These tips are based on our first backpacking trip with our 1 year old. The tips posted here are based on my reflections post-trip and what I might have done differently on my first back-country trip with a baby “If I knew then, what I know now”. Please keep in mind that most of the tips are based on things that did not go particularly right for us on the trip. Plenty of things did also go well, and we would do it all over again in a heart beat even with the ‘hiccups’ that we had.
Choose a short hike
Choose a short hike for your first backcountry trip. By a short hike I mean something you could do even if you were sick and throwing up the whole time (like what happened to us!). That way if something goes wrong you can pack up and only have an easy hike back. Often these types of hikes take you to a nice lake which provides a great activity during the day for the kids. Then if all goes well you can go on a more challenging hike the next time. Our first time we went on a 20 km round trip hike which without a baby would have been relatively easy. Hiking 10 km down the mountain with a baby coupled with a stomach bug was not the most fun.
Try out the tent you are going to be using with your family. I don’t just mean having tried it out before the baby was born but actually try it out with your baby. We never tried out our little backpacking tent with our little one before the big hike. We had only gone camping using our ‘Glamping’ tent which has enough room for us to put our daughter’s small camping cot inside as a place for her to sleep. Our daughter likes her space when sleeping so I ended up breastfeeding her all night so that at least one of us could get a good sleep. This was very exhausting on a back country trip when you need energy.
The first time I suggest going for 1 night only. Especially if you go for a longer 20 km round trip plus hike. That way if you do not get much sleep you are back down the mountain and sleeping in your own bed the second night. Our mistake was staying an extra night after having had hardly any sleep the previous night. That is also when our whole family got sick. It was very unexpected and made the trip down very difficult. It might seem like a waste of time to gear up and go for just one night. Then again if you are crazy enough to go on the hike with you baby you probably will love being up in the mountains for even a short amount of time. If it goes well then add another night or two the next time.
Take a Nap
If you have a bad sleep the first night take a nap or rest the next day if you want to stay for more than one night. Do this instead of going on a day hike. Taking a rest with a baby along can be difficult. Take turns looking after the baby if you had a bad night the night before. Instead of resting, we decided to take a day hike the following day because we were so excited to be in the mountains. As previously mentioned I had a really bad sleep and breastfed all night. Breastfeeding burns alot of calories and I find it can be quite exhausting. All these things contributed to a hard descent on the last day.
Go with other people
You honestly never know what kind of adventure will happen even on easy trails you feel comfortable hiking. It was key that we went with some good friends. We never expected to get so sick and without that support it would have been a lot more difficult to get out of the bush ourselves. Having our friends along saved my husband an extra 6 km of hiking to go back and get our pack. It also was nice to have friends to talk with during the hike and hang out with after the kids went to bed.
Go with other people that are crazier than you
Whenever I started to think about how crazy we were to take our daughter on this backcountry trip I always looked at our friends that came along. They hiked with us with their two kids. One was the same age as our daughter (1 year old) and the other one was 4 years old. In a funny way having, them along gave us more confidence that everything was going to be okay. Unfortunately our friend, the mother of the two kids, also got very sick when she was hiking down the mountain.
Bring only the necessities. This is true for any backpacking trip. Follow the regular guidelines and add whatever food, diapers, wipes etc that you will need for your baby. Remember that you don’t want to have too much extra weight, since you’ve already got an extra 12 lbs, give or take a few, just hauling the babe around.
Pack for all weather
If the weather forecast is sunny and free of clouds, what should you bring? You bring your rain jacket and warm clothes just in case. In the mountains weather can change in an instant and I have personally experienced this on a backcountry trip in Well’s Grey National Park. From blue skies to rain and hail. Expect the unexpected especially when bringing your precious little one along.
Be prepared for anything
Make sure you have the appropriate safety gear, first aid kits and medications because you never know what can go wrong in the back country. This is true no matter how much you prepare. We made sure to bring baby Benydryl in case our daughter were to have an allergic reaction to something in the wilderness. It would be smart to even bring along an epi-pen in case of a very serious allergy you have not discovered yet.
Be prepared to sing (Or do whatever is necessary)
Most of the hike our daughter either slept or took in the nature surroundings. During any of our snack or lunch stops she would get out of the pack and explore. Unfortunately, in the last hour and a half she started to get really fussy. We knew we needed to just get to camp but our 1 year old was starting to scream. I looked at my husband who was talking with a a friend and yelled ‘Cam SING NOW!!”. (You have to realize that without children, my husband would never sing in public and especially not in front of friends. He looked at his friend and being slightly embarrassed he started belting out “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands”.)
Good Fitness and Mental Toughness
Choose a hike that you could do relatively easy without a baby. The hike we took was a moderate hike that would not have been difficult if we had not become sick. Our levels of fitness and mental toughness were appropriate for the hike we chose, and that is what made the hike as safe as possible for us to do with our daughter. You can never predict nature and the obstacles you are going to face. However, when choosing a hike to do with your baby, make sure it is one that you could easily do at your level of fitness. Also be honest with yourself. Are you mentally tough enough to get through difficult situations that might arise? You need to know your limits and your strengths, and pick you hike appropriately. My husband and I talked about this prior to the hike. I knew that I could do the hike easily by myself, but with a baby I could not have done it without him. He has a very strong level of fitness and an even greater mental toughness than me which made this hike an appropriate one for us to do as a family.
Enjoy the experience
Backcountry hiking with a baby is not necessarily ‘Fun’. Just like any backcountry hike you will find the experience of enjoying nature is not an easy walk in the park. Yes, there will be beautiful scenery, a break from your everyday life, smiles and encouragement from fellow hikers, looks of wonder and excitement in your child, and many other aspects of the hike that will be easy to enjoy. But, you have to try to enjoy the whole experience which means enjoying the sore muscles that accompany a long hike with a pack, and a baby that will occasionally whine, and need extra attention and entertainment when you’re feeling dead tired. Call me crazy, but all of that adds up to an enjoyable experience for me. Now that I have two kids, a 6 month old and a 2 year old, I am looking forward to another back country trip in the summer of 2016 that should be even more ‘enjoyable’!