Baby’s first backpacking trip!! In this post I’ll talk about my first overnight backpacking adventure with my 6 month old baby (I’ll refer to her as “Acorn” for the purposes of this blog) and her daddy (his first backpacking trip in 15 years!). I also include a baby-specific gear list at the end of the post.
If Acorn had been a spring or summer baby, I’m sure we would have taken her out backpacking sooner but instead she was born on a late fall evening and we’ve navigated through the cold New England winter and early spring with lots of walks and the occasional hike.
Although I would have loved to take her out backpacking sooner, there were two things holding me back. First, I couldn’t imagine taking her out for an overnight with below freezing temperatures yet (i.e., I wanted to make sure that there would be absolutely zero risk of frostbite). Second, almost all of the baby backpacking gear I found was for ages six months and up. For example, her baby sleeping bag, a Morrison Mini Mo 20 degree bag ( 9 oz; ages 6 months to 24 months) that I bought her for Christmas, and her KidCo Peapod Plus (ages 6 months to 5 years) that we got as a hand-me down and that we use to create a safe baby sleep environment in my tent (it is essentially a tent within a tent).
As Acorn’s half-birthday approached I started stalking the weather forecast in much the same way that I stalked the weather when planning my solo winter ascents of Mt. Washington. For Acorn’s first backpacking trip I was looking for a day without any rain in the forecast and with overnight lows of at least 40… not an easy feat in April in New England. As luck would have it, the only day within the 10 day forecast that met my criteria was the exact day that Acorn turned 6 months old. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than with our first family backpacking trip! :)
Forecast Day 1: Cloudy with a high of 55 and a low of 41
Forecast Day 2: Sunny with a high of 65
In addition to weather, the other big consideration for this inaugural backpacking trip was the destination. I was looking for something nearby, no more than a couple of miles of hiking along easy terrain in case we needed to bail out and head home in the middle of the night, and somewhere without many other people in case Acorn didn’t like the experience and decided to scream the whole time we packed up and hiked out. After much consideration and a phone call with the local land manager we decided on an option that was a short drive from where we were staying and had an easy hike of about a mile each way to where we were going to camp and then another short hike to an overlook with some of the best views around. The area is beautifully remote, uncrowded, and the locals prefer to keep it that way so I won’t be disclosing the location in this post.
Baby Backpacking: Day 1
Despite all my careful packing and planning, a couple of hours before we were scheduled to set off on our adventure the weather forecast become more ominous with the predicted clouds suddenly predicted to produce rain during the exact window of time when we were going to be hiking and setting up camp… definitely not ideal! Although my spirits were slightly dampened, we adopted a wait and see attitude. Especially since the forecast seemed to be changing in accordance to the old adage, “if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute, it’ll change”.
In the meantime I loaded Acorn into the carrier, put on my raincoat, and flipped my full pack onto my back. I was concerned that the overlap of the backpacking straps and the carrier might be uncomfortable, but was pleasantly surprised that they didn’t seem to interfere with each other. I was so excited about carrying my pack and my baby at the same time that I decided to take a quick stroll up the driveway to see how it felt in motion… good, all good. The only awkward bit was getting the hip belt of my pack strapped, but it ended up fitting best under the baby but over the wide part of the carrier waist band.
As the time to load the car and leave approached the sky was looking rather gray and dreary, but the forecast rain was no where to be seen and the radar made it look like the storm was going to miss us so we decided we’d give it a go. One of the advantages of the short drive and short hike was that if the weather turned we could change our mind at any moment and head back home without too much trouble.
The drive to the trailhead was dry and as we donned the baby and the backpacks the skies remained dry and we thought that maybe, just maybe, the rain would completely miss us. Of course we were wrong. Barely ten steps into the hike and I began to hear the telltale pitter patter or rain filtering through the trees and a few minutes later the cool drizzle filtered down to us.
“If it starts to pour we turn around, right?” I said/asked my partner.
“Right,” he agreed.
“I’m ok continuing with it like this though… Are you?” I continued, wanting to make sure I wasn’t dragging him into a situation he was uncomfortable with.
“Yeah, this isn’t too bad,” he replied unphased.
Despite the short-lived shower, it felt great to be out on the trail again. I’d missed backpacking, and even with the added weight of the baby and the extra body weight my postpartum body still carried, I still felt at home with the pack on my back.
At the first stream crossing we spotted a beaver in the swamp beside the trail, less than ten feet away from us. It’s probably the closest I’ve ever been to a beaver. We stopped and watched it swim alongside the trail. It gave us a glance, glided across the water, and then slick as anything it dove under the surface and disappeared. It seemed an auspicious start to our trip.
As we hiked out and set up camp we were sprinkled on with a bit if rain here and there, but nothing constant and nothing too heavy. Just enough to make us question our sanity, but by the time we got to our campsite it was easy to imagine it might start clearing soon.
In fact, by the time we finished setting up camp golden hour sun was breaking through the clouds and intermittently tickling the tops of nearby trees.
With hope of catching a glimpse of that sun, and the sunset, we decided to hike to the top of the nearby Vista to catch a view before bed. We knew setting off that our return hike would be a night hike, but we were prepared for that and it’s a hike that we’ve done after dark before.
Unfortunately the bright warm sun that had lured us from our campsite quickly gave way to darkening clouds and gusty winds. The views from the overlook were still stunning, but it was too cold and exposed to stop, nurse the baby, and change her diaper from the view spot as we’d originally intended.
As a result, the return to the campsite was epic and constituted Acorn’s first night hike. She was a bit fussy, so I stopped and did a middle of the trail diaper change, then a few minutes later Daddy did a mid-trail bottle feeding.
Eventually we made it back to our tents and settled in for the night. I nursed the baby, then gave her a bottle, and we snuggled her while we settled into some snacks of our own before finalizing our sleep arrangements for the night.
Believe it or not, we’d actually carried 4 tents with us on our little backpacking trip if you count the baby’s tent: the Peapod Plus (3.5 lbs), the Ultamid UL4 (1.4 lbs), the Copper Spur UL3 (~ 4 lbs), and my Fly Creek Platinum UL2 (1.7 lbs). Acorn would sleep in the Peapod Plus with mom in either the Ultamid or the Copper Spur and dad would sleep in either the Copper Spur or the Fly Creek UL2. Even as we set off for our hike to the overlook I was thinking that I’d sleep in the Ultamid with Acorn, but at the last minute I opted for sleeping in the Copper Spur UL3 since I wanted Acorn to have complete bug protection and didn’t want to have to zip and unzip her Peapod every time I wanted to check up on her in the night. That left Daddy in the Fly Creek UL2.
As we settled into our respective tents for the night Acorn smiled up at me from her sleeping bag, grinning ear to ear and showing no signs of sleep as I went through our nighttime bedtime routine. Then I smelled the tell tale scent of poop… Really? COULD I really smell poop through the diaper, through the fleece pajamas, and through the 800 fill down 20 degree sleeping bag? Yes, yes I could!
I was pretty happy with my diaper changing setup and can tell you happily that no poop got onto the down bag during the changing of the baby. Phew!
I lay down in my sleeping bag in my tent, next to my daughter in hers and we looked at each other and smiled. What a wonderful feeling. I reached over set my hand reassuringly on her chest and she slowly drifted off to sleep, rubbing her eyes occasionally.
After she fell asleep I lay there in the dark, serenaded by the peepers, the wood frogs, and an occasional owl and slowly drifted off to sleep too.
Excerpt from my journal entry for the night:
I awake to the sounds of a muffled baby whimper. It’s pitch black. I open my eyes, see nothing, and reach into the baby tent to make sure Acorn is ok. I grab onto what I think is her arm and move on searching for her head. I find what I think is another arm, but still no head where it is supposed to be. At this point I have a second of panic that wakes me all the rest the way up. I grab her incredibly poofy torso and pull her into my lap. She rolls towards me, rooting, and I realize her head is just fine, she’d just rotated herself 270 degrees in the tent and is hungry. What I thought were arms were legs.
I take out her pacifier and she peacefully adjusts her head to latch onto my breast and begins nursing immediately. I was worried her face might be cold because mine is, but it seems she’s perfectly cozy. It’s cold enough that the peepers have stopped now, but the wood frogs songs continue into the night. I listen as I nurse and it is beautiful and everything is right with the world, backpacking with a baby at my breast.
Acorn is back to sleep in her tent. Hopefully I’ll follow suit soon!
In the Morning
Much to my surprise Acorn seemed just as happy sleeping in her backpacking tent as in her crib at home. She woke to nurse in the middle of the night and then again as all the birds began their morning cacophony of songs. I listened to the birds singing outside the tent while Acorn nursed sweetly. Acorn opened her eyes and lifted her head startled by the staccato tapping of a woodpecker in one of the trees overhead.
“That’s a Piliated woodpecker,” I explained as she looked up at me questioningly, “It’s ok” I reassured her, and she finished nursing and fell back to sleep. I put her back into her tent and fell back to sleep too.
Finally it was time to get up and get moving and I awoke to find Acorn smiling at me from her tent. I picked her up, nursed her, and then Daddy brought me a freshly warmed bottle to top her off.
After taking care of Acorn we got up, lounged about a bit and had a wonderful breakfast of Mountain House Raspberry Crumble and Earl Grey tea. Acorn was a bit hungrier than usual and nursed a bit as we packed everything up and got ready to go.
It was such a beautiful day that I was reluctant to leave the woods, so I savored every minute of it. Besides it was such a short hike back to the car we tacked on another short hike to check out my favorite trail for spotting mayflowers on the way home.
All in all, our first backpacking adventure was a success and we’re looking forward to our next one!
Baby-Specific Backpacking Gear List
We ended up carrying 7.5 lbs of baby-specific gear, most of which was the 3.5 lbs KidCo Peapod Plus baby tent/safe baby sleep space. This was convenient as a completely contained bug-proof space to put the baby while we were pitching the other tents and setting up camp, and also a contained sleep space within the tent for our overnight adventure.
Baby Gear (7.5 lbs):
- Safe Sleeping Space (3.5 lbs): KidCo Peapod Plus (ages: 6 months – 5 years)
- Note: A popular lighter weight and less expensive alternative is the KiloFly Toddler (1.4 lbs)
- Sleeping Bag (9 oz): Morrison Outdoors Little Mo 20C Down Sleeping Bag (ages: 6 months – 2 years)
- Note: For warmer weather the Morrison Outdoors Little Mo 40C Synthetic Sleeping bag (15 oz) is an option
- Baby Carrier (1.7 lbs): Tula Explore Baby Carrier (ages: 7lbs to 45lbs or newborn to toddlerhood)
- Note: this carrier is cotton so definitely not ideal for wet weather
- Baby Ground Cloth (2.9 oz): Small tyvek sheet with animal print on it
- Baby Diaper Bag (16 oz): A gallon-sized ziploc containing
- 5- fresh diapers (5 oz)
- wipes (4 oz)
- hand sanitizer (1.2 oz)
- disposable changing pad (0.8 oz)
- 2- pacifiers (0.5 oz)
- 2 teething toys (2.6 oz)
- Backup formula (0.7 oz)
- Ziploc bag for dirty diapers (0.4 oz)
- “Indestructable” Spanish-English Book for Bedtime Routine (0.7 oz)
- Baby Clothes Bag (5 oz): A gallon-sized ziploc containing
- Extra Fleece pajamas
- Lightweight hat
- Heavyweight hat
- Burp Cloth
Since we were “dry camping” (camping without a water source) and I triple feed (supplementing breastfeeding with pumped breastmilk and formula) we carried two pre-mixed 4 oz. bottles full of formula with us as well.
In general I was happy with all of the baby gear we carried and for our next overnight am planning to carry pretty much the same set of gear. I was a little bit worried that the 20C down sleeping bag might be too warm for Acorn, but it ended up being just right… also down and baby seemed like a potentially bad combination, but it didn’t end up being a problem. If the overnight lows start creeping up towards the upper 50s we’ll switch to the synthetic 40C Mini Mo bag.
For longer trips backpacking trips I’m concerned that the cotton baby Tula might not be the best option since cotton and backpacking don’t traditionally make for the best combination. I’d definitely be interested to hear what other backpacking moms are using for a baby carrier along with their full pack. I’m also looking into baby raingear options in case we run into wetter weather.
Check out my posts about hiking and backpacking while I was pregnant with Acorn: