My husband, Anders, and I have always loved bushwalking. It is delightful to stand atop a ridge and look out on a mountainous wilderness traversed by your feet.
When our first baby, Lottie, was born we were eager to share our love of bushwalking with her. Short walks were achievable, but as she grew, we wondered whether we could carry her with us on a multi-day bushwalk.
Spring arrived, Lottie crawled, and we made a plan to carry her on a three-day walk to the Labyrinth, in Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park. What an adventure it was: packs brimming with nappies and Cruskit biscuits, a teething and inquisitive seven-month-old baby, and a sprained ankle. We made it to the Labyrinth and home again, with memories to last a lifetime.
Buoyed by the successes (and mishaps) of our first family multi-day bushwalk we made plans for another. Two more children arrived, boys Sidney and Arthur, and each baby has had their own special trip as an introduction to multi-day bushwalking in Tasmania.
Bushwalking with your baby is wonderful. Parents can be adventurous, play in the wild and relax in the bush’s tranquility. Their new surroundings and love will fascinate your baby being held close as you walk along the track. It is a great way to introduce your baby to the bush, the first of many family adventures. With a little courage, careful preparation and creative parenting multi-day bushwalking with your baby is not only achievable but enjoyable too.
There are many things to consider before setting out on a multi-day bushwalk with your baby.
Choose a walk you are familiar with. Plan daily distances that are achievable. Consider your fitness, weight of your pack and baby’s feeding and sleep requirements. If possible, select a walk that has access to a hut. If the weather is stormy, or it unsettles your baby, they will appreciate a roof over your head. Always carry a tent for emergency shelter.
Plan to complete at least one long day-walk with your baby before your multi-day adventure. This will provide an opportunity to practice parenting in the wild and carrying a baby for extended periods. It will also give you a sign of your walking pace and help you calculate walking times for your chosen multi-day bushwalk.
When deciding if you and your baby are ready for a multi-day bushwalk consider: baby’s weight and health, your recovery after childbirth, and feeding and sleeping patterns. It is harder to carry an older baby as they are heavier and will need more breaks to explore their surroundings. Younger babies will sleep more during the day but feeding and sleeping routines can be more intensive.
Our babies were happy to be carried for most of the day between five and ten months of age (though sometimes they protested). I would be nervous taking a baby under four months of age into the wilderness. Ultimately, you will be the best judge of when you and your baby are ready for a multi-day bushwalk.
Consider the age of your baby before deciding how to carry them. Soft carriers are great for carrying young babies. They allow you to carry your baby on your front and a pack on your back. An excellent solution for multi-day walking. Your baby will enjoy being held close and sleep happily. Look for a carrier that has a hip belt as this will take some weight off your shoulders.
Young babies spend a lot of time sleeping. Walk when your baby is asleep and get some kilometres under your feet. When your baby is awake be creative, share carrying your baby on your shoulders, in your arms, or even on top of your pack.
Multi-day bushwalking with a toddler is achievable too. Though you may need more rest stops, experience a tantrum or two, and need to carry special toys and comforters. Amusingly, we carried a potty on a four-day bushwalk with our two-year-old. Backpack child carriers with a structured harness are fabulous. Many have sunshades, rain covers and storage for equipment.
Clothing and equipment
It is best to walk in a group of two or more people. You will need support to parent in the wild safely. You can also share carrying the equipment, food and your baby.
A good system for carrying your gear is: one person carries a large pack (75-90 litres capacity) with the heavier gear (eg. tent, fuel, and food). The other person carries the baby on their front in a carrier and a medium-sized pack (45-60 litres capacity) with lighter gear (eg. clothing, sleeping bags, and nappies) on their back. If carrying a toddler and using a backpack child carrier, equipment can be stored in the compartments of the carrier.
It is important to prepare for the weather you may experience on your chosen walk. This includes dressing your baby in suitable clothing and carrying spare clothes and rainwear. You will need different clothing and equipment depending on where and when you set out on your bushwalk.
We introduced all of our babies to multi-day walking in Tasmania. Despite having a temperate climate, Tasmania experiences sudden weather changes and is subject to ‘westerlies’ that can bring strong winds, rain and snow-storms at anytime of the year.
To keep our babies warm while bushwalking we dressed them in layers of clothing: merino wool tops and leggings, knitted wool vests, jumpers and pants, with the addition of a baby snowsuit and beanie if required. I love merino wool clothing, its Thermo-regulating, anti microbial, and will keep you warm even when it is wet. Perfect for a baby out in the Tasmanian wilderness for a few days.
Waterproof playsuits are wonderful for protecting your baby in wet and windy weather. These are widely available. If a baby is too small for a toddler playsuit, rolling can easily customise the length of the sleeves and legs and/or using rubber bands. Baby on the move would be comfortable in a pair of waterproof crawling pants.
A large umbrella can be useful for keeping you and baby dry over the top of your pack for ‘hands-free’ walking. Consider borrowing an extra-large Gortex jacket for your trip. You can zip baby inside for extra warmth while you are carrying them.
A small piece of sheepskin or foam makes a great mat for a baby to sleep on at night time. This has worked well for us, with our babies sleeping between us in our tent. Our babies slept in a wool sleeping bag and we used an adult down jacket as an extra blanket when it is cold.
A plastic pack liner is a useful piece of equipment when bushwalking with a baby. It makes a perfect ground mat for tummy time, crawling, feeding and changing.
Feeding your baby is time consuming and you will need to feel confident you and your baby can continue this routine whilst walking in the wilderness.
I have been lucky to have been able to breastfeed my babies, which has made feeding in the wilderness relatively uncomplicated. Though I needed to eat and drink well to maintain a milk supply. For bottle-fed babies, parents may need to consider the sterilisation of water and equipment whilst in the wilderness.
All of our babies have been enthusiastic about solid food from an early age. We carried bananas, strawberries and even an avocado when walking with our babies. Cruskit biscuits have been a hit, especially when our babies were teething. As has rehydrated bolognese sauce, mashed pasta and ‘broccoli trees’ for dinner. Commercial baby food pouches are easy to use and are available in supermarkets. You can make and freeze your own squeezable pouches for bushwalking trips. Be creative, feeding baby solid food in the wilderness is a fun challenge.
But alas, what goes in must come out and nappies will need changing in the wilderness. Calculate the number of nappies you think you will need and then add a handful of spares. You do not want to be caught short.
Here is our nappy system for a multi-day walk. We used disposable nappies changed every four hours or when required. We love using cloth nappies at home but they are impractical on a multi-day walk. Bamboo compostable nappies are a great environmentally friendly alternative. Know that they are not suitable for disposal in bush toilets and need to be carried out with you. Solids can be tipped into bush toilets or buried appropriately. We used bamboo disposable baby wipes.
We carry a dry bag with wipes, nappies, nappy rash cream and a change of clothes, stored at the top of our pack. We double bag the dirty nappies and then carry them in a roll down dry bag. We clip this onto the outside of our pack and works well to keep the smells at bay. If you are lucky, you may find you are carrying a few kilograms of dirty nappies by the end of your trip!
We loved multi-day bushwalking with our babies. With a little courage, careful preparation and creative parenting I hope that you may too.
Suggested Baby Gear List
- Soft baby carrier with a hip belt
- Dry bags for dirty nappies/clothing
- Nappies and wipes
- Plastic sheet or pack liner for ground mat
- Large umbrella
- Extra-large rain jacket
- Plastic bib and spoon
- Feeding equipment as required
- Wilderness first aid kit, plus infant medicines (eg. paracetamol, ibuprofen and nappy rash cream)
- Small foam mat or piece of sheepskin for the baby to sleep on
- Merino wool baby sleeping bag
- Baby bushwalking clothing suitable for expected weather, for a Tasmanian bushwalk consider:
- Merino wool tops and leggings
- Knitted wool vest, pants, jumper, beanie, and socks
- Sunhat and booties
- Waterproof playsuit and/or crawling pants