Backpacking With A Baby: A Newbies Guide
Backpacking can be intimidating. The special gear, the idea of hauling all you need on your back, and having to hike into your campsite are just some of the many hurdlers. This year was the year my husband and we were ready to take the plunge. If it wasn’t daunting enough already we brought our 4-month-old with us.
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Backpacking With a Baby
This was not a spur-of-the-moment decision. My husband and I knew we wanted to try backpacking and have been talking about it for years. But for the last five years, I have been pregnant or breastfeeding which made things seem impossible. As we kept adding more and more little ones the amount of gear to safely get everyone out grew as well.
After having our fourth baby at the end of February I decided this was the year and we were going to make it happen. I was determined to make it happen, even with a baby in tow. We decided Gigi and Papa would watch the bigger kiddos and we would do a test run with just the baby along. Starting without all the kids was a great toe dip into backpacking.
We researched local spots for backing with a strict hour radius in case we needed to bail last minute. I wanted to make sure the trail we traveled was relatively flat because I was worried about descending climbs while carrying a baby in the front and a heavy pack on my back.
After chatting with a local, we decided our route and began shopping for weather-appropriate baby clothing and accessories at our favorite local consignment shop.
As we purchased gear we made sure to test it in our living room so we felt confident setting up and taking down each piece. A couple of days before we left we laid out all our gear so we could see it and add last-minute things as we remembered them.
I also sprayed all of our clothing with Sawyer Permethrin Spray to protect ourselves from mosquitoes.
Backpacking with Baby Gear
We had been slowly picking up used gear from REI garage sales for years. We snagged our Marmot 2p Limelight tent and Big Agnes sleeping pads from the garage sale section this year. These were our last big items. There are much more technical and lighter-weight alternatives, but we had decided we would grab what we could find that was lightest and in our price range. We snagged both these items used for a screaming deal.
We borrowed a Morrison Outdoor down infant sleeping bag from a friend for our baby, while my husband and I used our old, huge synthetic sleeping bags. My husband used his 80 Liter hunting backpack meant for hauling out meat, and I carried our Gregory Zulu on my back and wore my 4-month-old in our Ergo embrace on the front.
We hiked about 4.5 miles out to Pete Lake in the Salmon La Sac Region of Washington State. When we went in early June the trail had many fallen trees and water crossings were washed out and difficult to cross. However, on our hike out, crews were already working to clear the trail. This trail is in Alpine Wilderness so clean-up takes time as gas-powered machinery of any kind is not permitted.
We choose to hike straight there without breaks to make sure we had plenty of time to set up camp and try out the gear before dusk. Our baby alternated between nursing and sleeping snuggled in her front pack during our hike and was content looking at nature during her wake times. This was the perfect age where our little one was content in the pack the whole hike with minimal effort on our part.
Sleeping While Camping
Getting to sleep in a new environment can be difficult, especially when you have a baby. We focused on a couple of important things that we feel helped us get the most sleep possible. The sleep techniques that worked will be ever-evolving as our baby grows older. What worked for us and this age might not work best for your kiddo at a different age.
When we first envisioned backpacking we pictured being lulled to sleep by the sounds of nature. However, once we decided we were bringing our baby along we instead focused on making the environment feel as familiar as possible for our little one. The birds, creek, and other sounds of nature will have to be enjoyed during our waking hours.
In our house, we are BIG fans of white noise and all of our children sleep with a sound machine. For travel, we use the portable, rechargeable Hush. We have used this in cars, planes, and tents and it serves as a cue to our kiddos that it is time for sleep. Just make sure to bring a small battery bank to recharge if staying for multiple nights or using for longer than 6 hrs.
Dressing for the Weather
We wanted to make sure our baby would be warm and cozy for sleep without overheating. We made sure to check the weather before heading out and also brought extra layers and cozy hats in case things cooled off more than expected. Layers were keys here. I was easily able to remove or add layers as the temperature changed to make sure our baby stayed comfortable.
When our baby was snoozing and we were awake we snuck fingers down her sleeping bag to check the back of her neck and ears to make sure she was not too hot or cold. Since the baby was a new four months old she was still waking multiple times during the night to eat so I would also check her during feedings before placing her back in her bed.
We chose to pack along a portable bassinet for our 3 month old to sleep in, it gave us peace of mind she had a safe space. We also used it outside of the tent to lay her down when we were packing.TMM Team Member Jami
Baby Bed Set Up
Instead of buying something new for the baby to sleep on we shoved our snuggle me into a compression sack and brought that with us. This way the baby’s bed would smell and feel like home. The center of a snuggle me is not padded and is only a thin layer of fabric so I felt we needed something to insulate her from the ground. I found layering the pump sacks that came with our sleeping pads worked great as an insulating layer.
So How Did She Sleep?
I think this was the perfect age for her to go along. She only woke up twice during the night (which was much less than normal) and slept in until almost 9am. In the morning baby girl slept in for the first time in her life. When 8am rolled around my husband and I were up and ready to eat but baby girl was still snoozing. My husband and I kept checking her in the tent because we were in such disbelief.
She was old enough to have great head control and not feel so fragile, but was stimulated enough by being outside and playing on her back and tummy to wear herself out. Plus she wasn’t mobile which made things a whole lot easier!! As soon as we got to camp we set up the tent and the sleeping pads so baby girl would have a safe space and plenty of time to play before bedtime.
What Would We Do Differently?
After this experience, we learned a lot and have a plan for what we will do differently next time. We are excited to regroup, repack and head on our next adventure. Each time we go backpacking we will get better and better at packing and preping. We are on our way to finding the perfect set of gear specific to our family.
We were worried parents prepared for any situation that might arise so we packed WAY too much stuff. I packed a whole Costco pack of baby wipes and my husband brought a foldable saw. We quickly regretted all this extra weight a couple of miles into the trail.
During our next outing we made tough decisions deciding what was worth the extra weight and what could be cut. The foldable saw stayed at home this time but we decided the hammock was worth the extra weight when bringing little kids.
Upgrade Old Gear
Using old car camping gear and cheaper gear meant our gear was bulky and very heavy. We made a wishlist after checking out this gear post and will purchase things as we have money or when we spot great sales. Finding things on sale and quality used gear has become a fun game for my husband and I. We are always trying to one up each other on who go the better deal.
One great money saving tip is to ask family and friends to keep a look out for your wish list gear as well. Sometimes different area thrift or consignment shops will have different things on different days and your friends might spot something you would have missed.
Since our trip, I have saved enough to upgrade to a down sleeping bag that is half the weight and size of my previous bag. When you are backpacking this makes a big difference. We are focusing on upgrading sleep systems first as a baby step towards shedding weight and gaining space. We also scored our own Morrison Outdoor baby sleeping bag during Amazon Prime Days sales.
Would We Go Again??
100% yes!! My husband just took our five-year-old for her first backpacking adventure and they had the best time. She has spent the weeks since informing any person she comes in contact with that her daddy took her “backpack hiking”.
This trip went even smoother than our first. We have learned to streamline gear so much that my husband was able to carry everything in his pack leaving my five-year-old free to carry her stuffy and snacks. Our next goal is to try and take all four kiddos ages five and under.
I really felt we missed the opportunity to take my oldest backpacking when she was an infant, we were too busy trying to figure out how to be parents and didn’t realize that as an infant it would be one of the “easiest” times to backpack with a little kid. So, when Nora came along, I was determined to get out on a backpacking trip with her! So we planned a September overnight trip that was about 3.5 miles from the car. We took our 3.5 yo and 3 month old. It wasn’t perfect, but I would do it again!TMM Team Member Jami
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