When I was pregnant and living on a sailboat in the South Pacific, my friends back home told me to “get my kicks in” before our first baby arrived. It made me nervous. The thought of waiting a decade (or more?) to adventure over high peaks, open ocean and fast rivers made me more nauseated than morning sickness.
After hitchhiking 6,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean as sailing crew, my husband and I conceived a child on a small tropical island in the Kingdom of Tonga. We moved home to Montana a few months before the baby was born, determined to still kick around aplenty in the outdoors.
Talon, now 10 months old, has been camping, sailing, rafting, backpacking, biking, and cross-country skiing. Many of our trips are multi-day adventures. Few are planned more than a few days in advance. Talon not only survives these trips, he thrives.
“Isn’t it hard to travel with a baby?” my friends ask. “It’s easier than staying home,” I reply. And I’m not exaggerating. While it can be difficult to juggle packing with child management on the front-end, once we’re out in the wilderness, it feels simple. Natural. Talon stares at the trees, babbles to the brooks, watches the waves, and tastes rocks and dirt. (Hey, it’s good for their immune system, right?)
Camping gear creates hours of entertainment for babes. We can cook an entire meal while Talon bangs on a pot or take a snooze while he grabs at the zippers in our tent. He sleeps best to the sound of nearby creeks.
The best part about our outdoor adventures? It makes my husband and I better parents, since we’re happier while adventuring. Here’s why I’m convinced it’s better to bring babies on outdoor adventures sooner rather than later:
Kids only get heavier. Take them backpacking or packrafting while their weight is nominal and you can go farther and move faster.
Babies don’t talk. No one asks, “Are we there yet?” except you. Sure, crying is its own (painful) language, but peaceful journeys are more likely with calm woods and quiet water.
Less gear is required. Babies don’t need shoes or sleeping bags (just zip ’em into a Patagonia bunting) or their own fishing rod/bike/boat. All they need is breast or bottle, and your warm body and smiling face.
Naps are travel-friendly. It’s tough to resist the rocking motion of your mama or papa walking you to sleep. Wearing your baby in a front- or backpack gives you trekking time while the little one sleeps. On boats, babies are lulled by the motion of the water under the bow, and they can sleep on you, in a pack-n-play rigged to the stern or under any other shade-covered creation.
Break them (and you!) in early. By the time your baby is walking and talking, think how easy the trips will become! Your wee one will be able to help out and won’t be scared of tents or rapids or hikes. Plus, if you have family adventuring systems in place when they’re newborns, it will feel less like a leap to get out and explore than if you take several years off the outdoor circuit.
Ready to hit the trail with the newest addition to the family? These three trips will ease you and baby into overnight trips this summer:
Float flat water. Sometimes it’s easier to let the current do the work and the boat do the carrying when you want to get outside. Find a nearby river that offers big beaches for setting up camp, strap your wee one into an infant life vest and untie the bowlines for a 2-3 night float.
Trek along streams. Trails near waterways tend to be mellow, since they follow the slow grade of gravity. Rather than ascending peaks or winding through mountains and valleys, pick a path that meanders along a river or creek and give yourself plenty of playtime to fish, swim and enjoy the scenery along the way.
Bike and camp. Kid carriers come in all shapes and sizes for the traveling parent, including bomber bike trailers that keep babies safe and are easy to tow. Toss your overnight gear in the Chariot, Burley or similar bike trailer, alongside your helmeted, seat-belted babe, and the family will be nestled in the woods roasting marshmallows in no time.
As you plan the next adventure with your baby, check out these parting tips before venturing out:
Start small. Try some day hikes to test out your baby carrier, and test out a short float before setting off on a multi-day trip. Rent a rustic cabin instead of camping the first time. Backpack a three-mile route to a lake instead of a 10-mile route up a peak.
Expect it to be different . . . and difficult. Set your expectations low on the epic scale but high on the memorable-moments factor.
Plan for diaper duty. Bring extra plastic bags to contain disposables or consider cloth diapers, since you can dry out and use the sun’s UV light to sanitize peed-in inserts in the sun.
Pack less than you think you need. This may not seem intuitive, but all a baby needs is enough clothes to stay warm (not clean — they will get dirty). Toys are heavy and unnecessary when nature provides free, abundant entertainment.
Take breaks often. Rest regularly for you and for baby to eat and drink and to stop and smell the roses as you congratulate yourself for getting outside.
Be safe. Check in with your instincts and use common sense in the great outdoors. And bring along a small med kit that includes nontoxic bug repellent, sunblock and a fever-reducer, just in case.
Brianna Randall (@BriannaRandall) lives in Missoula, Mont., where she toggles not-so-deftly between chasing her young son, running a communications business and fantasizing about running off to a deserted island (again). Her work has appeared in Outside, Backpacker, Scary Mommy and others.
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