You might be feeling overwhelmed with the idea of backpacking with a baby. We are members of online groups that encourage and support backpacking with children and some common themes are stress about the first time going out and stress about gear (which often leads to over packing!).
After thru hiking the GDT with our 8 month old son Toothless we learned a few things that worked for us. This isn’t really about the gear or stuff, but about actually hiking with a little one.
We found that all three of us appreciated taking breaks during the day. Toothless needed a break to wiggle around, we needed breaks to take our heavy packs off, sometimes we needed a few minutes to ourselves and it was also a necessary time to change diapers and feed Toothless (milk or solids).
On our GDT thru we took three breaks a day:
- After Toothless’ first nap (around 10:30am)
- At lunch
- After Toothless’ afternoon nap (around 2:30pm or so)
Normally we wouldn’t take a break on a hike this often or this long. In our 2018 GDT thru we would only really have a 30-45 minute break at lunch and fill the rest of the day hiking. But with Toothless our needs changed so our routine changed. I initially thought I might be stressed by this change but I don’t really have a problem with it. It is what it is.
Don’t worry about bringing toys
We brought one teething toy for each section because Toothless has been (and seemingly always will be) teething and we wanted to give him a safe and consistent object to chew. But otherwise he had no toys – he just interacted with his environment. He’s going to do that anyways so we just embraced it.
You do need to be careful with objects that can be choked on but this is no different in the wilderness than at a city park. We let him explore but not destroy or remove. He has a lot of fun with it.
Some of his favourite objects are sticks, signs, bear lockers and largish rocks (anything the size of a softball). He also likes climbing and walking around tables, logs, tree stumps and other large obstacles.
Toothless also loves just being brought up to larger natural objects like trees and given an opportunity to touch them. Try it out!
Sing some songs..that you can tolerate
We found that finding open ended songs that we can make up as we go to be essential for staying sane.
We made up a song “the baby on the trail” and sing that to the tune and pattern as “the wheels on the bus”. We also sang a song we learned from our online library time: “I’m in the mood for..”
The lyrics change so we can taylor them to our surroundings and our mood. Heck we can even have fun with it a bit and make jokes.
Don’t forget to play peekaboo
In a front carrier you can play games like peekaboo with your little one while moving. Just don’t forget to look where you are going!
Consider printing paper copies of their favourite books
Books are heavy and precious. So we printed copies of Toothless’ favourite books (that we already own) on paper and kept those with our maps. We replaced and changed out the books every resupply for new ones (different and fresh paper). We read a book or two before bed every day.
Keep a routine
On trail you can hold a routine just like you do at home. You just sleep in a different spot every night.
I already mentioned our breaks during the day and the bedtime books. In addition to that we basically kept every morning and evening mostly the same. The familiarity and predictable routine gave us some structure (that we sometimes had to change up). This helped Toothless anticipate the day but it also helped us be a bit more mechanical about some tasks which makes them easier and more efficient.
We even lucked out and the morning routine on trail had some commonality with our routine at home.
Normally Natasha is up once or twice at night to feed Toothless. To give her time to rest and give me time with Toothless I change his diaper in the morning and spend a couple hours with him, feed him breakfast etc. This is precious time and I value my time with him, especially when I was working. I’m sure Natasha values the extra sleep.
On trail, I still usually changed Toothless’ morning diaper. Once we got him dressed for the day, I packed my bag and would usually take him out of the tent. I would take him in the carrier while I take down our Ursacks and sort and pack the food in my bag. Natasha would take down the tent and pack it in her bag. While this is not really the same as our home routine, it has similarities to it which I think helped Toothless and certainly helped me.
Get a good night rest
Finding a sleep system that works should be one of the top priorities. It doesn’t matter if it’s bulky, heavy or unusual. As long as your baby sleeps it should be on the table to carry. A sleeping baby means the parents can sleep too. And you all need sleep on trail.
Our original hope was to have Toothless sleep on a ZLite but that didn’t work. So we used a Prolite Sleeping pad under a PeaPod for him. The PeaPod weighs the same as our tent and the Prolite is a bit heavy (but packed well). We just had to accept this. It was the only thing that would let Toothless sleep and it was worth it. He slept so well. We slept well. This made a world of a difference.
Don’t be afraid to stay in a cabin every now and then
Sometimes a cabin or extra zero day seems unnecessary but in those days when you just need a break, or the baby wants an indoor spot to crawl around, or you have to dry out gear or diapers they make a huge difference.
Just do it. Treat yourself to a night here or there.
Consider diapers carefully
Everyone talks about diapers and we could write entire posts about them. What I do suggest is do the math on volume and weight between cloth flats and disposable diapers. For us, cloth worked out to be the lightest and most versatile. But you have to consider the climate when thinking about how many diapers to carry. In areas with high precipitation or humidity, it’s possible for disposable diapers to be the best option for you and for your particular trip.
Don’t trust someone else’s math. You know how many diapers your little one needs and you know the type that works for them. Weigh them yourself and do your own math based on your situation.