Can You Go Backpacking With a Baby? Definitely.

Smiles made the heavy packs and long days of walking just a few miles well worth it

*(Excuse us for stating the obvious to those of you saying ‘duh…’. We got a lot of surprising responses and questions about taking Joey on the trail so thought we’d blog about it!)

We are in New Zealand visiting family and friends, and just got back from an amazing couple of weeks on the scenic South Island.  Usually when we visit NZ we go on a dive trip, but that wasn’t logistically possible with a five month old poo machine who requires constant attention.  We thought quite a bit about other adventures we could take on that would include Joey, and settled on a tour of the South Island including two of New Zealand’s Great Walks.  This is the easiest sort of backpacking (tramping, for the kiwis).   The walking trails are well maintained, often paved in gravel with well cut out steps in steep locations.  Campsites include shelters with a freshwater sink and a composting toilet (long drop), or you have the option to stay at a Department of Conservation (DOC) hut with bunks eliminating the need for tents and sleeping mats!

IMG_5099The biggest chunk of our trip was spent even further south on Stewart Island. Sparsely populated, with just one small town, and an abundance of birds rarely seen on ‘mainland’ NZ, this lesser known gem is well worth the traveling effort!  (More about the birds in a later post!) It took two flights from Auckland (to Christchurch then Invercargill) and a ferry ride to get there.  We did the full Rakiura Track loop over the course of four days with Joey in tow, along with all of our camping gear and his extra accessories.  Afterwards we splashed out on a night in a hotel in the town (Oban), and took a water taxi to nearby Ulva Island which is predator-free and has even more birds.

We weren’t sure how this would all pan out.  We did some practice camping in San Diego, which went off very well, but that was already two months ago- nearly 1/3 of Joey’s life!  Would he still like sleeping in the tent?  We knew he loved going for walks in his carrier, but would he love it for 8 hours a day?  With a little bit of patience and pre-planning, the answer was a resounding yes.

IMG_4527We chose the two easiest of the great walks to take on with Joey.  The Rakiura Track on Stewart Island, and the Routeburn Track in Mount Aspiring National Park.  Both were fantastic, scenic, and featured wonderful wildlife.  We took on the Rakiura Track first and learned quite a lot by the time we entered the Routeburn.  Here’s the answers to some of our FAQs, and some pro tips we picked up along the way.

How do you carry the baby? – In an ergo baby front pack. Usually Lauren carried him, but Simon had him for one day on the Routeburn and for some short day trips also.  This was perfect because it didn’t interfere too much with a backpack, Joey was comfy, his weight was mainly on my hips, and it has an integrated sleep hood for nap times.  The only downside was that it got hot.  We countered that by dressing Joey exclusively in merino wool, which wicks moisture and kept his skin dry.

Joey's diaper covers and wool clothing drying on our tent during an overnight hiking trip
Joey’s diaper covers and wool clothing drying on our tent during an overnight hiking trip

What about the rest of your stuff? – The biggest thing we learned on the Rakiura was that we needed to make everything other than the baby as light as possible.  Gone were the days of bringing whole blocks of cheese and cans of tuna for lunch, instead we packed almost exclusively dry food.

What did you bring for the baby? – Joey had two daytime outfits in merino wool.  Whenever we stayed somewhere for more than one night, we washed everything of his and it was dry before we set out again.  He had a separate merino one-piece for night time as well as his normal fleece sleep sack and muslin swaddle blanket. We brought him food, bottles, sun hat, beanie, and lots of socks (also wool!). If it was cold at night we added an adult down vest as his sleeping bag. We used a kidco pop-up play tent as protection from bugs and sun, which was critical and worth its weight. The pad underneath doubled as Joey’s nighttime mattress.

How did you entertain the baby? – He loves being outside so was self entertained almost the entire time.  He did require stretching/play time in his pop-up tent or on one of our jackets every couple of hours.  We usually coupled this with a feeding and diaper change.

IMG_4476Diapers? – We use cloth diapers at home and on routine day trips out. For multi-day trips, we still used our cloth diaper covers (or shells) that could be hand washed and would dry quickly if needed. We had 5 of those, as well as compostable hybrid inserts that could be deposited in composting toilets.  For a longer trip, it would be easier to just bring the cloth inserts that dry quickly and wash them each night.

In general, we found that this was mostly about attitude.  Once we decided to do it, the challenge was just sorting out the logistics.  We always had an escape plan if Joey’s health or happiness were to be compromised.  Our goal wasn’t to walk particularly far or fast, but to enjoy time outside together as a family.  I’m trying my hardest to make this kid a water baby 🙂 but he loved being in the forest even more than swimming or the beach.  There will be more hikes in our near future!

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