It started with a simple enough premise. After tackling a few local trails with her avid hiker husband after the birth of their son, Hike It baby Founder Shanti Sosienski Hodges decided to create a parent’s group that went on various nature hikes with little ones in tow so she’d have company whenever her husband was out of town. She wasn’t sure how many takers she’d get by forgoing the usual indoor play/coffee/cake scenario that most baby groups adhere to, but when Shanti started getting enquiries beyond the usual friends-of-friends circle she realized she was onto something. With a background in website development and graphic design, Shanti hobbled together a website and Facebook page then watched on as Hike It Baby flourished. Fast forward three years and Hike It Baby has expanded beyond its Oregon base to become a movement in its own right, each day hosting hundreds of hikes covering most of the USA and several countries abroad (eight countries internationally and growing).
For Happy Place Hunters, the appeal of Hike It Baby goes beyond discovering new hiking trails with like-minded explorer families near home, but also the ability to discover new places and connect with a knowledgeable network of hiking families on your travels, too.
So without ado, here’s five minutes with Shanti about the Hike It Baby platform.
Q: How would you describe Hike It Baby for those unfamiliar with it?
A: Hike it Baby is an online platform dedicated to getting families together in nature with birth to school age kids. There are so many things out there for kids once they hit school, but in those early years there just aren’t groups that are all family and nature based working on getting people together. It’s an isolating time so we create that space for parents to meet and kids to play. Also there’s this notion that babies don’t need nature in the same way as kids, but that’s not true. Sun, rain, wind, snow, all of the elements are so critical to children’s growth.
Q: What was the goal behind putting Hike It Baby together?
A: Ultimately I hope that it becomes a resource for parents for a long time to come, so when my son has kids he can find community with Hike it Baby. It’s a great way to travel and find “your people” no matter where you go. We are all nature loving and focused on the same thing — getting outside with little ones even if it just means a walk around the block. For me personally it was a way to make a social group that I could fit into being an older parent that is solo a lot because my hubby works out of town.
Q: How many states/countries does it currently cover, and how fast is it growing?
A: We are in 309 cities and in 8 countries. We add about 5-10 cities a month. It’s crazy. We are working on slowing it down a bit so every branch feels they get the due respect and support a new branch needs. That said it’s hard to turn anyone away because it feels like people “need” us.
Q: Do people have to sign up or become members? And can anyone use Hike It Baby – like say travelling families looking to go on hikes in areas they’re just passing through?
A: You have to sign a waiver on our site and set up a profile. If you are part of Hike it Baby you are part of a global community, so you can find hikes or even submit hikes in cities that may not even have branches. That’s the beauty of the online platform. So if you post in a say Baker City, OR and we don’t have a branch, people might just show up! We like people to go through the training when they get a branch going, but if they put stuff in the calendar that’s ok too.
Q: We first met many moons ago when you were working for WithItGirl, an online girl’s surf/skate/snow mag. Have you always been passionate about getting women outdoors and active?
A: Yes, but really it’s just getting people outside no matter what your situation. With Hike it Baby we have been able to pull in families with grandparents and also families with members who have disabilities. As I have “grown up” I realized that adventure is a state of mind. For me an adventure can be taking a walk to the park just down the street with Mason hitting mud puddles on every corner. At the end of the day it’s not how far you get out there, it’s just getting out there. Hike it Baby and our virtual challenges you can find that motivation no matter what shape you are in! (Check out their latest challenge here )
Q: Do you think your background working in an online space helped you in setting up Hike It Baby?
A: For sure. I knew how to build website and use social media. I had worked on newsletters, blogs and TV so I knew that if I just put the message out there showing what kind of people I wanted to meet, they would come. And they have!!! It’s actually really amazing, I have never had so many friends (and I am a friendly person). The big thing is that I am now making friendships where I really feel like I have deep bonds and support that I haven’t always felt in my life as an adult.
Q: The initial Hike It Baby website revamp was partly funded through Indigogo, is that right?
A: Actually no. The initial Indigogo actually just kept the website turned on. It’s been pretty intense funding what we are doing because people don’t realize how much support and financial need there is on a website that 7,000 people come to a day! We have 5,000 hikes in our website a month. The reality is what we made during the Indiegogo two years ago actually would only keep us running about a month these days!!!
Q: Best thing about getting outdoors with kids in tow
A: Seeing the world through a little persons eyes is magical. I literally look at mushrooms growing on our lawn now and am like “WOW, look at that” where as before I would have never given it a second thought.[image_carousel images=”1556:http://www.happyplacehunters.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Screen-Shot-2016-11-03-at-9.29.56-am.png,1555:http://www.happyplacehunters.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/17-4.jpg,” ][/image_carousel]
Q: Based on your travels, if friends from overseas with kids were to planning to visit you where’s the first place (or places) you’d recommend they’d hike?
A: So many places. I am kind of obsessed with Moab and Zion right now. Pretty epic places for families especially in the fall!
Q: The most family-friendly hiking locations you’ve encountered
A: Honestly there are so many, but checking in with Hike it baby makes a huge difference. Often a hike guide will say “easy and great views.” Translates in Oregon to switchbacks and steep cliffs. That’s a Hike it Baby joke but it’s pretty common that we have to call out hikes that guidebooks say are “family friendly” to be “family friendly if you kids is 12, not 2.” I think hands down one of my favorite trail systems for a city environment is the Wildwood in Portland. It feels like it’s miles from anywhere but is in the middle of the city.
Q: How do you juggle the whole work productivity/parent thing?
A: Not very well! I have to really put Mason time in my calendar or I can get swept up in my business!
Q: What’s been the most inspiring thing about setting up Hike It Baby
A: Seeing the relationships built between parents and watching babies who are now toddlers hold hands on the trail!!! It’s amazing to think Mason has known some of these kids since just a few months old!
Q: And finally, best piece of advice on hiking with kids you’ve ever been given
A: Hmmm I am not sure if anyone has ever given me advice on hiking with kids. I usually dole it out. I love it when people comment on the trail to me that they wish they had us (our organization) when their kids were little. That makes me feel really good and reminds me that what we are doing is helping so many people and turning heads everywhere across the planet!
Find a Hike It Baby hike near you or simply tag along for the ride:
Also, discover Shanti’s latest project, Family Forest Fest:
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Happy Place Hunter's resident Editor In Chief, Caz Emge, has written for publications around the globe for two decades. An avid outdoor buff, in her (limited) spare time she and her videographer husband and two sons gather insights for this site – sharing happy places as they find them Click to read full bio