“Will a bear eat my baby?” That’s the top concern for many parents aspiring to take their tiny tots into the wilderness, according to Babes in the Woods author, Jennifer Aist. Once parents put aside this wildly unlikely nightmare, the question of how to keep a baby safe and happy in the wilderness gets more practical and turns to gear.
After 20 years spent exploring the Alaskan bush with her four children, Aist now runs workshops giving parents the skills to embrace four seasons of backcountry adventure with even just weeks-old infants. Regardless of how you reach your camping haven—by boat, bike, car or foot—Aist recommends thinking like a backpacker and keeping a minimal kit.
“If you can go out on a two-night backpacking trip with baby and all the essentials, you can figure out canoeing or rafting. Even if the parents don’t ever go backpacking, to think out gear in this way is very empowering,” she says. Use these minimalist recommendations to gather your own camping survival kit for kids six to 18 months and hit the trail.
“A good tent is the most important item,” says Aist. She advises looking for a three-season tent with a bomber rain fly. “Families tend to migrate to these giant tents with half-flys, but if you’re cold and wet and it sucks, you’ll never want to camp again.” OUR PICK: Mountain Hardwear’s roomy 3.5-person Optic ($310, mountainhardwear.com) offers 180-degree views for clear days and battens down tight in stormy weather.
A cozy snowsuit is a great alternative to quickly-outgrown tiny sleeping bags, according to Aist, and is one less piece of new gear parents need to buy. A closed cell foam sit pad or Crazy Creek-style camp chair can also double as a sleeping pad for small bodies, and you probably already have one. OUR PICK: Molehill MTN’s extra plush Down Bunting ($99.99, www.molehillmtn.com) promises to do double duty for snug nights under the stars.
Look for a PFD with flotation that ensures baby turns right side up in a capsize. You’ll want something that allows for free range of movement—or you’ll hear about it. OUR PICK: Salus’ Baby Bijoux ($79 CAD, www.salusmarine.com) wins our vote for tiny boaters. It fits little ones nine to 25 pounds.
“You need some way you can carry the baby while walking around that leaves your hands free,” advises Aist. Look for a design that supports from hips with an adjustable harness that will grow with your tyke. OUR PICK: The Poco ($340 CAD, www.ospreypacks.com) incorporates Osprey’s award- winning suspension system to keep Mom and Dad’s backs from aching.
Use the same layering system for kids as you would for yourself, recommends Aist. That means starting with a base layer that wicks moisture away from the body and keeps warm even when wet. OUR PICK: Patagonia’s Baby Capilene base layers ($41, www.patagonia.com) are cute, breathable and soft on delicate skin. For kids not yet walking or on dry days, we love Polar Feet’s deliciously cozy fleece booties ($25.99 CAD, www.polarfeet.ca).
“Good quality rain gear is key,” says Aist. Look for a cut that allows layering underneath and is reinforced on high wear areas. OUR PICK: Oakiwear’s one-piece Rain Suit ($59.99, www.oakiwear.com) is ultra durable and features neoprene cuffs and reflective safety stripes for murky days. —KP