Article Courtesy of HikeItBaby.com
Have you ever stopped on a hike to eat and have to continuously jump up to run after your adventurous toddler? Or been on a hike only to find yourself on a steep edge and feeling a little nervous about your little walking person on the trail? You are not alone. Meet Audra Ostergard, the inventor of the Let’s Go Kiddo harness from KiddoGear.
Her shared passion for getting outdoors with her daughter and her “nervousness” as a parent out there with a child in all kinds of unpredictable outdoor experiences inspired her to invent the KiddoGear Hiking Harness. When Shanti Hodges, the founder of Hike it Baby, stumbled across KiddoGear and reached out to Audra, the relationship seemed perfect. Hike it Baby could help get more families out there who were feeling nervous about trails with this extra bit of supportive equipment. Audra started a Hike it Baby branch in Nebraska in 2014 to help get others hiking in her town more.
While no equipment can ensure 100% safety on the trails, having one extra piece of security can make the parent and the child feel more confident and comfortable when out enjoying nature – or even when maneuvering through airports, malls, farmers market etc. Some may view it as a “leash”, but for many who are using it, this opens doors to trails that may not feel as accessible with younger kids. The KiddoGear harness can stay attached to you and help keep little ones from wandering too far while enjoying your snack in peace, or it can be easily unsnapped (while the child is still wearing it as a harness) so they can roam and explore.
Audra herself has found that it comes in handy when needing to use an outdoor bathroom. “I could unhook the undercarriage from the front and attach it to the back D-ring then hold her up from the d-ring position in the back,” said Ostergard. “This sounds odd but it made that experience so much easier than trying to hold her up.”
So, how did Ostergard take her experiences on trail with a kiddo and translate that to the KiddoGear Hiking Harness? With a lot of research, dedication, and patience, she and her husband played around with various iterations until they had a winning system created.
Every year she and her husband hiked Glacier National Park as a family vacation and when Logan began walking, she thought, “Well that’s the end of that vacation.” And so the KiddoGear harness was born by sewing together some dog leashes when their daughter was three-years-old.
Without the harness, Ostergard said, “I would have been a basket case. My husband would have been frustrated with me because I’m really quite scared of many things because ‘something might happen’.” Like many parents, she also needed help overcoming this fear of the “what-ifs”. “I have a very strong teeter-totter mommy mind that tilts between ‘stop worrying, things like that don’t happen’ and ‘are you nuts, people don’t let their kiddos do these things’. The harness has helped me manage that.” Logan hiked 20 miles last year in Glacier National Park at the age of six and Ostergard credits this to using the harness from an early age to gain confidence in hiking while keeping her parents more confident that she would be safer while doing so.
“Otherwise, we weren’t going to take her into bear country. We bought a sewing machine, mannequin sized for three-year olds, and my husband started sewing.” After this, they consulted with an engineering professor at a local university who helped them understand Anthropometric measurements and biomechanics (Anthropometric measurements are used to assess the size, shape and composition of the human body.) They also evaluated how backpacks are positioned on the human body along with researching five-point harness systems that are used for car seats that have the highest safety ratings. A five-point harness system is also used for race-car drivers and for fighter pilots. Later in the process, they consulted with a professional industrial sewer for stream strength and appropriate sewing stitches for safety. How many prototypes did they try before they got it right? According to Audra, “We went through ten prototypes before settling in on the current design.”
When asked what the difference is between a KiddoGear harness and the backpack harnesses that you see, Audra gave us a list:
1) The tether [on a backpack harness] attaches to the harness in a position that when suddenly pulled or tightened could knock the child off his feet. Our tether is attached to the harness at a location on the child’s back that if pulled, the child would remain on his feet.
2) The backpack backs need to be removed if your child is in a carrier, car seat, or stroller. We could put the [KiddoGear] harness on Logan at home, put her in her car seat, and then we didn’t have to navigate putting the harness on her in a parking lot. It was simply tether her up and go. Additionally, the harness is comfortable to wear in those situations.
3) The five-point harness allows all appendages to stay within the harness. Water is a power force and we felt that an upper torso only harness could come off in an extreme water situation.
4) We did have a cute little doggy pack back harness that we used before making our harness. The cute doggy [backpack] was made of terrycloth or material that would not hold up to water, terrain, and the safety measures we preferred. None of the pack back options fit what we needed and how we needed to use a harness/tether system.
The KiddoGear hiking harness is appropriate for walking age to age five with a weight limit of 70 lbs. The Ostergards still find the harness useful and have said, “Our daughter is seven and we are still using it for her – she is 4 feet tall and weighs 50 lbs.” One of the biggest perks is how easy it is to clean. Let those kids get good and muddy and simply put it in the washer and dryer afterwards!
How can we change the perception of the nay-sayers who think putting your child on a “leash” is unnecessary? The KiddoGear inventors see a leash and the harness/tether as two different things. “Our definition of a leash is a strap or restraint for a dog or an animal. Our definition of a tether is a rope like restraint used as a safety measure – such as an astronaut outside a space craft or a firefighter’s bailout tether.”
Audra herself has felt the judgement of those who may not understand the importance of the harness for them. She said, “To be completely honest, I don’t care that people think I shouldn’t put my child in a harness/tether system because she’s a confident, outdoor loving little girl who is fearless. When she was three, she hiked three-miles in Glacier. She couldn’t have done that without the harness/tether. When she was six, she hiked 20 miles. We even used the harness/tether at the shopping mail, zoo, and pumpkin patches. It actually made our trips more enjoyable where I’m not always chasing her or keeping a hand on her.”
Hike it Baby Testimonials:
Rachel Young – Talk about a stress reliever! We went on a cliff side mountain trail and I wasn’t the least bit nervous! Just one hike so far and I am sold, I love the kiddo gear harness! I’ll add, just a couple weeks ago we went hiking in similar terrain and we turned back because it was so nerve wracking! It was after that trip I decided I needed to get the harness and I’m so glad I did!
Caitlin Venczel – We used the KiddoGear hiking harness out on a hike for the first time recently. For the most part, the hike was flat and wide so no real concern, but there were a couple times that my daughter wanted to get right up to the edge of a bridge or a cliff and instead of feeling stressed that she might wiggle out of our grasp, we were able to just gently hold the harness and still let her explore. IT WAS AWESOME.
Joey Kendrick Johnson – So thankful I had it too because this trail had steep cliffs and the river was rushing so fast due to recent rains. It saved me the mini heart attacks his fearlessness normally gives me! And he enjoyed the extra freedom!
Jenny Gorsegner – The harness is a total game changer for me! Plus my daughter loves it so much that she wears it around the house to prompt me to get outside!