5 Reasons To Keep Backpacking With a Baby

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Hiking, Outdoor Adventures, Parenting

“You sure have a high misery tolerance,” my friend Linsey remarks cheerfully, as she passes us on the trail. I gaze after her wistfully, coveting her easy pace as Talon screams and writhes in the pack on my back.

It’s a Friday evening in mid-July, and we’re hiking straight up the Swan Mountains to camp near some backcountry lakes for the weekend. Even though it’s mid-July, the temperature is plummeting toward freezing, and the threatening grey clouds and howling wind aren’t helping my frame of mind. Quite possibly nothing would help my frame of mind, though, since bringing a baby on a backpacking trip does indeed entail a certain level of misery.

On Trail - Rocky Mountain Front
Rob and Talon check out the view in Blackleaf Canyon on the Rocky Mountain Front.

Every time Rob and I start down a trail–with Talon on my back, and 50 pounds of camping gear on his–I vow within five minutes to never do it again. Somehow, we do it the next weekend anyway. Are we gluttons for punishment? Obviously.

We stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that our lives might not be as adventurous as before. But the real reason we keep hiting the trails, misery and all, is because by the end of the weekend in the woods, we’re both glad we got out in the wilderness.

Talon loves putting up the tent, since the poles are shiny.
Talon loves putting up the tent, since the poles are shiny.

Backpacking with a baby is hard. First there’s the whining, and kicking, and hair-pulling. Then there’s the poopy diapers–do you haul the dirty ones out? Use cloth diapers and bury the poo? (It’s a lose-lose situation either way.) Once you get to camp, it’s only slightly easier. You have to manage the wee babe for sunburn and bugs, and constantly corral him from crawling off boulders or tottering into the cook stove.

The hardest part, though, is actually the non-stop, nagging voice in my head: “This used to be fun. What if backpacking is never fun again? What if life is never fun again?” Single-track trail often breeds existential crisis–or at least walking alone for long periods adds fuel to the fire. I find, though, that if I walk for long enough, my footsteps eventually: 1) rock Talon to sleep, and 2) bring my thoughts (now influenced by the peaceful quiet of a sleeping baby) full circle to: “Life is awesome, and backpacking is the bomb.”

Picking huckleberries during a break on the trail in the Swan Mountains.
Picking huckleberries during a break on the trail in the Swan Mountains.

This cycle of misery and joy repeats more often, and with bigger peaks and valleys, than a typical day at home. Playing in the tent with a giggling baby is exhilarating; taking the 87th rock out of Talon’s mouth is exhausting. Catching a trout in the lake is a triumph; trying to cook it while Talon tips toward the flames is terrifying.

We’ve taken three backpacking trips with Talon this summer to three different mountain ranges in Montana. All in all, the impetus for our continued expeditions boils down to the fact that we love immersing ourselves in the wilderness, and enjoy introducing Talon to the magic of lakes, peaks, and trails, too.

A tight two-man tent with  all three of us is hours of fun for Talon and redefines "snuggling" at night.
A tight two-man tent with all three of us is hours of fun for Talon and redefines “snuggling” at night.

Here’s why I think it’s worth packing a baby into the woods:

1. You’ll have stories to tell. Regale your friends and family with exaggerated tales of your exploits and mis-adventures in the woods: “And then Talon took a header down the talus field toward the lake! But we caught him before that hawk swooped down to try and grab him.” They’ll think you’re insane, of course, but that’s half the fun.

2. Car camping becomes a walk in the park. Pitching a tent without having to carry it and your kid uphill several miles feels liberating. Plus, you can bring beer, games, and a big roomy tent instead of the two-man-that’s-really-a-one-man setup (which puts new meaning into the word “snuggle”).

3. It makes your home seem like a dream come true. Returning to the house lends a new appreciation for luxuries like running water, cribs, chairs, and countertops above your baby’s reach. The rooms that might have felt claustrophobic all week before your trip suddenly seem like lovely, comfy, safe zones for you and babe.

4. You get alone time surrounded by beauty. Once the baby falls asleep on your back (or switches to your partner’s back), the quiet reverberates ten-fold in the absence of his babble. The leaves look sharper, the air feels crisper, the peaks seem closer. You can breathe more deeply and think more clearly than ever before.

5. It builds endurance. Backpacking with a baby is a physical and mental strength-training exercise. Your muscle tone will improve, as will your reservoir of patience. As your tolerance for misery increases, so does your capacity for joy.

So, there you have it. Let me know how it goes if you brave the trail with a wee one on your back!

P.S. Stay tuned for my upcoming article in Backpacker for tips on taking a baby on outdoor adventures.

Practicing pad surfing in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Practicing pad surfing in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.


All Photos: (C) Rob Roberts.

packing the house to leave for our sailing trip - on the horizon line

Packing Your Home into a Small Space

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Sailing, Traveling


packing the house to leave for our sailing trip - on the horizon line
The Goodwill pile. We found approximately 221 cozies in our cupboards.

Our first day of (our first) retirement is full of dust-bunnies, boxes, and lots of trash bags.  The full chaos of moving is upon us.  Luckily, we have a whole week to move our life and our house into a 12×12-foot storage space before we fly away to Baja California where our adventures begin.  Even more luckily for us, Rob had the super-awesome idea of building a wall to divide our garage in half so that we can use the back half to store our stuff.

The up side: we only have to move all of our worldly possessions downstairs, which is rad.  But we still have to seal it, box it, wrap it, tie it, and stuff it carefully so that: a) it doesn’t mildew or get water damage, b) no rodents or creepy-crawlies destroy it, and c) it all fits into a space roughly the size of a bathroom.

rob's pile of stuff to put in his travel backpack - on the horizon line
Rob’s pile of “coming with us” stuff that’s supposed to fit in a backpack.


(Interesting factoid of the day: if you wrap your mattress in plastic or put clothes in Hefty bags, you should insert some silicone packets between the plastic and fabric first to suck up moisture.)

Here’s a typical conversation this afternoon: “Rob, I’m throwing away this ratty old blanket with holes in it,” as I toss it toward an overflowing trash bag.

“But, what if we want it for later?” Rob yells from the freezer he’s immersed in cleaning.  “Hey, cool!  I just found a whole bag of lemongrass.”  Rob also found frozen brussel sprouts, watermelon, cake with suspicious-looking blue icing, hops, and 12 packages of frozen beef.

brianna's pile and travel backpack - sailing on the horizon line
My pile of adventure stuff … minus that big drum in the black case.

Rob and I work well together — especially when we take on separate projects in separate corners and don’t ask permission when sorting and purging.  Just kidding.  We both agree on the fact that less is more in life, which will help us immensely as we pack up this week.  And, thankfully, we both agree that our couch and our bed are the most important items we own.  Everything else is just icing on the cake (though much nicer icing than what was on that nasty cake in the freezer).

Packing your life into 144 square feet + one backpack each is a good test for a relationship.  So far, so good.

I’ll let you know how we fare when the heavy lifting starts.





bri with backpack ready to sail away on the horizon line

Travel Preparations: What to Bring With You

Posted on 6 CommentsPosted in Sailing, Traveling

bri with backpack ready to sail away on the horizon lineAre you ready for Part 2 of the Travel Prep Mini-Series?  We sure are!  This entry is much more fun, since it means we’re getting closer to a final packing list and farther from those nagging logistical details of leaving our life behind.  (In case you missed Part 1, click here to read “What You Should Leave Behind.”)

Did I mention that Rob had us do a “test pack” on Christmas Eve?  Yup, that was 2 full months ago.  And that’s how excited he is to get the backpack on his back and get out to explore the South Seas.  The test pack weighed in at exactly 50 lbs, which means we should be just under the checked baggage limit (fingers crossed!).  I just laid out everything on the floor again this weekend, trying to see how the hell it will all fit.

The goals of this post include: 1) share our preparation research with other wanna-be sailors/explorers/world travelers; 2) inspire you to cast off all bowlines and simplify some; 3) convince you (and us) that we can fit everything we need for 2 years in one giant backpack each.  See below for our packing list.

abe in laundry basket - pets scared of packing parents as we get ready to sail - on the horizon line
Our dog, Abe, goes to his “safe place” in the laundry basket when he sees us pack. Wish he could come with us!

And — please — let us know what we’re forgetting!  Although, as my grandma just told me on the phone, “I guess you won’t miss what you don’t bring, right?”  Hope not.

The Packing List:

  1. BAGS.  One giant 115-liter waterproof backpack, and one small daypack each.  A small purse/travel wallet for the items in #2.  Several different dry sacks/ditty bags to organize the stuff in the giant 115-liter backpack.
  2. WALLET & DOCS.  Passport, credit cards, ATM cards, license, health insurance cards, scuba certification cards, cash.  We also made electronic and paper copies of all of important travel docs to bring with us and leave with our parents.
  3. ELECTRONICS.  MacBook Air laptop, LaCie hard drive, iPhone (complete with Navionics charts and Bad Elf GPS plugin, and its own life jacket), camera, GoPro Hero 2, recording mic, mini-speaker, iTouch, plus a Joos solar charger to keep ’em all alive and waterproof/durable cases to keep ’em all dry.  *Stay tuned for a Travel Prep post on our communication plan while at sea.
  4. CLOTHES.  3-4 of each of these items: lightweight pants, shorts/skirts, long-sleeved shirts, tank-top or t-shirts, sarongs, underwear, visors/hats, bathing suits.  Rubber rain gear and a lightweight windbreaker.  Small, lightweight puffy jacket.  For Bri: 1 dress and 1 long skirt.  Shoes: Crocs, Vibram 5-Fingers, flip-flops.
  5. SAFETY.  Delorme In-Reach for emergency tracking and rescue (you’re welcome, moms!),
    inflatable Coast Guard-certified life jackets with harness attachments, headlamps, a UV SteriPen to filter drinking water, mosquito net, dive + rigging knives, and a bomber medical kit.  *Stay tuned for a Travel Prep post detailing our medical supplies and vaccinations.
  6. a snapshot of stuff we're taking sailingTOILETRIES.  Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap (doubles as shampoo), toothpaste, toothbrush, comb, hair bands, sunscreen, all-purpose lotion, bug repellent (Rob made natural bug goop), chapstick and towel.
  7. FUN STUFF.  Snorkel and mask, rash guard, fins, books and Kindle, jump rope, yoga mat, fly fishing rod and saltwater flies.
  8. SLEEPING GEAR.  Fleece sleeping bag liners, small travel pillow and silk liner for Bri, a sarong and folded-up-sweatshirt pillow for Rob.
  9. NOVELTY ITEM.  Bri: travel backpacking guitar.  Rob: pole spear.


Click here to read more “Travel Prep” posts!


Solo Backpack from Our Home to My Headwaters

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Fishing, Hiking

Bear hangs in the wilderness are like anchors at sea — it’s what let’s me sleep comfortably in the middle of the woods.

I made this connection during a solo journey into the Rattlesnake Wilderness the first weekend in August.  Rob was busy driving a forklift and playing with power tools, helping our friends build a cabin in Southwestern Montana.  So, I seized the glorious summer weekend, threw some gear in a backpack, threw a trailer on my bike, and headed out the front door at 3pm after work.

I ride my mountain bike up 5 miles of pavement, and then 16 miles of bumpy trail along Rattlesnake Creek, towing my heavy pack.  Around 7pm, I reached the Wilderness boundary, locked the bike to fir tree, and strapped on my backpack.  I hiked up Wrangell Creek about 5 miles, and reached Little Lake, a gorgeous high mountain lake, just as night fell.  Which meant I had to HURRY to set up camp, make dinner, and then get dinner hung out of the reach of hungry bears and curious critters. 

For me, I have to hang a rope right away, so I know my food will be out of range of hungry bears.  That way I can sleep more soundly, especially when I’m all alone in the middle of the woods.  Plus, I suck at throwing, so I figure I should get the dreaded (but critical!) chore out of the way first.

I finally found a good snag halfway around Little Lake (high elevation areas = subalpine firs = tiny branches that don’t hold the weight of my hefty food bag).  Whew.  Food safe for the night.  I settled in my sleeping bag to read, and fell asleep as a lightening storm gave way to gentle rain in my cozy tent.

The next morning, after retrieving the food from it’s bear-proof spot, I decided to hike to the next lake, Glacier Lake.  The first day alone in the mountains I’m usually jumpy, clapping and singing to scare away lions, tigers, and bears (and moose).

But then I settle into the rhythm of silence. By day two and day three, I almost forget I’m not a part of the forest, and rarely make noise.  Maybe this is just because I feel slightly invincible by not getting killed on the way in.

On the second night, my comfort level was tested by 5 mountain goats that interrupted

the silence of sunset as the scrambled over a sheer cliff about 100 yards from my tent.  Awesome creatures.

On the hike out, I catalog what I forgot in my rush to leave my home for the headwaters of my backyard creek: a compass, a utensil (good thing twigs make good chopsticks), a bandana.  And what I was most glad to have with me: a fly rod, my bear hang rope, and a good book.

The reason I love backpacking–and sailing, for that matter–is that you must live in exactly that moment.  You’re only mission is to survive, to plan the next meal and find the next shelter.  There’s a beauty in that, a simplicity and a purpose that leaves me satisfied…and ready to do it all over again.



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