Things to Know Before Backpacking with an Infant
Many people say that when you have kids it's the end of your adventure and travel life. Well, it's not true. It doesn't have to be, and we did our best to introduce our little daughter to the best life we know. Life in the wild.
It might be intimidating to know where to start when it comes to backpacking with a baby. Many might stop even considering it because the thought itself is too overwhelming. There is definitely no shortage of excuses to be found because taking care of a baby is a lot of work, and if it’s a firstborn, it is also a big lifestyle adjustment. The other thing that might seem like an obstacle is the lack of information about backpacking with an infant. Even if we already had a lot of backpacking experience, backpacking with a baby was still a little intimidating. But we really wanted to give our girl what we think is the best life. We wanted to take her to our happy place, and to be in the nature from a very young age. So even if we didn’t know much about backpacking with a baby, we decided to take it as a challenge and as an adventure in itself. I believe that if you really want something in life and put your mind to it you can achieve anything. I promise you that, as with many things, starting is the hardest part. We took it one step at a time and soon enough it wasn’t so intimidating anymore and became a normal part of life for us. We learned a lot along the way, and I wanted to share what I think are important things to consider before you go backpacking with your baby.
I believe that starting to take your baby into the outdoors at a very young age will make it easier for you and your child. We started with car camping when our daughter was only three weeks old. When she was 6 weeks old, we took her on a week long road trip where we did lots of day hiking and slept in a tent every night. By the time we took her on our first backpacking trip at three months, we already figured out how to sleep with her in a tent. It became a familiar and comfortable space for her, and she loves being inside the tent. During our day hikes we learned how to change diapers while on the trail, and our daughter got used to being carried for several hours in a row. Backpacking with a baby does require you to carry extra weight. There is not much you can do about it. But starting when your child is still small and doesn’t require a lot of things will help you gradually get in shape and become stronger as your baby grows and becomes heavier. The first six months our baby girl was not moving much and sleeping a lot, which is another thing that helps getting into backpacking with a baby at the very beginning. So don’t wait too long before you take your little one on some adventures.
Know Your Limits
I’d say that this is an important step to do for anyone going into the wilderness but especially if you are bringing a baby that is completely dependant on you. While there is a variety of hikes for different levels, you still need to know which one would be appropriate for you. Most certainly, you don’t want to find yourself on an adventure that pushes your limits and causes stress and exhaustion because you still need to be able to take care of your little one. To avoid a situation like this choose an adventure you are physically and mentally comfortable with, and make sure that you are familiar and confident in the environment you are venturing to. Some of the adventures we did with our baby girl are definitely not suitable for everyone. If you are nervous about backpacking with your baby start with a familiar and easy overnight trip that is not far from your home and only couple of hours in from the trailhead. You will learn a lot on this first warm-up adventure that will be useful for the future longer hikes.
Every baby is different and there is nobody that knows him better than you do. Some babies sleep through the night and others wake up every couple hours. These are important things to consider as they will affect your adventure. We got very lucky with our child because she was very easy and chill from the very beginning, so we never felt sleep deprived or exhausted. If you are in a different situation that doesn’t mean that backpacking is not for you. It simply means that you need to choose your adventures accordingly. Maybe instead of doing multi day through hikes where you have to walk for miles to get to your next campsite, choose to spend several days at the same backcountry campsite and take naps during the day with your baby. If you are worried that your baby might disturb others than go to a more remote and unpopular places or hike in early so that you can pick the most convenient campsite. Babies constantly go through different stages of development and growth, so being flexible and constantly figuring out how to make it work is a part of the game. I know that when our daughter will start walking we will need to figure out more things and adjust again. But we will keep getting her into the outdoors even if our adventures might look different at that point.
Research, Research, Research
Now that you have some trip criteria to consider, you can find and decide on an adventure. We do a lot of research on the area we are considering to explore, and spend many hours finding and reading trip reports, trail descriptions, and watching videos. There is a lot of information right at your fingertips. Sometimes we also stop at the Visitor Center at the area we are visiting to ask for more information about hikes, current trail conditions and weather. I have to be honest that there were few times when we were too confident in our backpacking experience and didn’t do as much research as we could have. As a result we found ourselves on an adventure we wouldn't have done with a baby if we knew what it entailed. Even if we made it out safely I wouldn’t recommend pushing your limits when you still need to take care of your child. Doing research will help you figure out if it’s the right hike for you, and also help determine which items will be essential to make you and baby comfortable during the trip.
Bring the Right Gear
Having the right gear with you will make your experience much more enjoyable. We found that babies at this young age don’t actually require a lot of items. As long as we take care of diapers, food and sleep our baby girl is happy. So don’t think that you will need to bring everything but your kitchen sink in order to take care of your child. On the other hand, pay close attention while packing to not forget any of those few essentials. We made this mistake couple of times and it was a little stressful and required making changes to our plans. I would recommend making a packing list and double checking items right before leaving on your adventure. Also try to pack in advance instead of packing last moment in a rush. The other thing to figure out is how many diapers and baby food you need to bring with you? I usually go off our daily use of diapers and formula at home to know how much I need to bring with me on the trip, and then add some more just in case. You can find more detailed information about how we carry our baby, dirty diapers, bottle feeding, baby clothing we use in the Q&A post and also “Items We Found Useful”.
Have an Emergency Plan
Even when you research the area, make the best possible adventure choice, and bring all essential gear, some unexpected things might still happen in the outdoors. I think that this is also one of the biggest fears that stop people from venturing into the wilderness with a little baby. In any situation take a long breath and calm down. While forgetting to bring diapers might seem like the end of the world, it’s a problem that can be managed with some creativity. We had some similar situations and were able to solve the problem by using items at hand instead of hiking all the way out. In some cases hiking out might be necessary. We had to cut our trip short one time when we realised that we didn’t have enough formula for our daughter. Bring a small medical kit with some medication in case you or your baby will get sick. Remember that you are your baby's first resources so take good care of yourself. For real emergencies that would require resque or help from others we pack with us a satellite communicator InReach Explorer (see more details in Q&A). It sure gives us a peace of mind having it with us in the wilderness.
Enjoy the Journey
Backpacking with a baby might require more time than usual to get to places as you will need to stop to feed and change your baby while on the trail. Also, you are carrying extra weight so don’t be hard on yourself if you are walking slower than usual because your body will get stronger with every trip. At the very beginning it felt that everything was slower and took a lot of time. But we soon started to appreciate the ability to slow down and enjoy the journey itself instead of focusing on the destination. I think that adventuring with our baby girl reminded us one of the most important things:”True adventure is not about destination but about the journey.”