Ep. 73 – Hiking with Baby and a Book Update!

SHOW #73  August 3, 2016


This week on Episode 73 Smoky Mountains Radio, hiking with baby, and a sneak peak at the new book! Let’s go!


It is Wednesday, August 3, 2016 and this is Episode 73 of Smoky Mountains Radio.  I am Mike and I am your host here on SMR. Though this show I hope to give you the information you need to have the best time on your next trip to the Smokies and give you a little bit of that mountain magic in between trips. I invite everyone to check out our website SmokyMountainsRadio.com to get all the information you need about your trip to the Smokies. You can contact me directly by emailing me at mike@smokymountansradio.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/smokymountainsradio or on twitter @smokies_radio.  You can also call the listener line at 865-325 9784.  Finally, every one of our shows can be found on the website for you to stream or download. Of course, you can make sure you get episodes the moment they are released by subscribing to the show via iTunes or stitcher.  Leave me a review while you are there.  Those links can also be found on the site .  If you have anything you would like me to cover on the show, please feel free to contact me at any time. Again, all the ways to reach me are right on the website at SmokyMountainsRadio.com.  Finally, if you like the show, all I ask if that you spread the word.

Now, let’s get on with the show!

Hiking with Baby

If you have been listening to the show for awhile, you might remember that my very first hikes were on my father’s back as an infant. That is about the only thing that I really ever knew about hiking with a baby. Haven’t ever done it or thought about it…until recently. Well, after my son was born, one of things that we want to do is to instill in him a love for the outdoors and mountains. Not really sure what i’m going to do if he doesn’t like those things. Anyway, as all new parents do, we are learning things as we go, and researching like crazy. The question that is the most frequent and that I have gotten a couple times on this show is, when is it okay to go for a hike with the baby?

I asked for feedback on this topic a couple weeks ago. Here are a couple responses:  Dale from West Virginia said, “until they can walk, I want no part of it. Did it, it was a nightmare.” Serena said “it totally depends on the baby. One of my kids went at 5 months, the other not until after he was a year old.” Jeff from Omaha says, “as long as you have a good pack, anytime after 6 months works well in my experience.” Richie had an interesting point of view: “Have you ever had to change a diaper on trail? Enough said.”  Thanks to you guys for writing in. The different points of view that I got from you echoes a lot of what I have heard online.

Let’s start with age. Generally speaking, there is no good or hard and fast rule to this. What everyone does seem to agree with is to wait until the baby can support his head by himself. Obviously, that baby is going to be bouncing along on your back. He has to be able to lift his head on his own for long stretches of time or you could risk hurting him over the course of even a short hike. This varies wildly between kids. Some can do this at 4 months while others can’t do it until 7 or 8 months. That should likely be the very first consideration.

How does your baby handle car rides? Many, including mine, usually fall asleep in the car. The motion puts them right out. However, if you have a motion sick prone baby that often throws up in the carseat, you might end up with more of the same on the trail. I read that from a number of parents. One dad in particular got a large dose of spit up right down his back and running down his leg. Most of the hiking carriers put the baby on your back facing the back of your head. There is no hike that makes that kind of incident fun.

Eating schedules can play a large part in deciding when to go as well. Infants need a bottle every 2-3 hours. I assume you aren’t planning on taking your baby to LeConte, but even a shorter hike can take that long, so it is something to consider. How will you keep milk fresh? Will your wife/girlfriend have to pump during that time? Are you breastfeeding? How do you feel about doing that on a trail? Can you keep formula at the proper temperature during your hike? Will you substitute powder instead? Do you need to pack a stove to heat water? As you can see, there are several considerations just in feeding to consider, and if your child is old enough to be into baby food, it opens up even more. Decide if it is feasible or more of a problem than it is worth before you go. This is one of the reasons that we waited to bring our little man to the mountains.

How fussy is your baby? This might be a deal-breaker for you. We had a colicky baby, then a fussy baby, then a baby that screamed when he got tired. That was not a situation I wanted to deal with, especially with the kid packed right next to my ears. Not to mention, my hike with family should not ruin another person’s hike. A screaming baby is like a group of teenagers, a guy yelling into his cell phone, or a person blaring music down the trails. None of them are okay. The baby can’t help it, I totally get it. But as the parent, we should be considerate of other visitors. That is my opinion. Take it or leave it.

If you go through those basic questions and everything still checks out okay, the next step is to think about gear. You are carrying the baby. That is a lot of weight, and it is live weight. It moves and shifts on it’s own, making it feel even heavier. If you huff and puff to grotto falls without a pack, you probably shouldn’t carry an extra 30-40 pounds on your back. You likely won’t make it. That is why I say the first hike should be really easy. It should be easy enough that you make it in comfort, and so does your baby. If he strolls through a nature walk, move on up to Grotto or Laurel Falls. After he aces that, head out to Henwallow falls or Porters Creek. The shorter the first hike the better. I would hate to be 2 miles from the trailhead when the baby has a meltdown. You can’t plan for everything, but you can at least be close to the car the first time if need be.

You might have noticed that I mentioned a minute ago that you would be carrying an extra 40-50 pounds on your back. If you have a young baby who meets the criteria for a hike, the baby is likely between 15-25 pounds. So where is that extra weight coming from? Well, to start with, it is the backpack. Hiking backpacks have done a great job in getting lighter and lighter over the years. REI sells hiking packs that are less than 2 pounds dry. I even saw a ridiculously overpriced pack that was 1 pound, 4 ounces. But those are HIKING packs. Baby carrier packs are heavy. They average 6-10 pounds EMPTY! That’s right, that is no baby, no water for you, no camera, no first aid kit, no nothing. Ouch! Let’s say that gear for your typical day hike weighs about 10 pounds. That is a pretty decent and conservative estimate. 10+6 is 16 pounds so far. That’s not too bad, is it? Now think of all the things you need to bring for the baby. Milk, diapers, wipes, sunscreen, hat, change of clothes if(when) he throws up for starters. I don’t know about you, but when we travel to our parents houses about an hour away, I feel like a sherpa carrying all the bags we take to spend just an afternoon in their living room. You can expect to add anywhere between 10-30 pounds to that weight just on baby gear. So let’s say 15 for baby stuff, 10 for your gear, and 6 pounds for the pack. Now we are up to 31 pounds. Guess what we have left out….THE BABY! So if you add the baby to the mix at, let’s say, 20 pounds, you are now at 51 pounds. That is more than most Appalachian Trail thru-hikers carry on their backs. At that point, I have to wonder if I will make it, much less the baby. Of course, you can pair down some of the weight, but there is still a lot of weight to consider adding to what you might normally take when you hike.

The next big decision is the baby carrier you want to take. There as many varieties of these as there are carseats. It is overwhelming. One thing that is constant among nearly all of them is that they are pretty much all expensive. Here is one thing I will say absolutely for sure, hands down, no question. Do not hike with a baby in your arms. That is a disaster waiting to happen. If and when you trip on a root or rock or your own two feet on trail, you are going to need to have your arms to steady yourself. If you go down, the baby goes down. Just don’t do it. I’ve seen it several times when hiking and it is a completely unnecessary risk to the kid. My opinion is, if you can’t afford the carrier, wait until you can.

So getting back to the carriers, what should you get?  The first option, and least expensive option is slings. We have one of these for carrying the baby around the house when he refuses to be put down. They have ones that are more suitable for hiking, but in my opinion, none of them offer the support that a baby needs. At 60-90 dollars, it seems like a waste of money to me for something that will make the baby very uncomfortable or leave them vulnerable. It’s better than nothing, but I quickly took them off the list. In addition, the buckles are often totally plastic and seem cheap. There is no redundancy in them, so if they break, the baby is going down. This might well just be me being paranoid. I have nothing to base this on other than how it is seems to me. I just didn’t feel comfortable putting my baby in it. If a strap breaks on my backpack, it is no big deal. It is much different when your kid is in it.

The better option to me is to get an extra frame pack of some sort. It needs to have a hip belt, shoulder adjustment, cross chest connection and adjustment, and adjustments on the child’s side to loosen and tighten sides. Height adjustments are a plus depending on how large your child is, and venting on the back for you is a must. I like that many of them have different lumbar levels to choose from as well. Another big plus is that some of them have a canopy at the top to keep the sun off the baby. With others, you can buy an attachment bug netting to keep the biting critters off of him. But those are the basics that I think are important.

I have seen a few that are internal frame packs for baby.  I don’t know if these offer the kind of support you need from a squirming baby.  I say stick with external frame packs.  Pricing, that is where it is interesting. I have seen prices from 125-300 dollars. Like everything, you get what you pay for. The best baby packs I have found are made by Osprey and Gregory. Not surprisingly, these are also two of the best regular pack manufacturers. But these packs are priced at 240 and 275 bucks respectively.  But these packs will hold the baby, and anything else you need, so that helps. And they are good packs, so you can trust them.

Here is the bad news. As fast as kids grow, they will be out of the carrier quickly. The Osprey and Gregory packs due a good job growing with your child, but by the time they are a year old, many kids will have grown out of them. That means you may only get one or two hikes out of such an expensive pack. My personal pack has lasted for years. But i’ve been about the same size for years and years. That feels much like bassinets, cribs, toys, and clothes. It is gone about as quickly as you got it as the child grows. That was the bad news. Here is the good news. Since they are used so little and for so little time, the resale market is saturated with them. You can find near mint-condition carriers on sites like Ebay for half the cost of a new one. That is certainly worth a look.

So with all that information, you might ask, What are you going to do Mike? Well, I am going with the Osprey pack, and with his weight and food needs, our plan is to take him for his first trip in October. It won’t be quite as hot or as busy, at least in the first week of the month. For us, this is the best time to see how the little man takes to it. We plan on two hikes for that first outing. We will be doing Cataract Falls first (behind Sugarlands Visitor Center), and then to Grotto Falls if that one goes well. And if he’s still happy, I’ll put a stop to that real quick by going for a trek on the Low Gap Trail!

I’ll put more information about this in the show notes and on smokymountainsradio.com


I’ve got more news about the book this week! It is done! It has been edited and checked and is ready to go. The book will be out no later than this Saturday. That’s right, I am really ready to go with this thing! So you will be able to find it first on the Kindle and iBooks stores. I expect hardback copies to be released in the next month. I will put out a message on Facebook and Twitter when it is released.

So what is in this thing?  There are all kinds of things ranging from best back entrances to beat traffic in the Smokies to strategies to get the best deal on lodging. There are chapters dealing with wildlife in the mountains (including humans) to detailed descriptions of what I consider the very best hikes in the park. And in between, there are lots of stories, many of which detail mistakes I have made over the years. Everything from driving the wrong way on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail in the snow to carrying over 50 pounds of gear on a simple day-hike. And yes, the infamous, full-story of the Low Gap trail is in there in all it’s glory. And I have kept t-shirt shop references to a minimum! Anyway, it is all in there and so much more. I hope you will check it out!

It is about that time, isn’t it. Time to wrap up another show. But before we go,, I invite you to head over to SmokyMountainsRadio.com and check out all the previous episodes. I have descriptions and ratings for hikes and the surrounding areas, so there is a ton of info right there at your fingertips. Thanks to everyone that wrote in this week and for all of you that take time to listen each week. Thanks to Ross for the amazing pictures from Mount LeConte. That has inspired me to get back up there pronto! That will about wrap it up for this week. thanks again for listening everyone, so until next time, settle back into your couch and read a good book (hint, hint), and then…GO TAKE A HIKE!!




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