We talked with Jessica Carillo Alatorre, the director of Hike it Baby, to see how the organizer of outdoorsy meetups for new parents has evolved over the years.
“When you become a new parent, there are a lot of things you’ll hear from your doctor and our culture in general that may make you feel afraid to go outside,” Alatorre said. “You’re very fearful of what is OK to do with that tiny little fragile human.”
Through group outings, in city parks and popular trails, new parents can gather outside and share advice and experiences to help more families connect with nature.
Hike it Baby is just one of several community organizations and outdoors advocates Merrell supports and featured in our Hello Hiker! series of profiles. Merrell has even collaborated with the parents’ group on a variety of children’s shoes.
Alatorre joined Hike it Baby in 2014 — its early days. She was still a new mother, and the project spoke to her. Furthermore, it provided a way to “engage her adult brain” without the commitment of a full-time job.
Hike it Baby grew from there, and so did her role. She became the operations manager. And in 2017, when the group’s founder stepped away, she stepped in as executive director. It’s now very much a full-time job.
For her, part of the project’s initial appeal was its contrast to what she experienced from medical professionals. While she was still in the hospital with her newborn, nurses had her watch a video about inconsolable babies.
Her mother was bedside and offered a different opinion: “You can go outside. That’s something that will always work.”
That stuck with Alatorre, and she has worked to spread that message since.
“As soon as I started to see that was something helpful to both me and my baby, and helping us both feel better,” Alatorre said. “It’s something that I want to communicate as much as possible.”
Like many new moms, Alatorre went to multiple groups for parenting advice. However, she preferred the less-structured events organized through Hike it Baby. Getting together with other parents outside, be it walking on a trail or even just sitting in the park, she felt a much more natural connection.
In fact, the people she met in those early Hike it Baby meetups are still the moms and friends that she hangs out with today.
“On one hand, Hike it Baby wants to serve those parents as soon as they’ve had their babies. There’s not a lot out there that supports new parents and new babies in those early months, or even the first couple of years,” Alatorre said.
“But, a lot of times, we’re finding that families that started with Hike it Baby don’t want to let it go.”
Currently, there are more than 270 Hike it Baby branches, mainly in the United States, but with some in Canada too.
Setting up a local chapter or community starts with a volunteer applying to be an ambassador through the group’s training program.
There are some simple guidelines before hosting a hike. These include safety factors, like the type of terrain, to make sure there are no steep dropoffs or circumstances that would cut the hike short. Parking access in a dedicated lot is safer and easier than, say, roadside parking.
Similarly, the organization’s Family Trail Guide applies ratings to trails through the lens of parents.
Other small but logistical hurdles to plan for include differing ages among the kids and even varied nap times. These little things can add a wrinkle to group outings.
Bridging a Gap
Alatorre said there’s been a push to host more meetups in parks and nature areas close to cities “so families that don’t have a strong sense of belonging in the outdoors can have some welcoming experiences in green spaces.”
She said she sees new groups pop up in cities where nature is harder to access as well as more remote areas in Alaska and Canada, where the outdoors are everywhere, but a community of new parents is not.
Local chapters can plan longer efforts or camping, but the organization focuses on day hikes and often invites local nature outreach organizations with a wildlife showcase or hands-on exhibits to join the meetups.
“In general, if you put what you want to do out there, it’s likely someone else wants to join,” Alatorre said.
These meetups often help members share advice and common mistakes to avoid when first starting out on adventures, especially with young kids. There are more tangible benefits at some meetups too.
For instance, some Hike it Baby gatherings have a “library” of baby carriers. These become try-on sessions that allow new mothers to get a feel for the different models of carriers on the market and help them decide which to buy.
The Merrell Connection
Merrell has been a longtime partner and supporter of Hike it Baby. Currently, there’s even a shoe collaboration with Hike it Baby branding on some of Merrell’s popular children’s footwear styles.
Additionally, the brand supports the group’s efforts with some funding and, more recently, shoe donations.
It’s part of Merrell’s goal to support real families hiking.
Tips for New Parents Outside
Alatorre gave us some of the most common advice she gives parents for hiking with their kids:
- Pack light; you probably just need water and a snack.
- Don’t forget water and a snack for you too.
- Begin in familiar places. Choose trails with an easy way to turn back early in case you get tired or the baby starts crying.
- Start small. Sitting outside or walking around the block still acts as a break with fresh air and sun.
- Find a friend to go with as motivation — and to help out.