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.