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?

What if my kids grow up to hate my ways?

Exactly one year ago, we took Johann on our first backpacking trip as a family. Just a few days before we left, we were speaking with a couple we had recently met. They have a kid who is only a few months older than Johann, so I was expecting some sort of reaction when we excitedly shared our weekend plans. After the initial response of “Oh, you’re so brave for attempting to take a baby backpacking,” the other mom immediately said that she would never do this with her own child, and would never even go camping either. We asked why, and she shared a few stories from her childhood, when her parents had dragged her and her siblings along on long uncomfortable backpacking trips. She recalled that one of those had been a thirty-mile trip over five nights, and she had been ten or twelve years old at the time. It was easy to see that she had not enjoyed any of this as a child, even if it had been great fun for her parents.


The conversation with this other parent was a year ago, but it left an impression on me. It made me question my own motivation for bringing Johann along on the activities that Ryan and I enjoy. After all, I remember plenty of times from my own childhood when I’ve had to go along with stuff that was fun for my parents or extended family that I had no say in, found absolutely boring, and sometimes dreaded. So does Ryan. So do a lot of our friends. Sure, now that we are parents ourselves, we get it. But that also means we know how miserable our kid is going to feel when he gets dragged along to do something and he’s still too young to understand its purpose. And, I’m not talking about the boring things we all have to do to keep our lives running smoothly. I’m talking about good stuff. The hobbies and activities we pursue, ways in which we replenish our souls and derive joy.


What if my kid grows up to hate the stuff we do? What if my kid grows up to hate my ways?

Every parent asks this question at some point in his or her life. Maybe you’ve got older kids, or fully grown kids, and are facing this question in a different way. Or maybe you don’t worry about it. Or maybe your wisdom and perspective in parenting allows you to have peace about it. But it keeps me up at night.

What if the things we find most meaningful are absolutely boring to our kids? What if the choices we make, the lives we lead, our very values, end up being completely rejected by our kids when they grow up? As responsible parents or parents-to-be, we take a huge leap off a cliff. We pour our hearts and souls into our children, making immeasurable sacrifices of our own for them, with the same end goal in mind, hoping they will fly the coop someday as responsible, capable, ethical adult citizens who have a solid foundation, and whose choices make us proud. And there is absolutely no guarantee of how things will turn out. It’s a huge risk we take, becoming parents. Probably the biggest risk we’ll ever take.

But we do it anyway. Why?

Because it’s worth it. Because our kids are worth it.

Ryan was less rattled by the woman’s story. He pointed out that in the world of a very young child, fun is paramount. Sure, it makes sense. Before children can understand the purpose of an activity, they need to be somehow engaged in the activity, and they won’t stay engaged in the activity if they’re not having fun or being properly challenged. Eventually, Johann will have opinions of his own. He will have hobbies and interests of his own that may very well turn out to be entirely different than our own. And, eventually, he will have a say in the things that we do as a family. How we listen to, encourage, and support our kids, and how we do family adventures then will be a good test of parenthood.

Right now, Johann is only eighteen months old. So, when we’re out, he is fascinated by everything. His entire visible world is one amazing place simply waiting for discovery. On hikes, he spends long minutes gazing up at the forest canopy in wonder. He is happy to play with sticks, dirt, and mud especially. (What’s up with the mud fascination, anyway?) He squeals with glee every time we see a waterfall or rushing river. He gets very excited and flaps his arms when we see wildlife, heck, he even loves on the dogs we see at the park or on trails (whether or not they reciprocate). His world is very simple right now. He has no choice but to come along with us on our adventures, and fortunately for us he seems to be enjoying them as much as we are.

Exploring Lake Crescent, on the Olympic Peninsula, WA
Exploring Lake Crescent, on the Olympic Peninsula, WA
Inside the largest gothic Cathedral in the world, in Seville, Spain
Inside the world’s largest gothic Cathedral, in Seville, Spain
Exploring railroad tracks near home
Exploring railroad tracks near home
Taking a little break while snowshoeing
Taking a little break while snowshoeing (on Daddy’s back)
Taking in the views from West Seattle
Trying to get the best views from West Seattle
The best way to hike
The most fun way to hike

I’ve been wondering when things will get more complicated, as I know they will.

It seems silly, really, to worry about things over which I have no control. Because, at the end of the day, would I really change what I do, how I parent, out of fear?

I do what I do because of my values, my core beliefs. My why. Exploring, appreciating, and being a good steward of the world around me are key components of those values. These are things I greatly hope Johann will value someday, too, when he’s old enough to understand. Until then he will be growing up as an active participant of his parents’ world. And so, we’ll keep exposing him to the things we reasonably can, big or small, while trying to balance our sanity. But I see families who swing the pendulum too far to the other extreme, too. And that seems unbalanced. We personally don’t enjoy running around a lot. My husband is a classic introvert and, while I am not, we both truly enjoy being home and like our quiet evenings! But we do want to give Johann the chance to sample things even Ryan and I have no strong interest or ability in, things like organized sports, and things that we enjoy and appreciate but did not seriously pursue, like drama and music. Of course, we’ll teach him the things we enjoy. Ryan can’t wait to give Johann his first set of woodworking tools, and I am waiting to teach him basic cooking. Of course we’ll keep getting outside. We’ll keep traveling. We’ll keep exploring. We’ll try to make sure Johann is still enjoying himself, learning, having fun, and discovering his why along the way. So when he is old enough to have his own opinions and forge his own path, we hope to be able to guide him well. And, maybe then, the question that keeps me up at night will be a mere memory.

Have you asked yourself this same question? How do you handle it, and how do you curb the fear it induces?

Big Question: Why?

We get this question a lot, usually from people who don’t know us very well, whenever we mention that we’re doing something crazy like taking our son, Johann, kayaking or backpacking or that we’re traveling somewhere together. “Why?” The question is almost always accompanied by a bewildered expression on their faces. When we answer them, we get a “Good for you. I could never do that!” And, in response, I can’t help but ask “Why not?”

As a couple, my husband Ryan and I have always tried new things and pursued active outdoor experiences, travel, and adventure. For years before we had Johann, well-meaning friends and acquaintances would warn us about how our lives would stop when we had kids. And, we always said that when we had kids, our lives would not stop, because we would simply bring them along on our adventures.

Our son Johann is eighteen months old now. To name just a few of his adventures so far…he has hiked over a hundred miles with us (lashed to either me or Ryan), visited more countries than either Ryan or I had before we turned eighteen, gone camping and backpacking with us multiple times, eaten more strange and new foods than either of us had while we were kids, gone kayaking with us a few times, and gone swimming in pristine but frigid alpine lakes and two of the world’s oceans.

We know Johann is only one tiny kid, and our family is still growing, so we know it will get harder. But, so far, none of this has been easy. A lot of it has been challenging. But all of it has been worth it. And, our adventures will not stop. We have set these priorities, and accepted the risks that have come with them, so we get to continue doing the things we found fun in our pre-baby days only now in family-mode.

But it’s not just about fun. It’s bigger than that. It’s also about the pursuit of lifelong learning. Our kids are going to learn more from actually doing these things right alongside us, than by just reading about them or watching others do them. Learning doesn’t stop either. We learn new things every day, and we want to set the right example for our kids.

It’s also about simple purposeful living. We try hard to organize our time and budget around the things we value most. This is the reason we have no debt, and why we live below our means so we can instead save up for more meaningful things like world travel. It is why we cook and eat dinner together at the table every night we’re home. It is why we read books together and separately every day and love our local library. It is why I became a stay-at-home-mom, why we don’t have smartphones and don’t pay for TV programming, why the cars we drive are eight and fifteen-years old and fully-paid-for. It is why we grow a backyard garden and are slowly converting our lawn to all edible landscaping, bit by bit. It is why we use cloth diapers on our kid (which we’ve found to be a far cheaper and more environmentally-friendly alternative to disposables), and why we get joy from giving to and serving others. It is the reason we get outside so much (because the best entertainment and exercise is simply being in nature and it’s free). Someday, we hope our kids will form their worldviews based on these values, which allow us to have such a richly fulfilling, and high quality of life.

Another question we often get is “Why now? Why not when the kids are older?” The answer may be different for you, but for us there’s no time like the present. We have our health and energy now, and we like being able to establish momentum and figure things out while Johann is so young and forgiving. And, we like being able to go places now while he’s not yet tied down to a school calendar, and have the freedom to explore places at less crowded times and in the off-season. And, we want to take him places while he’s small and relatively easy to manage. (We’ve already seen the difference in air travel and miss how easy it was to fly with him when he was a sweet, immobile, squishy infant.)

But more importantly, we want him to grow up like this. We want to expose him to as many different experiences as possible now. We don’t know how big of an impact this is having on him, but he’s absorbing and learning so much right now…new environments, new foods, new cultures, new languages, etc. So, at this very impressionable age, we absolutely want our child to sample more than he will find within the four walls of our home, our town, our state, our country even.

This blog was born to document our journey, our lessons learned, our experiences, our challenges, and to offer support and encouragement to fellow new parents, parents-to-be, and anyone who is looking to get outside and explore the world with little ones and less stuff and enjoy it.

We don’t have all the answers, but we’re figuring it out as we go. Your motivation to get outside with your kids might be different than ours. Your interests might be different than ours. You might have a unique why. But if you’ve got little kids in tow like we do, our struggles are the same. And, we’ll walk alongside you.

My point is this: Use your why as momentum to do the things you really want to. Don’t be afraid to fail, and learn. There will be risks. Aren’t there always? I mean, I could get hit by a car while walking down the street. There is no prescription, or one method. Every parent, every family has to forge their own path in pursuit of the life they want, not just for their kids but also for themselves, and not let fear hold them back. We’ve seen “lives stop” for many parents, and if there is fun it’s usually a kids’ activity. That’s not wrong, but it’s not a good balance. It’s one reason I started this blog: To encourage and support you to get outside with your little ones and enjoy it. And, you don’t need to bring your whole house along, either. It is possible to do it simply, with less stuff. We don’t want our kids to change us, but we want to influence our kids to explore and appreciate the wonder that is in the world. These are some of our reasons. This is our why.