Trailbabies: Tramping with baby or toddler

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Hi everyone, after writing an answer to a question of Chiromum, I decided to re-post most of it here, as I know from experience that it is hard to find information about this topic, and I want to make it easy for people to find it. Excuse the length of the post, I hope it will be worth it for some people, since we had serious trouble finding any useful information on tramping with babies or toddlers when we started. This is a hugely incomplete write-up of some of our experiences from tramping with our baby and toddler, starting from a few months old to currently 19 months. As we found out that it's not only possible, but even enjoyable, to do real tramping trips with a baby or toddler, we would like to get to know other people out there who do the same. We're reasonably experienced trampers, but in no way hardcore, so assume there must be others, though we have not met any yet anywhere. Where are you? Show yourself! Please get in contact with us - we'd like to exchange experiences and tricks, and maybe we can do a bit of walking together... First off: Never, ever, understimate what babies, toddlers, and children can do, in many ways! If you give them the opportunity, they will surprise you many times, and have a ball doing it. "Second off", of course: Never, ever put anything above looking after your little ones, and don't forget it for a second, round the clock - sun protection, comfy temperature, dry, drink, food, bum, mood... It's only fair to do that. Look at native peoples around the world in all sorts of environments, with very limited equipment, and at what they do with their whole family no matter what age, and you quickly realise that it's not the children who define the limits. It's the parents and their knowledge, skill, experience; and their relationship to their little ones. Most people, including most trampers, seem to think that what we do is quite extreme, either because they think it's dangerous (more about that later), or stressful, or both - but truthfully and speaking from experience, it's neither if you do it right. We braced for a tough experience when we started it, but that never really came - of course you need to think differently, but it's in fact pretty easy, at least for us, to the point that we really REALLY can't believe how many tramping-parents do not go on these wonderful trips with their little ones! It's like breaking through a wall, once you've started and you have your head on the other side, you realise that the wall wasn't half as thick as you thought, and the other side is actually a really nice place. There are much, much more hardcore trampers than us - lots of them - and we are convinced that if we can do this and enjoy it, loads of other people can as well. All you need is a reasonable amount of tramping experience, and then add to that some thinking outside the box and a good relationship with your baby / toddler. Many people who see us seem to think we're oh so tough and "doing it all for our baby", while we're actually having a really good and quite cruisy time - but when we tell them, they think we're putting on a show. It's just so uncommon that many people simply can't believe that it should be possible, let alone enjoyable. Don't listen to the naysayers! Try it, and you will never look back. Just use your brain while you do it. We've been doing day trips and overnighters with our baby within his first few months of life; this summer we've been out around the Routeburn area for 8 days autonomously, meaning we were carrying all food and fuel and other supplies, didn't use huts or camp sites, and camped in the bush with a tarp. It was bucketing down on us most of the time and was stormy on some days, but we were warm, well fed, and safe without exception. Most of our tramping-with-baby-strategy worked well, a few things we do differently now. We borrow lots of ideas from the ultralight community, but don't consider ourselves ultralight, and have a strong emphasis on "going safe", meaning within our abilities and well equipped for the worst possible conditions. For eight days out, including 12 kg of our toddler, we usually start with a pack weight of around 24 kg each, which is not too bad considering that the food goes down day by day, and the little one starts to walk up to an hour or more each day now as well. We could go lighter, but don't; we prefer to still be able to smile even in the worst weather. The rain washed most other trampers without children out of that area while we were there, while we really had a good time - even though some more sunshine would have been nice. If you want to try it for the first time, if you can it can help to take a friend or relative along who MUST be totally committed to help with everything. Not so much for sharing the weight, but an extra pair of hands helps heaps. If that friend is throwing pebbles into a creek, the other two can pitch the tarp / tent in terrible weather much more easily, for example. Talking of weather: You MUST have a baby carrier that has a very solid rain- and storm proof rain cover all round, and your little one MUST have full polypro AND rain suit. With that, you're pretty much sorted regarding warmth. Goes without saying, taking cotton is asking for very, very serious trouble, don't even think about it, not one piece. Once baby can sit upright properly for a longer time, a back carrier is the way to go. Before that, use a front carrier or moby wrap. Macpac makes a front carrier that can be detached from its own carrying harness (the adult side) and clicked into the standard harness of a normal backpack, by the way - they don't advertise that fact, but it works perfectly and is safe. We slept under a quilt, with him between us - as we share two queen-size mattresses that are put together at home as well, nothing he wasn't used to before, no problem. Try a night in your garden before maybe if you're unsure. He always loves to go to bed underneath the tarp though, hard to keep him out of it, and loves the camp mats as well. One rule of thumb is: Take more time. Often we were surprised at how far we would get in a day, as our toddler was enjoying himself silly almost all the time, and the mood of the little one is directly related to what you can do. But sometimes things just don't work as planned, and it's important to be able to stop and call it a day soon when that happens, not be frustrated about it, and just enjoy being where you are with your children. That also seems to be the trick to make sure that he wants to go again and again - works for us - at least so far, knock on wood! In our experience, even little toddlers are much more adaptable to backcountry situations than most adults seem to be - as long as you keep them warm, well fed, dry (with the exception of feet sometimes, but that's what superwarm socks are for), and: Make them part of everything! As long as he could help pushing pegs into the ground, doing dishes, getting water etc. pp., he felt he was a real member of the family, and was SO proud and happy! Also, give him a collapsed tramping pole, and he walks like crazy for up to an hour and a half or more. Of course, people told us before that "it can't be done", "it's dangerous and irresponsible" etc. pp., and some people still tell us now. But none of them has actually seen how we do out there - if they had, they would probably agree that the way we do it it's not more dangerous than spending a day in the city with our toddler. It also is, for example, WAY (!!!) safer than cycling in say Christchurch or Auckland, with our without baby. Yet not many people realise just how dangerous doing that is. That is not an exaggeration at all - it really depends on how you do it, both of it. If you cross streets like an idiot, you do get run over. If you go to the mountains ill equipped or without enough experience etc. pp., you can have bad outcomes as well. It really depends much more on how you do it than on what you do. As a healthy parent, your guts will always tell you where the line is, if you listen to them. Respect that instinct, it's a good one. A general part of any good baby tramping strategy is: Make absolutely every single task that you need or may need to do as little time consuming as possible. That drastically increases your ability to respond to situational changes and circumstances. If your little one(s) suddenly need to stop to play with some rocks because they won't sit in the carrier anymore, it's great if you can quickly and without many complicated things to do cook dinner, for example - right there on the trailside - and if they suddenly decide to want to go on again, change your plan again, NOT eat it, but pack it up in a tupperware thingy or similar, wrap it in your sleeping bag, and eat it at night at camp where it's still warm. Just as an example, you get my point. UMBRELLAS, the larger the better, may seem odd and heavy - compare! - but they buy time galore in many situations as instant shelters. Lunch stop, nappy change, map reading, whatever - not only great for the offspring, but also for you. Basically, anything that helps keep everybody in high spirits, and anything that helps save time and hassle, is worth some extra weight multiple times. Look for those solutions. Once you start tramping with your toddler(s), you will identify them all the time. Tip: Take a pen and piece of paper, have it readily accessible all the time. On our first trips, I scribbled about half a page of notes per day, and did some serious improving of our gear back home. Without pen and paper, would hav forgotten half of it. One particular thing we do and recommend: Take an emergency beacon. They are no substitute for anything else, but add quite a decent time advantage in most situations where you do need external help. We've never needed it, never even come close, but wouldn't go without it. They can be rented from several places in town, and even locally from businesses sometimes, often even on short notice - pays to ask ahead though. For some dollars per day, it's a no-brainer. People have travelled long distances on foot with their babies, toddlers and children for millennia - with the ridiculously powerful equipment that is available today, with some bush skills and good common sense, there is absolutely no reason why we shouldn't do the same. Ramble ramble - sorry! Hope that was interesting for some people. Would be really cool to meet some other young families in the mountains some time! Have great trips! Cheers, Matt

Hey mate I dont have any kids myself but that was a very good read. Its nice to no that even once the ankle biters have come along its still possible to get out there. I read an article a few months back in NZ hunter about taking and teaching your kids about hunting and the back country in new zealand instead of sitting in front of the tv. The guy that wrote the article takes his 3 year old up to sunrise hut etc and with every trip his boy is getting faster and faster aswell as learning many new things, its very good to no. Good luck with your future tramps and have fun

Hi guys and girls and toddlers... We have also done a few tramps in the Wellington area with our 2 kids, 2 yrs and 5yrs. We have also done 3 overnight hikes into the Orongorongo and Tararua's. I totally agree with you Matt it is awesome what the kids can do. My 5 year old did so much walking and I am really proud of him. Little one is still piggy-backing with mom so no "noddy-badge" for him just yet. But he loves looking at the trees and we are always playing games with him to keep him entertained. Thanks for the tip on the pen and paper I always forget it at home and I always return home saying to my husband. "What did we say at that hut we were suppose to buy?" Happy tramping young families!!

Hi, I currently carrying our 20mnth old in a Manducca carrier for tramps, however the problem is when Im on my own I have to carry the daypack on my front, which is fine uphill but not so down hill. Does anyone have any suggestions how I can improve this so I can go walking on my own with her and necessary bits and pieces for the day or even a one nighter? Cheers Lisa :)

Thanks Jono51, it really is possible - we hope we can do our part to help let others know about it... Garth, sounds great! 2 and 5 years is probably an interesting combination as well, and you will have totally different strategies from what we currently do again - I guess as they grow older, you have to constantly adapt the way you do it in many regards. Lisa, for long day hikes it might be an option for you to add the largest possible pouches that will still let you walk properly to the waist belt of your carrier - I mean really bulky pouches. You may have to sew them on, as I don't think you'll find any accessories that will do the job. There is generally not much gear available commercially that would be suitable for tramping with toddlers, as not many people seem to do it. Please be careful in regards to what you do though; don't go further than what you are equipped for, especially if you can't pack enough stuff to be prepared for bad weather. I think unless you want to go "extremist-ultralight" in your gear choices - which would basically mean that each trip is almost a survival training, or at least could quickly turn into one - you should probably check out bigger carriers and reconsider getting one. You can still use your current carrier around town where you don't need to carry that much stuff. You will also be surprised how much lighter your little one seems to be when in a stronger carrier, it can make an enormous difference - which again is probably more than welcome when you have to carry everything yourself. We have come to the conclusion for us that to be able to do overnighters and longer trips, we need as much storage space in the carrier as we can get - which is still quite limited compared to a full size backpack. That's one of the reasons why we went with the Macpac, it is relatively spacious, and is strong enough to deal with a decent load reasonably comfortably. The Macpac is recommended up to 20 kg, but we have successfully used it around 25 on occasion. That is getting close to the limit of what this carrier can do, and it is not overly comfortable for such a weight due to lack of rigidity of the main belt and its connection with the inner frame, but it copes, and it's only the case in the first few days on very long trips. In our experience, if you want to go on trips more than just rarely, you won't regret buying a large carrier. Even on daytrips where you don't use all the volume inside, it's still much more comfortable to carry due to a more robust carrying system, and it's also easier to find stuff than digging through a pouch that is full to the brim. By the way, looking at the Manducca, I also think that cotton is a material that can get you in serious trouble in bad weather, in a carrier as much as in clothing, because it makes you very cold very quickly once it is moist or wet. Another reason why after much comparing we chose the macpac is that it has no cotton at all, and an excellent raincover which keeps the little one dry and out of the wind in about any weather. Cheers, Matt

Really enjoyed your first post with the advice to be flexible to the needs of the little 'uns. Very refreshing emotionally intelligent take on things. Kaaren and Jeph Mathias are very experienced with taking kids in to the outdoors. e.g. descents of the Mekong! Always amused to read Dervla Murphy's accounts travelling with her daughter.

Thanks heaps Matt, I hear what your saying about the Manduca, it was great when she was a wee dot around home and town but now I want to go futher a field and for longer it isnt so good. I have been looking at Macpacs on line, which in your opinion is the best one to get? Just to clear it up, I am not going to do anything silly, like over extend myself on my own or on doubtful weather days, I have just enjoyed my few day tramps with Ella on board and am exploring (online) how to expand that. It may not be an option to go solo with a toddler on overnighters simply due to what youv'e said about carrying enough stuff for if something goes wrong. Thanks heaps for sharing your experiences and knowledge with us Cheers Lisa :)

Honora: Thanks - but who are Kaaren and Jeph Mathias and Dervla Murphy, and where can I find more about them? Sorry, I have never heard their names before. Lisa: I wasn't implying you were going to do silly things, hope you didn't misunderstand that :-) As it sounds like you would like to explore what you can learn step by step, I think you should not limit yourself with equipment choices. I would wholeheartedly recommend to choose the Macpac back carrier version that offer maximum features (can't remember the name), as the full on all around rain cover and sun roof are really great safety features and expand your options dramatically. It's a bit pricey, but I think that's probably the last carrier you're going to buy. There are still things that could be done better in a carrier for "hardcore trailbabying", but at the moment I think it's the "hardcorest" carrier on the market, and you are not likely to reach its limits any time soon. Also, there are a few easy things that you can do to tune it to be even better, most of them without loosing your warranty. You may have seen my flyer at the Rapaki Track car park re "Trailbabies Wanted". If you'd like to meet for a walk some time, please let me know; I'm trying to find other parents - who are surely out there - who would like to do a bit more than walks in the park - no pressure at all, we aim to have enjoyable trips! Just a bit more than Hagley Park for starters, and maybe see how we go from there, learn together and share ideas. It's always good to share experiences, especially if there are so few other people to learn from. Am I allowed to post my email address here? If so I'll do that and you can contact me that way - as well as anyone else interested, of course, you're more than welcome! Btw, I think it would be possible to go on overnighters solo + toddler if you choose your gear and trip wisely, but probably best to start not alone to avoid frustration for you as well as your little one. Cheers, Matt

The new Macpac Vamoose looks awesome is the best baby carrier you can buy.. anywhere in the world. But we use an older Possum and it works well. If you are getting a Possum, check on trademe for a deal. Remember that it does not have to last for 20 years, just long enough for the kids to be able to walk long distances. I suggest you the get the rain cover though, which you'll probably need to buy this from Macpac.

Macpac seems to have a very noticeable business in the baby carrier world internationally, and I'm curious how it compares with the rest of their outdoor business. A while ago I had a pre-defined Google search emailing me about new instances of the word 'macpac' on the web every day or so. Once I adjusted the search to filter out everything about a particular computer product and also everything from a particular John McCain website, maybe 75% or more of the new instances popping up on the web seemed to be about Macpac baby carriers!

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Forum The campfire
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On 30 March 2010
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