backpacking with baby

Backpacking with a Toddler or Baby Hacks Every Parents Needs to Know


Backpacking with a toddler or baby – Backpacking with a toddler or baby? Yes, we have done it.

Before and during our first few family backpacking trips with our very young children, we received our share of criticism, as well as downright bafflement.

Who would do that?

Not masochists, we assured them. Outdoor-loving parents!

Does backpacking with a toddler or baby come with its share of challenges?

Definitely. Is it easier when kids are older?


But exposing children to camping trips early makes for tougher, stronger, and happier outdoors men and women as they reach school-age. Read on for our tips and experience with backpacking with a toddler or baby.

It will make camping with your youngster not only possible, but enjoyable. Kids carry-on luggage

backpacking with a toddler or baby

Tips for Backpacking with a Toddler or Baby

Plan a 2-night trip for your first backpack with baby experience

It may seem that a single night out would be the safest bet with a baby in tow, but consider the amount of energy, equipment, and preparation a backpack trip will take.

Once you’ve packed and prepped for one night, you might as well stay two as all you’ll need is slightly more food and clothing.

Plus, the first night of any type of travel with a baby is the toughest.

Camping with a toddler or baby is no exception.

Why pack up and leave just as baby has adjusted?

Preparing for, executing, then returning from a single night family backpack trip will feel exhausting.

Returning from a two night stay will feel… well, still exhausting, but at least satisfying as well!

Choose a route 3-4 miles or less

It’s possible you’re used to hiking much farther than 3-4 miles on a backpacking trip, but while backpacking with a baby or toddler, don’t tackle too much.

This is not just because of baby’s short attention span.

You must consider the extra weight the adults in your party will be carrying.

You’ve certainly already taken the weight of the actual baby into consideration — someone will be carrying him or her, but because of this task, someone else will be carrying more supplies than they’re probably used to.

You’ll need to divide all the equipment, food, and other supplies among one less pack than your party is used to.

If you backpack with two adults, one will be carrying the bulk of the equipment while the other carries the child.

Plan accordingly!

Remember, you’ll also be packing out more trash and/or laundry in the form of dirty diapers.

Buy the right backpack

Trust me, never has choosing the proper backpack been more important!

You will need at least two: one for your things and one in which to carry your child.

To have an enjoyable time backpacking with a baby, you must have a child carrier backpack that meets your needs. Luggage for kids

We love the Kelty Journey because it has just the amount of bells and whistles we need, and no more.

Try out packs in a retail store before you buy, making sure the pack has the following attributes:

  1. Is adjustable, so you and your spouse or backpacking partner can take turns
  2. Includes space for some supplies (most have an small pack that attaches)
  3. Stands on its own, to make loading and unloading easier and safer)
  4. Includes a sun and rain shade for baby — this is so important!
  5. Will grow with your child

If you have a toddler who would rather walk, decide ahead of time how much of the trail you’ll let him or her navigate.

Let him or her know well in advance when it will be time to be carried again.

We bartered deals of about quarter mile walking, one mile riding.

It’s slow-going, but as you hike, you realize you’re instilling a love for the outdoors in your child, making it worth it.

Having the right child-carrier backpack is essential for backpacking with a toddler or baby.


backpacking with a baby

Pick your campsite wisely

Camping near a water source is more important now than ever.

Spare yourself the extra weight of carrying in fresh water, and use a filtration system or water purifier in tandem with a stream or lake.

It’s also nice to have a ready water source for bathing your child, or playing in if the weather warrants a swim.

Make sure your camp is free from irritants like poison oak if you have a walking child, and is as level as possible.

We loved feeding our baby in his propped up backpack as an impromptu high chair, but this only worked on level ground.

A good campsite is essential when you’re camping with a toddler or baby.

Think safety

If you have a toddler, consider putting a small bell on his or her shoelace.

Yes, it’s a bit irritating, but we only used this technique around the camp site, where it would be easy for our children to wander.

Show older children your site’s boundary (set by you!) and teach toddlers to stay away from cook stoves and fire pits (this is easier said than done, but we enforced it early and often).

With active toddlers, it can be a good idea to set up your camping kitchen well away from the “living” areas of camp, despite the inconvenience.

Create and carry a comprehensive wilderness first aid kit, and be sure it contains stand-bys such as baby aspirin, Benedryl, and baby-friendly insect repellent.

Make sure the kit is small enough to easily carry with you, and bring into your tent at night.

During one memorable backpacking trip, our 18-month-old developed an ear infection.

No fun for anyone, but having Tylenol helped until we were able to pack up and return home.

Plan to sleep with your child in a tent large enough to accommodate your family and give your child the appropriate amount of space for safe infant sleeping.

We began packing in two tents when we started backpacking with our kids (one of which was a larger 3-person).

The extra weight was worth the extra space at night.

Make sure your baby or toddler has their own space in whatever tent you choose, well away from loose sleeping bags and pads.

Putting our baby to bed in a baby sleep sack worked well for us.

Have you gone camping with a toddler or baby?

What backpacking tips do you have to share?

Read about our experience backpacking South America for more tips.

Best Backpack ~ 9 Tips to Choose the Best Travel Backpack
Small Travel Backpack: Osprey Farpoint 40 Review
Choosing the Right Travel Backpack for You
How to Choose the Right Travel Backpack

Photo credit: Sean Dreilinger and Tubby.

6 thoughts on “Backpacking with a Toddler or Baby Hacks Every Parents Needs to Know”

  1. Amy @ Go Green Travel Green

    Tasha, I wish you the best of luck with your trip! My advice for a toddler-friendly route is to find a trail that’s relatively flat, with a destination by a lake or stream she can play in. It’s all about playtime!

  2. I’ll be honest, I’ve never actually done an overnight backpack trip with my daughter. We’ve camped a number of times, and it’s true, the first night is always the worst. We do a lot of hiking though, and now that my daughter is 2.5, she likes to walk, which means I have to be less destination-focused. My husband and I would both like to try a backpacking trip this summer. And since our daughter loves both hiking and camping, it should go over pretty well. The trick for us will be finding a place that’s toddler friendly.
    Thanks for the tips!

  3. We’re going backpacking with our one-year-old in a few weeks, and we’re still thinking through sleeping arrangments. What type of baby sleep sack did you use? And did you have a separate sleeping pad for the baby?

  4. That’s a tough age for sleeping arrangements! We bought child-sized bags (they could grow into) and tied them off at the foot with a nylon tie-down or rope so they’d fit. If they didn’t tolerate the confines of a sleeping bag, we dressed them in winter pajamas and used only a towel or blanket. A towel is good to have on-hand as a divider: kids slide around on sleeping pads, waking themselves up (or rolling into you). It’s good to divide a sleeping area for them with a rolled up towel. There’s no perfect way, I’m afraid, but this tough age won’t last long! Glad you’re getting out there!

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  6. Elizabeth Jeffers

    The idea of putting a bell on your toddlers shoe is ingenious. I have a two year old and I think he’d just enjoy playing with the bell but its also a great way to keep track of him. Thanks!

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