(I wrote the following article for the July+August issue of WASHINGTON TRAILS, a Publication of the Washington Trails Association.)
In keeping with the tradition of creating lists of ten essentials, I offer my own ten here.
Preparation: Set up your tent indoors or out so your child can help put it up and get used to crawling in and out. Take a nap in the tent. Make a “pretend campfire” of a flashlight and colored tissue paper; eat lunch by this fire.
Safety: The most dangerous part of your backpack trip is the drive to and from the trailhead. Use the proper car seat; don’t pile supplies around or behind the child that could crash into him/her in a sudden deceleration. A safe place for your toddler to play, while you cook or do other camp chores, is inside your zipped-up tent.
Transportation: On the trail, a safe child carrier, either front or back, should be comfortable for both parent and child. Check often to be sure your child is not too warm or cold, legs not pinched, neck not cramped. Wear both a back and a front carrier. Small babies ride in the front carrier; when he/she graduates to a backpack, fill the front carrier with baby’s supplies. Toddlers may want to walk part of the way; allow time for them.
Nutrition: Not a time to introduce new foods to young children. Pack their favorites, including some special treats that don’t appear often at home.
Hydration: Especially if it’s hot, make sure everyone drinks lots of fluids. Water from home is safest; next is boiled or filtered water. Iodine-treated water may not be safe for youngsters.
Lactation: Nursing mothers need be especially vigilant about staying hydrated, but a nursing baby is the easiest child to take camping.
Shelter: Use a tent with sides and a closable door, not a fly; be sure it is rainproof. Some children feel safer when they are enclosed. Some are night wanderers.
Sanitation: Take plenty of clean-up materials and diapers, and carry the used ones out along with your other garbage. Carry spare clothing in case your child gets wet, but otherwise relax your standards for cleanliness, except for clean hands for eating.
Weatherization: Your child in his/her carrier should be prepared for both good and bad weather. If the carrier doesn’t have a shield to keep sun, rain and wind away, improvise with a snap-on patio umbrella or draped shawl. Carry and use sun hats and sunscreen.
Attitude: Perhaps the most essential of the essentials: Don’t expect the same experience of adventure or distances covered that you had BBC (Backpacking Before Children). Reduce your expectations, be flexible, and enjoy your child’s company.