Outdoor life doesn’t end when you have children, it only gets better. So if you were an avid hiker and backpacker before the baby arrived, there is no reason you shouldn’t continue to enjoy the outdoors now that you’ve added a member to your family.
Bringing a baby along on your hiking and backpacking adventures does add some work for mom and dad. Both backpacking and babies are known for being unpredictable. That’s why it is important to know what you are getting into and be as prepared as possible before you hit the trail.
Whether you are going solo or backpacking with a baby, the thing that is most likely to make or break your trip is your physical fitness. If you can’t carry your baby and all of the gear across the room, you likely won’t make it very far on your trip. If you do make it, you’ll be hurting.
Backpacking is a full body workout. It engages your shoulders, back, core, legs and even the muscles in your feet. Depending on the length of your trip, the weight of your pack and your current fitness level, you’ll want to get in great shape before you embark on your baby-and-me adventure.
If you follow all of these tips and guidelines, your body will be fully prepared for backpacking with a baby in tow.
Your Backpacking Team
Are you planning on heading out on the trail with Junior solo? Or are you bringing along a partner or friend? If you have a group of people to help shoulder the burden (literally) you will likely have a much easier and more successful trip. This is not to say you can’t go it alone, but when you’ve added your normal gear, plus the baby, baby food, extra water, clothes, diapers, toys, etc. you’re looking at a pretty heavy pack.
If you have a buddy along for the trip, one of you can carry a few supplies and the baby, while the other keeps the bulk of the gear in their pack. Another option is to bring along man’s best friend. You don’t want to load him down but your dog can carry a few of the essentials to help lighten your load. Try these saddlebags that are made just for your dog.
Plan your trip
Whenever you are training for a backpacking trip, you should have a goal in mind so you know what you are aiming for. If you plan to hike 10 miles a day on your trip, you need to get your body conditioned to hike 10 miles a day.
The number of days you plan to be on the trail will give you an idea of the type of gear you will need and the amount of weight you will be carrying. If you can map out your route and know where there are water sources and shelters, you’ll be able to estimate how much water you will need to lug and how far you will need to travel. Try to include as many details into your trip plan as you can. There will likely be some changes in along the way, for weather or cranky-baby breaks. But having a strategy can help take some of the guesswork out of the trip and make it more fun for everyone.
It’s also important to give yourself plenty of time to get your body in shape, so try and plan your trip well in advance.
Choose your gear
Even though you might be tempted wait until closer to your big trip before you shell out the big bucks on baby friendly gear, it’s best to have it right up front. You can certainly get started by plopping the little one in an everyday carrier and hiking a few miles. But soon you’ll need to ramp up into full-scale training.
Just like when you are training for a solo trip, it means using the same gear you’ll be taking with you. You need to break-in your boots, callus up your hip bones and figure out where your water bladder fits best. It also gives your baby an opportunity to get used to the backpack and how you move in it.
So what gear should you be looking at?
The most important piece of equipment you need to invest in before you start training is your pack. You want something sturdy but light. It also needs to be comfortable for your baby to sit in for an extended period of time and comfortable for you to wear as well.
I highly recommend Osprey Packs Poco AG Child Carrier. Not only is Osprey’s reputation second to none (I use an Osprey as my regular baby-free pack), this pack comes with amenities like foot stirrups, a drool pad, sun shade and handles to keep your baby safe and happy. It is also built ergonomically for you with an adjustable torso and a suspension that will help balance all that weight.
Start slow, for you and your little one
Don’t rush yourself or your baby. Even if you are a seasoned backpacker, it always helps to start out slow and get your muscles acclimated to the hard work they’ll be doing. It will really pay off later.
Try and plan your trip out at least 8-12 weeks in advance so you have an opportunity to build strength and endurance. Your practice hikes should also build up slowly. Don’t attempt a 10-mile hike on your first go. It is better to do a few miles of moderate terrain more often than to attempt a longer, more difficult hike and be too sore to keep exercising.
If you are just starting out, it may be better to wear your baby in a wrap or carrier that they (and you) are accustomed to. Try this for a few short hikes on easy to moderate terrain before you venture out with a real pack up a mountain. This way, you will have a much better idea of how much training you will really need to do.
Go hiking every week
Backpacking, like any other sport, requires consistent training and exercise. While there are plenty of exercises that will help you to get in overall better shape, nothing will compare to actually hiking. It’s even better if you are hiking with the weight and at the distances and terrain that you will encounter on your trek.
Make sure you are hiking at least once (twice is better!) a week to get your body acclimated. Try to find trails of varying lengths, terrain, and level of difficulty. If your last hike was a steep climb up to a summit, try a longer, flatter path the following week. If you know your backpacking trip consists of a lot of rocky trails, it’s best to include some rocky paths during your training weeks.
Need some extra motivation?
Try the FitBit Charge 2. This is my new hike-ometer. I love tracking my steps, and seeing a visual of my hiking route and even my heart rate. It even has a specific hiking tracker to let you know how you are doing with your overall fitness.
Exercise on your off days
Due to time limits, most people are not able to go on an extended hike every day. But there are plenty of other exercise options to keep you working towards your goal. Aim for exercising at least 30-60 minutes, 5 times a week. This should include both cardiovascular exercise and strength training.
Try a variety of activities for the cardiovascular portion of your training. Anything that gets your heart rate up is helping to build your stamina and endurance. Try running, dancing, climbing or swimming. By varying your activities you will also vary the muscle groups that you are training. The exercises that will most simulate hiking are those that require you to engage your quadriceps and hamstrings, the large legs muscles. These activities include climbing stairs, cycling, and jumping rope.
Strength training is another important aspect to training for backpacking with a baby. If you don’t have access to weights, body-weight exercises are a great alternative. Try these body-weight exercises daily or every other day to increase strength in your legs, back, shoulders and core.
Resistance bands are another cost-effective option to build strength. This resistance band set, comes with an anchor system and bands with multiple tension levels to grow with you as you get stronger. It even comes with a booklet of the best exercises to try.
Flexibility is a major asset as a new parent and even more so when you are backpacking with a baby. What are the best ways to get and stay flexible? Work some flexibility training into your daily routine.
Dynamic stretching is a great way to get your muscles warmed up and stretched. It is considered better than the static stretches that we know from PE class because it increases your range of motion. Try these dynamic stretches to get you started. Another option for dynamic stretching is yoga. If you’re new to yoga, a great place to start is the 30 Day Yoga Challenge. It’s a gentle introduction that only takes 10 minutes a day. If you stick to it, you’ll be surprised how quickly you will start noticing your flexibility increase.
Tight hamstrings and glutes plague a lot of folks these days, especially anyone who spends a good portion of their day sitting. These two muscle groups are also the most common areas for hiking sprains and strains. If you spend most of your day at a desk, get up and walk around at regular intervals, and try these office exercises to keep your muscles relaxed.
Getting “in shape” is relative to your goals, your body and the intensity of the trip you are planning. Especially when you are first out exploring the trails and introducing your little one to the sport of backpacking, less is more. It may not be the time to try and conquer the highest mountain, the steepest ledge or the longest backcountry trail. Instead, take lots of breaks, lots of pictures and enjoy sharing your love of the outdoors with your baby.