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Backpacker Magazine – February 2007

Family Camping: How to Pull it Off

87 tips for making your next family trip easy, fun, and comfortable

by: Kristin Hostetter


6 months to 2 years

As soon as your baby can hold her head up and ride in a backpack (as opposed to a front pack), you're ready. Parents can be edgy about hiking with little ones, but babies are ideal companions–they're lighter than many tents and never complain about blisters and burnt rice.

Strategy Babies are portable at this stage, so take advantage of the chance to actually hike a few miles–you'll miss this when toddlerhood comes around. Little ones love to chill out on your back and watch the scenery roll by. One key: Don't skip naptime. Most kids will be lulled to sleep by the rhythm of walking, but if yours fights it, be sure to schedule tent time.

Single biggest challenge In a word, diapers.

Sleeping arrangements First-time parents are often terrified of suffocating their baby, but old hands know that infants don't need their own bag. If your child is not a thrasher, simply snuggle the little nipper into your bag and spoon all night. Or zip together two compatible bags and let baby snooze between you and your spouse. If you just can't handle a co-sleeping scenario, zip your kid into a puffy down jacket. Just be sure she wears a hat and has her own pad. (A baby-sized rectangle of open-cell foam does the trick, and it's light in your pack.)

Become one with dirt Crawlers will get very dirty in camp. Most parents find it nerve-rackingto watch an 18-month-old slither in the dust, hands and face turning browner by the minute. But you know what? Dirt won't kill them. Resist the urge to scrub them clean every 5 minutes, and focus on real safety issues. Visually scour the campsite, and remove or blockade anything low and dangerous–holes, fire-ant hills, thorny plants, poison ivy, scat piles. Alternate 30-minute baby-watch shifts, so no one has to blurt out: "But I thought YOU were watching her!" Pack this Lots of gallon-size zipper-locks to pack out stinky diapers, and hand-sanitizing gel for post-change disinfecting. And since you'll be hauling precious, heavy cargo, hike in boots with good ankle support, and trekking poles for stability. Also, for the precious cargo, down or fleece booties are critical. A baby in a kid carrier can lose some foot circulation, especially on longer, cooler hikes.

Essential gear Babies in backpacks need to be comfortable and secure. Kelty sells several models of child carriers; kelty.com.

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READERS COMMENTS

Jeremy
Sep 02, 2010

Love the article and support for getting kids to the outdoors. We've taken ours out since they were infants!! They love it!! They sleep better in a tent than they do at home!

But, it looks like another reader needs to do some more research on co-sleeping and SIDS. The pediatricians are a little behind on this. New research is showing that babies nestled into their mothers arms are actually less likely to succumb to SIDS. Do a little research on this and you will find the same. We have co-slept with both of our babies and the benefits are numerous!!

Also, I wear trail running shoes backpacking, why would I force my kids to wear boots. If your kids are at all active in normal running shoes, they will be plenty strong enough to carry a lightweight pack. The more padding you put under your kid's (and your) feet, the more likely you are to have a twisted ankle, knee, etc. Learn how to step lightly and strengthen your feet and then you won't need all that padding and support.

Katie
Sep 02, 2010

I LOVE the idea of taking an infant camping with me some day but I am very bothered by your casual suggestion about co-sleeping. Fears regarding co-sleeping are real! A brief review of the pediatric literature will show you that co-sleeping IS considered a risk factor for SIDS. (Prone (tummy) positioning is the most important risk factor.)

Parents should at least be aware of that fact, before they decide what sleeping arrangement works for their family. As you also suggest, a small, and separate, sleeping arrangement for the infant is also feasible.

Mike C
Aug 01, 2010

I've got two girls (5&7 ) who love their "adventures". I love ASPRIN !!! My Girls wear Ariat kids boots. Their 'light & pritty' and nothing gets through the soles. They've hiked the window at big bend and the devils hallway in guadalupe NP. Aside frim the occasional piggy back ride NO PROBLEM! I really apriciate this article... hope to see more family related stuff real soon. P.S. Try energizers' crank up flash light. It's light cheap and keeps hands busy.

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