Pass/Fail: Backpack With a Baby

Are mother and son ready to trade the crib for a tent?

Baby’s first backpacking trip doesn’t need to be an ordeal.

“Ok, here’s my biggest fear,” I told my friend Norman, as I zipped my 13-month-old son into his fire engine jammies at our campsite in Rocky Mountain National Park. “Sam will figure out how to unzip the tent. Then he’ll wait until we’re asleep, sneak out silently, wander down to the creek, and drown.”

Norman, bless his heart, didn’t laugh. “I really don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said. So I moved on to my second-biggest (and much more realistic) fear: that Sam would respond to his first backpacking trip by howling all night, spooking the wildlife, and making me regret the whole experiment. He’s a challenging sleeper under the best of circumstances, so maybe the cold, the 8,000-foot altitude, or just the weirdness of sleeping in a tent would add up to a miserable night. As I ran through my list of worries, I wondered: Was I forcing Sam into a situation he wasn’t ready for, just because I really wanted to introduce him to backpacking?

But it was too late for second-guessing. I’d already decided it was time to share one of my biggest passions with my son. He loves riding in his kid-carrier pack for hikes—he’d already ticked off day trips in Colorado, Montana, and Alaska—but we hadn’t yet made a night of it. I didn’t want to start with car camping, in case he started screaming and woke up everyone within earshot. Backpacking, despite the extra challenges, seemed like the better—and, ideally, more fun—option. I dream of spending the next 17 years or so watching my son fall in love with the outdoors, one sunset, shooting star, and s’more at a time. Why wait to get started?

So I studied the map and drew up a packing list. I chose a spot 1.5 miles from the trailhead, along Rocky’s mellow East Inlet Trail, in case we had to beat a hasty retreat. The morning’s foreboding bank of clouds magically cleared as we finished loading up at the parking lot, triple-checking our supply of the baby happiness trifecta—diapers, wipes, and snacks. Sam babbled happily on my back as we skirted a meadow with views of round-topped Mt. Craig and climbed a rocky rise overlooking a beaver pond; he alternated between pointing at birds and yanking on my ponytail. So far, so good. Maybe I’d been silly to worry.

But we hit a snag upon arriving at our campsite. Somehow, in the last 1.5 miles, Sam’s diaper leaked pee all over his pants and the kid carrier. “This hasn’t happened on dayhikes,” I said as an excuse, remembering that I’d only brought him one pair of pants in an effort to save weight. But it was a warm summer day. “I suppose it won’t kill him to stay in these,” I said.

Sam was much too excited about exploring to let damp pants bring him down. Norman and I switched off camp-pitching chores and hovering as Sam toddled around the site—at least one extra set of hands was required to make sure he didn’t poke himself in the eye with a stick, roll down the slope to the creek, or eat (too much) dirt. He was thrilled, and his joy only grew as the light faded.

At dusk, I had one very excited (and overtired) baby on my hands. Still, it was easy to be patient with him as we listened to the wind swishing through the trees. Bundled in his footie PJs and tucked into my sleeping bag, Sam finally drifted off with his head on the bag of clean diapers.

Norman and I stayed up, whispering into the night. A fox glided through camp, revealing itself only by the gleam of its eyes. The Milky Way practically shouted for attention overhead. Pregnancy and infant care had kept me from backpacking for nearly two years. I’d missed it.

Then, that familiar, primal shriek: Sam was up. Norman held him while I rushed to load up our bear canister, but he didn’t stop screaming until I slid into the bag with him. This could be a long night.

And it was. It wasn’t so much that Sam woke up crying (twice), but that my sleeping pad turned out to be too narrow for the both of us. Frozen in one uncomfortable position on the edge, I slept little.

But in the morning, Norman and I opened our eyes and realized we’d made it through the night. When Sam woke a moment later, his face immediately broke into an incandescent grin. We are still outside! This is the greatest day ever!

Sam’s smile matched mine. My instincts had been right after all: He was ready to discover the joys of backpacking. And more than that, I felt like I’d reclaimed a missing piece of myself. Of course, parenthood demands sacrifices—but I now knew the outdoors wouldn’t be one of them.

The Verdict: Pass

It might not have been easy or comfortable, but Sam not only kept his dirt diet in check—he had a great time.

Skill: Keep Baby Happy on the Trail

Clothing Pack clothes for your baby as you would for yourself: long pants and sleeves, insulation, raingear, and a warm hat and socks (depending on weather). Always pack extra layers; this is not the time to go ruthlessly light.

Feeding Squeeze pouches of pureed baby food are lightweight and not too messy. For infants, breastfeed or mix powdered formula with purified water.

Diapers Figure out how many your baby usually goes through for your trip duration, then add three. The keys to wilderness diaper changes: A small changing pad, plenty of wipes, and hand sanitizer. Double-bag the dirty ones, store them in your bear bag or canister, and pack them out.

Bedding Share a roomy sleeping bag with your baby if you feel comfortable; use a 25-inch-wide pad or add a lightweight foam pad of his or her own next to yours. Couples can zip bags together and sleep with baby between them (double pads are great for this). Backpacker

Deal of the Week: Klymit Inertia X Frame Sleeping Pad

Get an ultralight sleeping pad for half off right now.

With Swiss-cheese-like cutouts around the legs and back, the Klymit Inertia X Frame sleeping pad may seem odd at first glance—until you look at the specs. Weighing in at a feather-light 9.1 ounces, we barely felt the Inertia X in our packs. In camp, it inflates in just a couple of breaths; when it’s time to go, this pad packs down to the size of a soda can. Buy Klymit Inertia X Frame Sleeping Pad now for $34.73 (50% off). Backpacker

Hike of the Week: Alamere Falls, CA

The classic Pacific coast waterfall is the destination; the 15-mile round-trip hike through evergreen forests, coastal grassland, and beachside cliffs is the journey.

Franco Folini

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 15 miles (out and back)
  • Time: 8-10 hours
  • Difficulty: 4 out of 5


Just over an hour’s drive northwest from the hustle and bustle of downtown San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore holds some NorCal classics: Douglas fir-lined trails, towering coastal cliffs, and Alamere Falls, a 30-foot-tall waterfall that tumbles into the ocean (one of only a couple in the Lower 48). 

The 71,000-acre park isn’t exactly a hidden paradise, with roughly 2.5 million annual visitors, but an early start is your best shot at enjoying a crowd-free trek over the 7.5-mile approach. Tip: Time the last stretch of the hike with low tide—otherwise you won’t be able to reach Alamere.

From the trailhead (38.0396, -122.7998), head south on the Bear Valley Trail, following it 3.1 miles over relatively flat terrain to a junction. Veer south onto the Glen Trail and take it 1.9 miles to the Stewart Trail, which leads 1.2 miles to the Wildcat Campground. Hike down to the beach, then, as long as the tide is low, follow the sand south to Alamere Falls. After snapping the perfect new profile pic, hike back along the beach before the tide returns and retrace your steps to the trailhead.

Tag us @backpackermag and #hikeoftheweek on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook if you do this Hike of the Week. Backpacker

Discovering Canada Capital City

Discovering Canada Capital City… For shopping with a more international flavor, try Preston Street, home of Ottawa’s Little Italy, or Chinatown in Somerset Heights. Somerset Village, with its quaint European atmosphere against the backdrop of Ottawa’s Centretown, offers many artisan studios and boutique shops housed in examples of excellent architectural craftsmanship. The city’s oldest farmer’s market still in operation is the Byward Market , which also has many unique shops and eateries nearby. Over a hundred vendors hawk their fruits, vegetables, plants and hand-made crafts here. Many festivals, such as the Canadian Tulip Festival and Ottawa Bluesfest, are also held in the vicinity. Vacation Rental Homes | Vacation Rental Caribbean

Discover Canada

Discover Canada… Discover Nouveau-Brunswick’s picturesque small towns and villages; go fly-fishing, kayaking, canoeing or rafting on its vast network of rivers; soak in the sun on its pristine beaches or catch the impressive Canadian waves. Explore the trails of the Appalachian Mountains; enjoy the coastal landscape from Hopewell Rocks – the strange “flowerpot” formations carved by the tides coming back and forth twice a day in Bay of Fundy. Vacation Rental Homes | Vacation Rental Caribbean

Discover Canada

Discover Canada… The North If you are the adventurous type, head North and you will discover a totally different world – an entirely wild one, where modern worries have no meaning. Auyuittuq National Park where you the eternal ice and the tundra spread all around, where the vast icecap Penny continues to give birth to glaciers and to shape the territory, makes, indeed, a unique discovery. Vacation Rental Homes | Vacation Rental Caribbean

Holiday in Canada

Holiday in Canada… Canada Wonderland is one of the must-visit places that offer a wide range of fun activities for the whole family. It is the country’s first and largest theme park that is in North Toronto. It is home more than 200 attractions among them roller coasters, a collection or rides and a water parks. Canada’s Wonderland seats on 330-acre and is owned by Cedar Fair. This park is the second most visited within the Cedar Fair Chain and receives millions of visitors every year, with the number standing at 3.58 million in 2013. The best time to visit this park is between September and May when it is opens its doors daily. In November, this family park only opens on weekends. Vacation Rental Homes | Vacation Rental Caribbean

Holiday in Montreal Canada

Holiday in Montreal Canada The province of Québec is primarily a French society thanks to its language and its culture. In 1974, the National Assembly (Québec’s parliament) proclaimed French to be the official language of Québec . The population is 83% francophone, while 11% of Québecers speak English in the home and 6% another language, i.e. Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Vietnamese or Portuguese. More than 40% of Québec’s population is bilingual, i.e. speaks French and English. In Montréal, where this percentage is 64%, a full 16% of the population also knows a third language. Located at the north-eastern tip of the North American continent, Québec covers an immense territory. Its 1,667,926-km 2 (643,990-sq. mi.) surface is equivalent to three times the size of France, five times the size of Japan, twice the size of Texas and seven times the size of the United Kingdom, making it Canada’s largest province . Vacation Rental Homes | Vacation Rental Caribbean

9 National Park and Monument Hikes to Beat the Crowds on Fee-Free Day

On April 20, all national parks in the U.S. will offer free admission. Skip the lines with our guide

National parks are meant to preserve and protect America’s most remarkable places for generations to come, but at the 115 parks that charge a fee, the price of entry can make them feel inaccessible for many. On fee-free days, however, the NPS goes gratis, waiving admission across the country.

“Fee-free days are always incredibly popular,” says Will Shafroth, president of the National Park Foundation, the NPS’s affiliate charity. “They inspire people to not only visit parks in their own backyard, but also perhaps venture out a bit further to a park they’ve never been to before.”

The second of these free days falls on Saturday, April 20th, the first day of National Park Week. Skip the crowds and find your own little bit of solitude with the list below. Backpacker