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Backpacker Magazine – September 2001

Take Your Family Outdoors

Camping with kids can plant a wild seed in them that will grow as they do-but only if you get them Out There.

by: Alan Kesselheim

Infant to 2 years

Trail-tested tips

Child's Play
Gear and tips for kids only.
arrowInfant to 2 years
arrow2 to 6 years
arrow6 to 12 years
arrow12 to 18 years
  • Watch her head. As soon as Baby can hold her head up, you have the green light to hit the trail. Load her in a chest carrier, which allows you to shoulder a light backpack, as well.
  • Pack yummy morsels. Nursing infants need only Mama for food. Bring dried banana strips (not slices) for teething toddlers; they keep infants busy for long stretches of time, if you don't mind the drool. Bring a hand-crank food mill for grinding up the leftovers from adult meals to feed those eating some solid foods.
  • Bow to your baby. When paddling with an infant, make sure your boat has ample bow room. The youngster will sit on your lap most of the time, or nap between your feet.
  • Boatsit the baby. On canoe trips, use the beached boat as a playpen for pretoddlers. Pull the boat into camp, throw in a few toys and let Baby ramble, free from the dangers of thistles, sand, and goose poop.
    Photo by Joe & Monica Cook

  • Camp in chokeproof sites. When Baby's in the put-everything-in-his-or-her-mouth stage, seek out hiking destinations with chokeproof terrain, such as a sandy beach or grassy meadow, for campsites.
  • Ride in style. Decorate your child carrier with dangling playpen doodads to make it more like home. Baby will sleep better if you drape the official "blankie" over the carrier frame.
  • Cover those tootsies. Bundle little feet in insulated booties during cool hikes. Lack of movement, combined with restricted circulation in legs dangling from the carrier cockpit, can lead to cold piggies and irritability.
  • Bed down with care. On cold-weather trips, your down jacket atop a flattened camp chair is a fine bed for Baby. Some parents zip their bags together and sleep with baby in the middle; use the same caution you do at home to prevent smothering.
  • Batten down the hatches. Securely stake and weight your tent so it doesn't blow away while Baby is taking her nap.


The best child carriers for overnight hikes allow ample comfort for parent and child. We tested a bunch and liked these models most:

Jack Wolfskin Watchtower Premium. "Siena loves the colorful wolf-track motif and the detachable kid-size pack," says her dad. This 1,770-cubic-inch-capacity carrier offers enough storage space for a multiday trip and plenty of load-carrying comfort, thanks to a suspension system with a well-proportioned lumbar pad, a cushioned hipbelt, and adjustable load lifters. "And it's so comfortable for her," says John, "that there's little incentive for Siena to do what she's supposed to do?hike on her own two legs!" Rated for a 45-pound child. Weight: 6 lbs. 10 oz. Price: $179.

Kelty Explorer and Expedition. Backpacker parents have logged many miles in the Expedition (3,840-cubic-inch capacity) and the slightly smaller Explorer (3,140-cubic-inch capacity). The Expedition won a 1999 Editors' Choice Award (April) for its ability to carry loads of gear and a child comfortably. Roomy cockpits make these carriers best suited to older, awake toddlers, not sleeping babies. Rated for a 45-pound child. Weight: Expedition, 7 lbs. 5 oz.; Explorer, 6 lbs. 6 oz. Price: Expedition, $260; Explorer, $230.

Madden Caravan. "It's comfortable and indestructible no matter how much you carry or how far," says Jon of this rugged carrier. The suspension system is streamlined, but offers just the right amount of padding on the back and hipbelt. Two compartments (2,500 cubic inches total) carry gear, and the simple design keeps the Caravan's weight down. For kids, there are toy loops, a comfortable harness, and amply sized foot stirrups. The original Caravan won an Editors' Choice Award in 1995 (April). The Caravan provided excellent comfort when carrying up to 45 pounds of child and gear. Weight: 5 lbs. 9 oz. Price: $249.

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