Would you take your baby (and young child) on a multiday bikepacking trip? Our author and her husband did! This is how bikepacking with a baby and 3-year-old went for one brave couple.
Anxiety seizes me moments after riding away from the car. The track is so overgrown I can barely see my front wheel as I plow into a mini swamp and promptly get stuck in the mud. “This was a bad idea,” I think.
Revel — our 6-month-old — is crying. He is in the Thule double chariot packed full with enough gear and food for our family of four to survive for 3 nights and 4 days. Max — our 3-year-old — is sitting on the shotgun seat in front of my husband, Jason, chatting away. At least the two of them are oblivious to my fears.
As longtime adventure racers, one of the best lessons we’ve learned is that everything changes. So when Max has a temper tantrum or Revel cries and drools all over the place, we know this too shall pass.
That first few minutes of our ride seem so hard! But once we’re in motion, we all hit a nice rhythm and fall into our places. Everything settles down. Revel’s cries turn into cute squeals the bumpier the road gets. My shoulders start to relax.
No parents are alike. Just like kids, all are unique in their beautiful way. And we are fully aware that what we do and love is not for everyone. But if you’re at all intrigued or inspired to take your baby or kids out on overnight adventures, then this article is for you.
Read on for myth-busting, tips, and why we choose family bikepacking over backpacking any day.
Bikepacking With Babies
Why Do It?
After hiking both kids up to the top of a mountain to camp for the night, with everything on our backs, including them, we thought, “There must be a better way.”
Two weeks later, after sourcing some gear and doing a bit of research, we found it: family bikepacking. Yes, you do some more work on the uphills, but at least it’s all on your bike and you don’t have to wreck your knees and back on the downhills. On your bike, the downhills are free and fun for everyone involved!
Kids and Babies Are Adaptable
They really will sleep anywhere when they’re tired. Take one or two things to make it familiar. We took a small noise machine and a pacifier for 6-month-old Revel and “Spot” a (small, soft stuffed animal) for our 3-year-old, which signal sleep for them.
While naps weren’t always at their usual time, or for as long, both boys got enough sleep throughout the day, especially at night. Also, after a day chock full of wind, sun, and water, you’ll hopefully be pleasantly surprised at how easy the bedtime routine is!
Don’t Wait for the Perfect Age
There really is no perfect age. As most parents know, every age comes with its pros and cons. When they’re babies, they don’t have an opinion yet, so you can take them everywhere as long as you have all the basics covered. But you do have to deal with diapers and figuring out the extra gear for how to carry them.
As they get older, they learn the word “no” and somehow know when to use it when you really want them to do something. However, they can feed themselves, dress themselves, and eventually even ride their own bike.
So if you’re waiting for the “perfect age,” stop. The time is now. The sooner you get going on adventures with them, the sooner they’ll figure it all out.
Adventure: Mild to You, Massive to Toddlers (and Babies Won’t Even Notice)
Before you start looking up trails and planning your trip, remember one thing: This trip is for your kids, especially if they’re over a year old. So don’t bite off more than you can handle.
For your first time, pick a trail that’s easy to access and has some nice campsites or huts within 3 to 5 hours of your taking off point. Expect lots of snack and play breaks and go from there. If all goes well, gradually add miles to your trip.
Have an Adventurous Backup Plan
If things are failing for some reason or another, don’t completely throw in the towel. We had a few different plans if things weren’t going as fast or as slow as we intended, but they all involved biking to a few different huts and staying the night.
Trust Your Partner
We won’t go into too much marital/relationship advice here. But we find that when we’re taking our kids out together on an adventure, the most important thing to have is trust — in ourselves and each other.
Because when you’re watching your partner bomb down a hill with your little one sitting on the shotgun seat in front of them or in the stroller behind them, it will ease your anxiety levels.
Busted Myths About Bikepacking With Kids
Myth: Babies and kids need too much gear/food/diapers.
Most kids are more OK with being dirtier than you are. A dry pair of “night clothes,” a day pair of adventure clothes, and one or two layers (depending on the weather) is all they need for a few days.
Max and Revel care far less about being wet or dirty than most adults. We tend to project our feelings onto them. Ask any preschool teacher, and they’ll agree.
Our advice is to not obsess over wiping their hands and faces until before bed. Let them get into the dirt; it’s good for their immunity and their personality.
Myth: There’s no way they will sit in a stroller for that long.
Both of our kids had far more of an issue in the car on the ride to the trailhead than on the trail. The car is a controlled environment, which translates to boring for kids of any age.
Riding on a bike or in a stroller where they’re in the elements experiencing the outdoors is way more thrilling and exciting. The minute we put our 6-month-old into the Thule Chariot, he perked right up because he knew it was adventure time.
Myth: My baby hates bumps.
I call bullshit. Babies love bumps. And the shotgun allows your toddler or small child to ride that front suspension. The Thule Chariot (or any other nice trailer) is suspended as well. Max was constantly asking Jason to ride over bigger and bigger bumps. And Revel went right to sleep the bumpier the trail got.
Myth: My baby is on too much of a schedule, this will mess her up.
Again — bullshit. Call it what it is: your schedule. And, well, adventure is all about embracing at least a little unknown.
That 10-mile trail could take an hour or 4, but the amazing thing about bikepacking and adventure trips is that you don’t need a watch. As things come up, such as your baby gets hungry or needs a play stop, there’s no rush. Make sure to add buffers of extra time into your journey and enjoy it.
Myth: I’m not strong enough to haul all that gear.
Trust us, you probably are. Take your time, modify your distance expectations, and let your kids see you struggle and overcome.
Max loved seeing me push the bike and stroller across rivers and was always yelling, “You can do it, Mama!” When Jason took him on a side bike trip up to the top of the pass, every time he heard Jason’s breathing getting a little louder, he would say, “We’re almost there, Dada.” That alone made the whole trip for us.
Being outside, going on a journey, and working toward a goal is a beautiful gift, lesson, and experience to give to your kids.
Fact: Gummies and treats are OK on the trail.
For all you parents who have held out on sugar this long, we commend you. And good on you if you can do it when you’re hiking, biking, and skiing with them.
However, we have found that good old natural (of course) gummies are amazing little morsels of energy that keep our 3-year-old happy and able to go farther and farther. And he knows that gummies are for adventure only.
At home, he sometimes asks, “Can we go on a mission and can I get gummies?” And we’re completely OK with that because we get to adventure together and he learns that sugar is a tool, not a thing you get when you’re just sitting around.
All in all, taking your babies out on any adventure can be fun. We’ve found bikepacking especially amazing because of the ease of travel for everyone involved. Us parents get to keep the weight off our back while still working our legs, and the kids get an awesome ride whether they’re on a shotgun-style seat or being pulled in a cush stroller.