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 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 campOvernight Backpacking with a Toddler in Tow (3) Overnight Backpacking with a Toddler in Tow (4) 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.

Overnight Backpacking with a Toddler in Tow (5)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!

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.
Overnight Backpacking with a Toddler in Tow (1)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.

Overnight Backpacking with a Toddler in Tow (2)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!

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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. 

9 thoughts on “Overnight Backpacking with a Toddler in Tow

  • Wanda Hoadley

    13902 N E Newman Lk Dr I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. thanks, Blair

  • Wanda Hoadley

    13902 N E Newman Lk Dr I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. thanks, Blair

  • Rosada Martin

    Great article! Last summer I took my then 16 month old son backpacking in the CA sierras. I carried all my stuff on my back, and I carried him on my front in a baby Bjorn. It was about 55 pounds total! It was not comfortable, but it was a short hike, so I tolerated it. For his sleeping situation, we zipped him inside my down jacket, which worked great for a “baby sleeping bag”!

  • Rosada Martin

    Great article! Last summer I took my then 16 month old son backpacking in the CA sierras. I carried all my stuff on my back, and I carried him on my front in a baby Bjorn. It was about 55 pounds total! It was not comfortable, but it was a short hike, so I tolerated it. For his sleeping situation, we zipped him inside my down jacket, which worked great for a “baby sleeping bag”!

  • ashleybeatrice@gmail.com
    ashley c.

    Love this. We are trying to plan for our first hike as a family of 4 next spring. Im trying,to get an idea of how feasible it would be with an almost 2 year old and a 2-4 month old (were thinking april)Would you say you couldve added a 2nd babe to the mix? Are we crazy?! We are TOTALLY rookies. So we decided that its better for us to figure it out and never know what backpacking was like pre kids.

  • ashleybeatrice@gmail.com
    ashley c.

    Love this. We are trying to plan for our first hike as a family of 4 next spring. Im trying,to get an idea of how feasible it would be with an almost 2 year old and a 2-4 month old (were thinking april)Would you say you couldve added a 2nd babe to the mix? Are we crazy?! We are TOTALLY rookies. So we decided that its better for us to figure it out and never know what backpacking was like pre kids.

  • Lori

    Did you use the peapod before going on the trip? I think this will work well for us as well (and we have a similar kid carrier, so this is a perfect article!)

  • Lori

    Did you use the peapod before going on the trip? I think this will work well for us as well (and we have a similar kid carrier, so this is a perfect article!)

  • Merylin Johnson

    Blair,

    I have read your article. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Me and my husband just had a baby 3 months ago. We are both outdoors freaks and can’t stand to go hiking again. The only thing I worried about now is our baby. I am thinking about sleeping bag now. I have read tons of reviews and sleeping bag comparisons (like this one: http://campingandcamping.com/sleeping-bags-for-kids-how-to-choose-the-right-one/), but not sure yet which one to choose. I think, the best way to go would be to buy a double sleeping bag. This way you feel the baby at any given moment.

    What is your opinion?

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