Once children enter the picture, many people wonder if their hiking days are on hold until the kids are grown. You may be surprised to find out that not only do many parents take their babies and young children hiking, camping, and backpacking with them, but that it does not require a ton of extra effort or planning.
One of the biggest things to keep in mind when planning a backpacking trip involving a baby or young child is the scope, duration, and intensity of the hike. Starting with shorter and less difficult hikes is a good idea. Carrying your baby in a backpack may offset your center of gravity, so strenuous hikes (with lots of rock-climbing, etc.) may become even more challenging or demanding. If you will be blazing your own trails, monitor the branches and brambles you push aside to ensure they don’t smack your backpack-confined child in the face. Flexibility is essential – remember that babies and children have their own needs and preferences, and may not share your enthusiasm for a lengthly hiking experience.
There are a variety of ways to carry your baby, and the kind you choose will depend on you and your partner’s preferences for affordability, ease of use, style, versatility, and comfort. Slings are comfortable for baby but distribute weight unevenly, and can result in shoulder or back pain in the wearer after extended use. Soft packs can be worn on the front, back, or hip, are lightweight, and distribute the baby’s weight on the wearer’s shoulders, back, and hips. Framed carriers keep the baby up higher, feel more like a traditional hiking backpack, and can be set down on the ground with the baby still in it.
An infant will likely need times outside of the carrier to be carried in-arms, or to rest on a blanket. An older baby or toddler may need some time to stretch their legs and play outside the carrier, eat, and be changed.
In & Out (Meals & Diapers)
You will need to take breaks approximately every two hours to feed and change the baby. A breastfeeding infant or toddler is easiest to backpack with, since you won’t need to carry formula, bottles, and means to sterilize water and equipment. For older babies or toddlers that eat solids, a less cumbersome alternative to jarred baby food is to mash the adults’ food with a fork or hand-grinder. Many framed baby carriers will stand on their own, making an improvised high-chair. Finally, toddlers that enjoy feeding themselves snacks, a few bags of low-mess treats (such as raisins or pretzels) may make their time in the backpack go by more quickly.
Please don’t forget that unless you have access to waste-bins along your hike, you will need to carry out anything you bring with you; this includes soiled diapers. An alternative to hiking out with a bag of dirty cloth or disposable diapers is to use paper compostable diapers, such as G-diapers. If permissible in your area, you can bury these soiled diapers in a pit (at least 8″ deep) off the trail.
Don’t forget that while you are working up a sweat from the strenuous hike, your baby is just riding peacefully along in their carrier. Regardless of the season, plan to dress your infant or toddler in layers, and monitor their comfort level throughout the day. A sun hat, rain gear, and hand coverings are also a good idea.
Because one person will need to devote the majority of their carrying ability to the baby’s pack, you will want to try to avoid packing unnecessary equipment for the baby. Beyond food, diapers, and clothes, you will want to bring along a blanket, a few small toys to entertain the baby (clipping them to the carrier will prevent leaving them behind), hand-sanitizer or wet-wipes, insect repellent, and sunscreen. Don’t pack a separate tent or sleeping bag; sleeping with your baby between you will ensure it stays warm enough all night.
With a little preparation and a lot of flexibility, your backpacking trip with your baby is sure to be a memorable and enjoyable event for everyone!