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As a fairly active person, I did not want pregnancy to stop me from pursuing an active and adventurous lifestyle. Of course, I wanted to tone down high adrenaline activities that might pose a risk to the baby now developing in my tummy. No more snowboarding or roller coasters for me.
Hiking while pregnant is fairly low-risk and good for both momma and the baby. This prenatal activity is absolutely safe and healthy, however, there are some important things to consider before hitting the trails. As someone who has hiked throughout her three trimesters of pregnancy, I’ve gathered some helpful tips and things that you should know for hiking while pregnant.
This guide has been compiled from research, my own experience, feedback from other mommas, and conversations with my doctor. With this checklist and a little preparation, you can continue pursuing that active and adventurous lifestyle while staying safe.
Tips for Hiking while pregnant
1. Always check with doctor first.
First and foremost, always check with your doctor. Every momma is different and so is their medical history, fitness level, and height of pregnancy risk. Generally speaking, if you’re a long-term hiker you are probably ok to hit the trails. However, if you have a complicated pregnancy or if you are new to hiking, your doctor may advise against taking up this new activity.
2. Know the terrain.
Now is not the time for an unresearched spontaneous hiking adventure. The last thing you want is to find yourself lost on a 15-mile loop where you must ford a river, squeeze through tight rock crevices, and scramble along narrow ledges.
Slippery rocks, steep inclines, and unstable surfaces all pose significant risks to your safety and that of the baby. Depending on how far along you are, you may be carrying upwards of 25 extra lbs. on your body. The extra baby weight can throw off your center of gravity impacting balance. Research the hiking trail before you leave home so that you can avoid all unnecessary risk.
3. Use hiking poles.
I was never one to use poles on hiking trips less than 20 miles. Hiking while pregnant is a different story. Your center of balance is all wonky and your knees wear out more quickly because of the extra baby weight. Hiking poles help with all of these things.
Using poles helps to distribute the weight more evenly while taking some of that stress off your knees and ankles. They also help to improve balance on tricky terrain. I use the Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking Poles and would highly recommend them. The webbing strap and foam handles make for a more comfortable and secure grip. Plus, they are lightweight, collapsible, and easily adjustable.
Many hiking mommas also suggest using a support belt for additional comfort. Although it is something I have never used, I can see this gear being useful for pregnant women during a hike.
4. Bring plenty of snacks and lots of hydration.
We typically try to minimize what we bring to only the essentials, but when you are pregnant it is better to have more food and water than not enough. Firstly, you are pregnant so you are likely to get the munchies more than you typically would. Secondly, you are hiking and working up an appetite AND thirst. You want to make sure that if your body is telling you to eat and drink that you can do just that.
For shorter hikes, I recommend a banana with individual nut butter packs. The banana’s electrolytes and potassium are great for preventing muscle cramps, and the protein-rich nut butter is just yummy. We brought a few packs of RX Coconut Almond Butter and oh my goodness the flavorful combination of sweet and salty was like heaven in my mouth. Natural meal bars are also a great choice to satisfy those pangs of hunger. I have tried all sorts of granola and protein bars, but my favorites are the PROBAR and RX brands. They are hearty, filling, and taste significantly better than the alternatives.
For longer hikes, I recommend the self-heating backpacking meals from OMEALS. We discovered this brand on Instagram and the flavor and convenience are leagues beyond the competition. Each meal pack contains a heating element which means no need to carry around a burner and fuel. The downside is that it is a bit heavier than traditional dehydrated meals, so this might not be the best option for toting around on a multi-day hike. However, if you are just doing a long day hike or even an overnight hike, carrying 1 or 2 of these won’t add too much weight to your pack.
Lastly is water. Bring lots and lots of water. Staying hydrated is important when you’re pregnant and not hiking, so imagine how crucial it is when you are expending calories. Scott and I hiked the 2-day Three Ridges Loop in Virginia, each with a full 3 liter Camelbak. We both ran out of water and had to use our Sawyer mini water filter to refill our supply. Don’t get yourself into a position where you run out of water. Pack more than you need and bring a water filter just in case you find yourself in a bad spot.
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5. Watch for altitude.
In addition to knowing the terrain, it is important to be aware of the altitudes where you will be hiking. There is less oxygen available at higher altitudes. This means less oxygen for you and less oxygen being delivered to your baby.
Note: The concept of high altitude is relative to where you live. If you live in the higher altitudes of Breckenridge Colorado (altitude: 9’600), hiking at 10,000 feet above sea level might not be considered a risky activity. If you are from Washington DC where the highest elevation is 409’, you may want to reconsider a hiking trip to Breckenridge. When in doubt, always consult with your doctor.
6. Hiking while pregnant means being prepared to pee a lot.
With all the water you will be drinking combined with a baby pushing on your bladder, you can expect to take several potty breaks. Hiking at 16 weeks pregnant I barely even noticed that there was a baby in my belly. Hiking at 30 weeks, I could feel every little movement, toss, and turn. When that baby pushes against your bladder, there is not much you can do about it. All of a sudden there is a strong and uncontrollable urge to go and to go as soon as you can regardless if there is a bathroom nearby. Check the trail map ahead of time to plot out available bathrooms, but it is wise to bring some toilet paper or wipes for those urgent situations.
Remember to Leave no Trace. Just because wipes are labeled as “biodegradable” does not mean that they won’t sit there for months or maybe even years for all to see. If you take something onto the trails, it should be taken out with you.
7. It is ok to wear a pack, under a few conditions.
One of my first questions to my doctor was if it is safe to wear a hiking pack while pregnant. Her response was if you usually wear a pack you should be ok under 2 conditions:
1. The weight of the pack is no more than you are used to carrying
2. The strap does not go over your belly
I will add that it is also wise to exercise some common sense. Carrying a 5 lb. Camelbak with a granola bar is probably safe during all 3 trimesters. Carrying a 20 lb. trekking pack may be ok during the 1st trimester if that is what you are used to, but I would certainly consult with a doctor before carrying that same weight in the 3rd trimester.
Speaking from experience, I carried that 20 lb. pack at around 16 weeks just fine. I could not imagine carrying that same pack at 30 weeks when I was 20 lbs heavier (not counting the weight of the pack), have a protruding belly, and constant lower back pain. I already made the decision not to carry a heavy pack during my third trimester without consulting my doctor. Sometimes it is best to trust your body and air on the side of safety.
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8. Do not obsess over heart rates, instead do the talking test.
In the 1980’s doctors would suggest keeping your heart rate below 140 beats per minute during exercise. Today, heart rate limits aren’t typically imposed during pregnancy because the effect of maternal exercise on fetal heart rate is dependent on many variables. Rather than obsessing over your heart rate, doctors suggest trying the talking test. If you can carry on a normal conversation, then you are ok. On the other hand, if you are short of breath and have difficulty carrying on a conversation, that may be a sign that you are pushing yourself too hard and should slow down.
As a general rule of thumb, pregnant women who were previously highly active or regularly engaged in aerobic activity are safe to continue their activities. Of course, it is always wise to practice reasonable precautions and to consult with a doctor for any exercise during pregnancy including hiking.
9. Stay within mobile service.
Hiking in the great outdoors is where you generally go to disconnect and recharge in nature. With that being said, during pregnancy is not the time to go off the grid, or at least not completely. Be sure to carry a phone with you and to stay within mobile service. Keep your phone turned off and tucked away in your pocket or pack so that it is not a distraction but take it with you. Fingers crossed you will not need it, however, should there be an emergency you will be glad you prepared accordingly.
10. Plan to go slower than you normally would.
Again, it is important to anticipate challenges and to plan accordingly. In my non-pregnant body, Scott and I typically maintain a 30-minute mile hiking pace. Throw in steep inclines, an additional 25 lbs. of baby weight, and excessive potty stops, and that pace can easily double or triple. I learned this the hard way when Scott and I were hiking the Three Ridges Trail in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains.
Although I like to consider myself pretty tough and didn’t think that being 16 weeks pregnant would slow me down much, I was wrong. We ended up hiking at a 1+ hour per mile pace which set us back substantially. We intended to finish the full loop in about 7 hours. It instead took us about 15 hours leaving us to hike the remaining 1.6 miles in complete darkness in prime black bear territory (not an ideal situation).
Plan your hiking adventure knowing that you may be going quite a bit slower than usual. Factor in frequent breaks for a snack, sip of water, a potty break, or just a breather. Take your time and don’t overexert yourself.
11. Don’t go alone.
It is always wise to hike with a buddy for many reasons. Hiking while pregnant is just one more situation where it is ideal to have a companion with you on the trail. Should something happen, you do not need to deal with the crisis on your own.
Two or more people also means two or more people to distribute the weight of snacks and water. On one of our hikes, I overestimated how much I would be able to carry and ended up offloading some of my gear and snacks into Scott’s pack. This was a great relief for my pregnant back.
12. Listen to your body.
Last but not least, listen to your body. Everyone is different with varying fitness levels, medical histories, and pregnancy conditions. Furthermore, pregnancy is unpredictable. One day you may feel ready to conquer the world and the next you may be hunched over a toilet bowl. No matter where you find yourself, recognize your limits and own them. This is your pregnancy journey and no one else’s.
If you feel fatigued, lightheaded, or dizzy then stop and take a break. It is always better to air on the side of caution, especially now that you have the important responsibility of creating a beautiful life form inside of you. Practice self-awareness and allow yourself grace to tune in and listen to your body.
Have you ever tried hiking while pregnant? What tips do you have to share?