How do you take a baby backpacking? Its not as hard as you think.
I don’t mean to oversimplify the process. No doubt, going backpacking with infants or toddlers is a bit more challenging than when you were single or only sharing the trail with your spouse. But from the response my wife and I get while undertaking these family adventures, it seems far too many people use their kids as an excuse to end their multi-day trips in the mountains. They think it is more dangerous or difficult than is worth the effort. But this is simply not true.
Using our recent backpacking trip near Marble, Colorado with our 14 month old this last summer, I will give an example on how to execute such a trip.
First, let me say that going backpacking with children is not impossible. At first, shoot for an overnight trip until you are comfortable going farther. Taking your baby into the backcountry will require a bit of planning with gear and supplies. My wife carried our daughter using an Osprey Poco child carrier pack. I used my old Golite Quest 4500 cu. In. pack. Between the two of us, we brought our Black Diamond Mega light tent (This is a floorless design that holds four people tightly, and weighs less than 2lbs) and two Sierra Designs down sleeping bags rated to 15 degrees and weighing just over 2lbs each- to make up our heaviest pieces of gear. The baby slept inside the sleeping bag with my wife, which was perfectly warm enough for her. (If you feel it might be too cold for the child, bring an extra fleece blanket or sleeping bag.)
We chose a moderately difficult 11 mile loop on a straight forward path that took us up 3000 foot of elevation gain and loss, and then back down toward the same trailhead. The town of Marble was within walking distance of the trail, which made us feel better in case of an emergency.
I carried most of the gear since my wife carried our daughter. Between the two of us, we also divvied up two day’s worth of food (granola, chips, trail mix, freeze dried, and other dry foods), a small REI titanium cookset, two titanium Snow peak mugs and snow peak sporks, a small coffee drip with coffee grounds, and puffy down coats for each of us. You will obviously carry more weight with the child than you would alone for an overnight trip, but in reality, it wouldn’t be (much) more than a multi-day trip without the child, depending on how much he or she weighs. Our setup this particular trip meant we could each carry less than 35lbs, and with plenty of extra food and clothing that were not essential. With a bigger budget for gear, someone could go much lighter.
Our first day in the backcountry was tough. We spent it climbing through raspberry bushes, and then into a hot basin. At dusk, the mosquitos were fairly heavy, but we found by the end of the day we were trailblazing toward a treeless alpine bowl that had not been visited all year. From here on we had the backcountry to ourselves.
Our first camp was along a bubbling brook. Just before dark, we watched a group of velvet horned deer make their way from the treeless alpine into studded shrubbery below. That night, the stars were on full display without the light polluting presence of a big city.
The next day was mostly spent traversing a section of alpine ridge, and then dropping down toward the trailhead we had come from the next day. All in all, our journey took two full days at an easy pace, and only about 11 miles total. It was just the perfect distance to get us away from the crowds, but not too far away from civilization for us to feel uncomfortable.
I won’t lie and say the trip was flowery and perfect. Changing poopy diapers isn’t very fun- nor is carrying them around for two days. My wife and I also argued a couple of times when deciding which section of trail to take, or how best to care for the screaming baby. At times, she did cry an awful lot- but more than not- she delighted in the sights and sounds of the mountains. Our favorite moment was when we stopped for lunch, and baby Myla played in a patch of Alpine Lilly’s. Despite the difficulties of traveling with a baby, it is always worth it in the end.
Though you might move slower, and you will be occupied with taking care of an(other) human being(s), the backcountry’s beauty is both timeless and independent of circumstances. I find my trips to be as enjoyable with the kids as I am alone. More than anything else, however, taking small children in the backcountry gives you the chance to see the mountains with fresh eyes- the eyes of those little ones.
(I want to explicitly say, this is not a perfect “how-to” guide to taking infants into the backcountry, and I do not take responsibility for accidents that might occur to anyone after they have read this and tried it themselves. I simply want to show people by example that it is possible to take small children into the backcountry. In regards to safety, there are places that simply are not safe to take infants. This can be due to exposure- like harsh weather; or dangerous animals, like places with a high density of grizzly bears. A person should always take these factors into consideration when planning a backcountry excursion with or without little ones. Carrying bear spray is not a bad idea- and my wife and I bring a can each on every trip. It goes without saying that checking the weather before heading out on an overnight trip is a must: snow fall, freezing rain, and the possibility of lighting should discourage one from taking children into the backcountry. One should also always have a back-up plan for an emergency. I carry an ACR personal locator beacon with me on my backpacking trips if things really do take a turn for the worse. Also, give detailed instructions to friends and family where you are going, and how long you will we out. Be smart, and have fun. Having children should not mean an end to your backcountry adventures if you plan accordingly.)