In our pre-baby lives my husband Dan and I had been fairly regular backpackers. We’ve always found that there is something refreshing and recharging about being unplugged and in the woods for days at a time, often not even seeing another person. But since having our first child in July 2013, we had yet to brave a family overnight backpacking trip. Memorial Day weekend we decided it was time to give it a go, so we packed up our gear and our daughter and headed for Indian Heavens wilderness in SW Washington.
Figuring out the Gear
Figuring out how to get all our gear (which, in the past had been split between the two of our packs) along with our child and the additional items she required, took a bit of planning and careful consideration.
The items we packed in were: our two person backpacking tent, a sleeping bag and pad for Dan, G and myself, water purifier, backpacking stove and fuel, pot for cooking, silverware, miscellaneous camp kitchen equipment: matches and lighter, biodegradable soap, pocket knife, coffee press (not too essential, but a nice luxury to have on a chilly morning), two nights worth of food, clothes for everyone, a poo shovel, a first aid kit, a couple Nalgene water bottles, diapers and wipes. Whoa, that is a long list, and we worked diligently to keep it to a minimum.
We ended up putting the majority of our gear in Dan’s pack (he has a Gregory Baltoro 75). I carried G in our (slightly dated) Kelty Ridgeline child pack. Thanks to the aluminum frames on the Kelty we were able to attach gear to that as well. I was able to carry G’s sleeping bag and pad, along with most of our food and a few diapers. A quick detour in regards to G’s sleeping situation. I knew I would sleep poorly if I had to share my mummy sleeping bag with a wiggly 22 month old, so I opted to get her her own bag. I went with a Kelty Woobie 30, based on a review I found quite helpful by another camping Mama, I then detached the bottom of G’s KidCo Peapod tent and rolled it up to bring along too. These items were pretty bulky as not make for backpacking, but with a little creativity we had no problem finding space for them on the child pack.
At home we use cloth diapers, but I felt like because we had such limited space, we should use disposables. This system worked well enough for us. We brought zip-lock bags to pack out the dirties, but found that in the cold weather some of the seams ripped. We ended up using our empty backpacking food pouches to carry out the soiled diapers and that worked great!
Deciding on the Trail
We chose a pretty easy hike to Junction Lake (elevation 4,730 feet). The hike started out fairly warm with several sunbreaks, but as we made the gradual elevation gain, the weather quickly changed and we found ourselves surrounded by dense fog. We reached our destination and could barely see across the small mountain lake. We also passed through some snow along parts of the trial. We set up camp and got G (and ourselves) dressed in warmer layers. It was too wet to start a fire and in retrospect wished we had thought to pack in some emergency fire starters.
The evening went well and we made some Backpackers Pantry Pad Thai for dinner. G enjoyed playing in the meadows and stomping in the mud. We all tucked in pretty early. G slept in-between Dan and me. She did okay in the sleeping bag, but I could tell she felt a little confined, which she wasn’t used to. G woke with smiles the next morning and was excited to remember we were in the tent.
We had oatmeal and coffee for breakfast and decided that instead of staying a second night, we would continue on a four mile loop hike to see several more mountain lakes and then head back to Portland. This was a beautiful choice and G feel asleep for about an hour in the pack.
Final Thoughts on Backpacking with a Toddler
Overall, I’d say the trip was a great success. My advice to those thinking of trying an overnight hike-in trip with a little one would be to make sure to bring enough warm layers for the little one. If they get cold, no one is going to have a good time (for G this meant a quality long sleeve/pant base layer, two pairs of wool socks, two onesies, a pair of pants, a bunting, a Muddy Buddy and a beanie and sun hat). It isn’t necessary to pack them in a bunch of “extra” activities to keep them occupied; they will have fun exploring the great outdoors. If possible try to stick to their evening routine, but remember to be flexible as they are in a new and different place. The trip was actually easier than I would have guessed, and our family is looking forward to trying it again. Happy hiking!
Blair is a graduate from Portland State University who is an outdoor enthusiast and full time Mama to a sweet little girl. She enjoys working in her garden, getting out for hikes and doing yoga. Blair believes in the necessity for community, especially in the journey of motherhood. In her “spare” time, Blair works as a labor doula, supporting women with their birth experiences.