Backpacking with a baby (what we pack, and how we enjoy it)

We took our baby on his first backpacking trip last May. It seemed like a great time to try it. He was seven-months old, and was sitting up well on his own but was not yet crawling. We knew it was something we wanted to do as a family. Spending time outdoors, in the heart of nature, recharges us in a way that not much else does. Not only does it provide some R & R, it also lets the daily distractions and unimportant things fall away so we can fully appreciate God’s creation all around us. And, this is a key value we hope to impart to our son. So, I started doing some research about backpacking with babies. I drew from the experience of another family who had done it and actually enjoyed it (poopy diapers, projectile spitup and all). I was inspired.

Total distance: 5 miles
Number of nights: 1
Location: Barclay Lake

We chose a hike that we were familiar with, and thought it would make an easy first backpacking destination with baby. Barclay Lake is a small sub-alpine lake at the base of Mount Baring, in our beautiful Cascade Mountains, reached by a short hike with an easy grade.

We left early on a Friday, arrived at the trailhead, and had a bit of a bumpy start when Johann had a “blowout” while we were getting our gear ready to go, forcing us to change his diaper and whole outfit immediately. We hadn’t even left the trailhead yet! But good timing, in hindsight, since we were conveniently able to change him in the spacious trunk of our car (as we had just done five minutes ago when we thought we were ready to leave the first time but, babies have their own plans I guess). When we reached the lake, we were the only ones there so we had our pick of campsites. We chose a secluded, beautiful spot by the lake and set up camp.

The short trail to Barclay Lake
The short trail to Barclay Lake

Johann was happy to ride in the Ergo while we hiked, and either napped or enjoyed the scenery. At camp, he had more freedom so it was a little more challenging and one of us had to watch him pretty closely in case he decided to roll his way towards the lake (he was a fast roller!). But, most of the time he was happy to sit on a pack rain cover and either watch what we were doing around camp or entertain himself with things like mugs, spoons, and dirt of course. The first time he worked his way over to the edge of the rain cover and reached for the dirt, I moved him back to the middle. And then he went for the dirt again. I was more relaxed when I stopped fighting it. After all, we were all going to get dirty over the next twenty-four hours.


But, there were a few challenges, too.

Sleep was a hurdle. Johann was content to stay up with us until 10 PM, when the light faded. And, he woke up the minute the sun rose over the mountains in the morning. Ryan and I were stirring at about the same time and looked over at Johann who was laying in-between us, clearly wide awake, cooing and smiling as he does when coming alive for the day. It was only 5:05 A.M.. He had no interest in going back to sleep, so I guess the day had begun! (This was unusual for all of us as his home routine was 7:30 P.M. to 7:30 A.M., in the luxury of his crib and room, and certainly no mom and dad an inch away from his face. But there’s always room for some flexibility in the name of adventure.) The cold was a slight concern, as the overnight temperature dropped into the low 40s. It was warmer inside the tent and Johann was pretty bundled up inside Ryan’s sleeping bag, but we put some extra layers on him in the morning as it got coldest right as we were waking up.

Another challenge: Doing tasks that were easier with two people, like setting up the tent and stringing up the bear bag. As long as we found something to keep him occupied, we could do these things in short stretches at a time.

Entertaining himself with a spoon while we cooked breakfast
Entertaining himself with a spoon while we cooked breakfast

What & How We Packed:
Ryan and I had distributed our pack weights so we each carried about 35 lbs, including Johann whom I front-carried in the Ergo (so I could nurse him while hiking). In hindsight we had overpacked, but we figured that was safer than leaving an essential item behind the very first time. We didn’t skimp on diapers, wipes, and extra clothes for Johann. We calculated how many diapers and wipes he would need for two days, and packed about fifty percent more. We ended up bringing half of them back home but we felt it was better to be safe than poopy. I mean, sorry. We used disposables for the trip and packed it all out. Leave No Trace! Food wise, he was exclusively nursing so we didn’t pack anything extra there. We had brought two thin burp cloths for spitup, but we decided we could make do with our bandanas and washcloth the next time. He never took a pacifier either so, even though we had carried one with us out of habit, it ended up being an unnecessary item. We did not bring any toys.

Ultimately, Johann was kind to us and seemed to enjoy all facets of the experience – exploring, sitting on the beach, gazing up at the surrounding mountains and forest canopy in open-mouthed awe, smiling sweetly at the fellow backpackers we ran into later, taking in all the birdcalls and various sounds of nature.

Exploring below Mount Baring

He was especially fascinated by the inside of the tent.

This tent is a magical place
This tent is a magical place

On the whole, we had a wonderful time and it went much easier than we expected. We were glad we did this while Johann was still so little and easy to manage. The scenery was breathtaking, and we enjoyed the peace and quiet.

Sunset over Mount Baring
Sunset over Mount Baring

Best of all, we loved the sense of accomplishment our trip brought us since this had been a big goal, and we returned home recharged and ready to do it again.

This was a year ago and as we’ve done more of these trips, we’ve faced new challenges at every stage of Johann’s growth. We worked through the challenges of the crawling and teething stage, and we’re now in the toddler stage. My, how things have changed! Look for more on this in upcoming posts.

Do you currently enjoy backpacking or camping with a baby or bigger kid? Are you considering trying it for the first time? What would help you take the leap to do it?

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