Washington - When I was pregnant and living on a yacht 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 10 years (or more?) to venture over high peaks, open ocean and fast rivers made me more nauseous than morning sickness.
After hitch-hiking 9 600km 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 kick around plenty in the outdoors.
Talon, now 10 months old, has been camping, sailing, rafting, backpacking, biking, and cross-country skiing. Many of our trips are multiday adventures. Few are planned more than a few days in advance. Talon not only survives, he thrives.
“Isn’t it hard to travel with a baby?’ my friends ask.
“It’s easier than staying at home,” I reply.
I’m not exaggerating. While it can be difficult to juggle packing with child management, 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 babies. We can cook a 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 streams.
The best part? They make my husband and I better parents, since we’re happier while adventuring. Here’s why I’m convinced it’s better to take babies on outdoor adventures sooner rather than later:
l Kids only get heavier. Take them backpacking or pack-rafting while their weight is nominal.
l Babies don’t talk. No one asks, “Are we there yet?” except you. Sure, crying is its own language, but peace is more likely with calm woods and quiet water.
l Less gear is required. Babies don’t need shoes or sleeping bags (just zip em into a Patagonia bunting). All they need is breast or bottle and your smiling face.
l 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, and they can sleep on you, in a pack-*-play rigged to the stern.
l Break them (and yourself) 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 afraid of tents or rapids or hikes. If you have family adventuring systems in place when they’re newborns, it will feel less of a leap to get out and explore.
These three tips will ease you and baby into overnight trips:
l Float flat water. Sometimes it’s easier to let the current do the work and the boat do the carrying. Find a river that has big beaches for setting up camp, strap your wee one into an infant life vest and untie the bowlines for a two- or three-day float.
l 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 take time to fish, swim and enjoy the scenery.
l Bike and camp. Kid carriers come in all shapes and sizes for the travelling parent, including bomber bike trailers that keep babies safe and are easy to tow.
Check these tips before venturing out:
l Start small. Try some day hikes to test out your baby carrier, and test out a short float before setting off on a multiday trip. Rent a cabin instead of camping the first time. Backpack a 5km route to a lake instead of a 16km route up a peak.
l Expect it to be different - and difficult. Set your expectations low on the epic scale, but high on the memorable moments factor.
l Plan for nappy duty. Bring extra plastic bags to contain disposables or consider using cloth nappies.
l Pack less than you think you need - all a baby needs is enough clothes to stay warm.
l Take breaks often. Rest regularly for you and for baby to eat and drink.
l Be safe. Use common sense in the great outdoors. And bring along a small med kit that includes non-toxic bug repellent, sunblock and a fever-reducer, just in case.