This post comes from Laurel Finney, Ontario Parks Learning and Education Specialist.
They say everything changes when you have a baby.
While this is true for the most part, there are some things that are not. For me, one of them is my passion for canoeing and wild places.
My partner and I are avid backcountry campers, and when our baby arrived, it was only natural that we adapt our trips to accommodate our growing family.
The following is a list of tips and tricks intended for experienced campers interested in exploring the backcountry with their little ones.
When and where to go
The best time to start backcountry canoeing with your new baby is when your family is ready.
Our baby was born in mid-July, and although we had high hopes of being able to travel to the countryside that fall, the weather prevented us from doing so until the following summer.
It’s more than okay to be a fair-weather camper and avoid peak bug season when “traveling with babies.”
Now is not the time to explore a new park or route. Follow familiar routes and campsites with your little one’s mobility in mind. Keep distances short and plan to stay in the same place for several nights.
Our baby’s first trip to the countryside was in Massassaga Provincial Park. Our entire trip only went as far as where my partner and I used to arrive on a Friday night after work before we had the baby.
Practice makes perfect
Before setting off on your trip, reconstruct parts of your adventure and get an idea of how things might work in the field.
Test your gear, set up your tent in the backyard, go on day hikes, do some paddling, car camping, start a campfire.
We did all of these things and more, expanding our adventures and trying different equipment and systems to find out what worked for our family.
Assuming a two-adult-to-one-baby ratio, plan your trip as if it were a solo trip with double the gear and delays. With an adult in charge of the baby full-time, the entire process of paddling, carrying, riding, preparing meals, etc. will be in the hands of an adult.
Better yet, bring friends and family to lend a hand. Our baby’s uncles joined us on our first trip to the countryside, spreading the workload and creating lasting memories.
What to pack
Clothing aside, babies don’t need much equipment.
Protection from the sun and rain is essential, as is a life jacket (PFD). We also recommend a soft carrier for carrying and a hammock for napping.
Pack more diapers than you think you might need. The same goes for wipes. Also consider packing a dry bag dedicated to transporting waste. Although we use cloth diapers at home, we use disposable diapers in the field.
Whether you’re breastfeeding, formula feeding, introducing solids, eating family meals, or some combination of all of these, packing food for your baby is easy.
Pack foods that the whole family can enjoy and bring lots and lots and lots of them. lots of sandwiches. A stroll down the aisle of the baby food section of your local supermarket will give you plenty of packable options.
Our baby tends to be less fussy and eats more in the country than at home, and we always have a good supply of snacks on hand while we’re in the canoe.
How to sleep
Sleeping in a tent is quite exciting, to the point that getting your baby to sleep the first night can be a challenge.
Don’t force it and enjoy the extra time around the campfire. Our baby sleeps in a sleeping bag and we layer him with pajamas depending on the nighttime temperatures.
On our first few trips we brought a small pop-up tent, but quickly switched to an extra sleeping pad placed between the two of us.
Just like at home, you’ll need to figure out what sleeping arrangement works best for your family.
The countryside is full of interesting natural objects that are sure to capture your baby’s interest and imagination. Pots, pans, and pots can also be endless sources of fun.
We tend not to bring too many toys, with the exception of the baby’s favorite stuffed animal, some bedtime stories, and, once we’re a little older, some sticker books for rainy days at the store.
Challenges and uncertainties aside, take the time to enjoy this quality time with your family.
Babies are incredibly adaptable and resilient. As long as you stay within your comfort zone, you are sure to have a safe, enjoyable and memorable experience, while raising a strong, confident, nature-loving baby.