I want my son to love the outdoors as much as me, but am I being selfish by taking him out in the cold? And ultimately, is using child carriers in winter just a bit stupid?
Since I’m still relatively new to parenting I tend to make things up as I go along. Usually with pretty quick, impulsive and not particularly sensible decisions when it comes to doing things that could potentially be a lot of fun.
Take my heavily pregnant girlfriend on a jeep safari in Cape Verde with no seatbelts? Count me in. Go canoeing with my one-year-old? Why not. Strap my infant son to my back and drag him round endless miles of countryside in the coldest depths of winter? Yep, let’s go for it!
Get a decent child carrier
With the benefit of hindsight the first two were probably quite daft, but up until last weekend I was never quite sure if I was doing the right thing by using child carriers in winter. The quality of the gear I’m using is certainly no issue (I’m a massive fan of the Osprey Poco AG and the Deuter Kid Comfort II) but am I actually putting Sonny at risk by carting him around in sub-zero temperatures?
I’ve never really suffered too badly from the cold – I did grow up in Yorkshire, after all – and I very rarely notice the weather when I’m out walking. But that’s because I’m usually bundled up in expensive outdoor gear and, even more crucially, keeping myself warm by the amount of exercise I’m doing. Add in the fact I’m carrying over two stone of chunky toddler on my back, and I’m actually getting a pretty decent workout.
So while I’m sweating and complaining about what a heavy lump my son is, it’s easy to forget he’s strapped to my back completely stationary. So without any body movement to warm him up, the only way this defenceless little toddler’s going to keep warm is via the clothes I wrap him up in. So what’s the best gear to use?
Wrap them up warm
We’ve got absolutely loads of kiddy outdoor kit because I’m borderline obsessed with it, but the best option I’ve found when using child carriers in winter is a full-body down suit. The Spotty Otter Drift Down II is what we used when Sonny was a young baby and it’s brilliant. He’s now moved on to a bigger toddler version and that’s just as good. It can be a bit of a struggle wedging him into his carrier and getting the straps over his shoulders with such a bulky suit on, but Sonny always seems comfortable enough so I’ve never worried too much.
So make sure he’s wearing a few layers under the suit, stick on some warm socks and a woolly hat, and everything’s going to be OK, right? In my experience, it actually usually is. I obviously don’t take Sonny out in any weather I’d consider dangerous – torrential rain, hailstone and mega strong winds are a definite no-go – but in general he doesn’t seem at all bothered by the cold. In fact, for some weird reason he seems to really like it.
Keep your adventures short
Last weekend Sonny saw snow out of the kitchen window for the first time in his life and since the dog needed walking anyway, I saddled him up and headed out into it. We walked for an hour through the woods near our house with our little jack russell terrier Mario, with Sonny laughing, shouting and waving his arms around with excitement at every new tree and snowflake.
I put the rain-cover on the carrier to keep him dry and made sure I kept talking to him and asking if he was OK, and there wasn’t a second on the walk when he didn’t enjoy himself. At one point our path was blocked by a fallen tree so I had to take off the carrier, lift Sonny over the tree, then plonk him in the mud while I clambered through the branches. I thought that might make him snap, but he just thought it was hilarious.
We stayed out long enough for him to have a good time but kept the trip short enough that he didn’t get bored or noticeably cold, so I think I just about got away with it.
What’s the verdict?
So, is using child carriers in winter a stupid idea? Nope, I don’t think so. Do it in the right conditions, with the right gear, in the right location and there’s no reason you and your kids can’t enjoy some great little adventures in the winter. It beats staying indoors watching TV!