofits that focus on trail support like American Hiking Society and we help raise park awareness every year with Kids to Park day and a partnership with the National Park Trust. We send representatives to Hike the Hill, an event that helps with the future of trail maintenance and support, we go to the Outdoor Retailer trade show to connect with other nonprofits like Outdoor Afro, Big City Mountaineers, Latino Outdoors and more.
We also are working on programming to help encourage trail stewardship in toddlers and we have ongoing blogs and online discussions about how we are all approaching and supporting trails. In general we are that first step for a family interested in the outdoors. We start with getting people comfortable and out there regularly, then slowly push positive impact in the outdoors with our community. This comes in so many ways from helping everyone in the group understand their impact on natural spaces and how to Leave No Trace and minimize group impact.
HM: Do you have any tips for families who are just starting out and may feel intimidated?
SH: Find a group like Hike it Baby or a local hike club. It helps to have someone to hike next to you on those first few times. With time you will get more comfortable hiking with a baby, but when you start, it’s always good to have support when you head out. I learned so many amazing things from having others guide me on the trail, whether it was learning to nurse while hiking, wear my baby on my back and get him on and off, snacks that are good to bring along or hacks for keeping them warm in the winter.
HM: What are your favorite ways to get affordable gear to keep everyone clothed and warm?
SH: This year we launched a Buy n Sell forum on Hike it Baby (www.buynsell.hikeitbaby.com) which is a great way to sell stuff and find stuff, but also we like a site called Threadlyte [https://threadlyte.com/]. There are also great discounts on REI outlet, Columbia always seems to have sales, post that you are looking for stuff on your Facebook and someone might be cleaning old baby stuff out. Also I love hacks. I used a pair of cashmere socks over Mason’s pants and wool socks for keeping him warm in the winter when hiking. Big jackets can be great for zipping up over a baby carrier on the front. Gear shouldn’t be a limitation for getting you out there. Joining groups like Hike it Baby is a great way to connect with families who might have an older kid and you can be part of a pass down chain of gear too.
HM: Do you have any stories of families who were complete beginners, and became seasoned adventurers through Hike It Baby?
SH: So many. I feel like even though I was a hiker before having my son I became a much more serious hiker after hiking with Mason. It’s pretty common to have people start hiking with us and then start to see all they can do with their baby and get out there more and more. You are in touch with Karyn Gaffney [Seattle-area Branch Ambassador]. She’s a good example. Another friend of mine Leslie posted some great pictures of pumping while hiking Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams. It’s stories and images of just the everyday mama that help inspire all of us to get out and go further.
HM: Can you tell me more about the 10k Women Challenge?
SH: The 10,000 Women Trail Project is an initiative we created for all women to inspire other women to get out. I saw that women often don’t realize the impact they are having on others around them when they post a picture or tell a friend about a hike they did, this encourages other women. I have so many people say to me that even if they have never been on a Hike it Baby hike, just seeing all of my posts makes them get out there and explore more. With the initiative we created tools that allow women to actually see their impact. We just started in November. One women recently told me she has already done 39 hikes since then and she has inspired 80 women to get out on trail. That’s amazing, but also not uncommon when women get hooked on hiking. This project is just a way to help the everyday woman see she doesn’t need to be a super athlete to other women out there. She just needs to invite those around her and make it happen.
HM: Thank you so much, Shanti, for taking the time out to help my readers learn more about Hike It Baby and all that it offers families.