Ask Me: First Backpacking Trip With a Toddler

Morning Mike,

I saw some of your pictures in High Country News attached to an article about getting kids out with you nice and early. I am really hoping to do some backpacking and camping with Luke this summer (he’s 15 months now) and thought you would be a perfect person to go to for advice on how to get started. For starters… what do you do about diapers, just pack them out? I am sure there are some tricks of the trade–or maybe I am just desperately hoping for ingenious tips from a veteran. I am thinking about a 4-day trip into the Bighorn Crags (in Idaho’s Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness) in August and should probably do a few warm up trips before that. Any suggestions on places to start–any suggestions at all would be GREAT!


Hi Sara,

Good on you for planning to take Luke out at his age. I think the best way to ensure a kid loves the outdoors is to start him before he’s even old enough to remember anything; then his oldest memories will be good times with his family outdoors.

Short answer: It’s just plain a lot of work, so go in with that expectation. I can tell you that if you do this when your kid(s) are infants and toddlers, it will always seem easier after that!

Yes, you just have to pack out diapers. Hugely bulky and heavy, there’s no getting around that. When our oldest was a baby and toddler, I tried laying used diapers out in the sun at our camp to dry out a bit, make them lighter; but no, those disposable diapers are so absorbent they really don’t lose any weight to solar heat.

Get a comfortable kid-carrier backpack; they’re worth the money when you’re hiking more than a very short distance. I haven’t used one in years, but Deuter, Osprey, and Kelty have consistently made the best models in that category. A good kid-carrier pack should have a sturdy sun/rain shade.

You’re wise to consider a shakedown weekend or overnight trip before setting out on a four-day trip with a toddler. I think you’ll find that, with all you have to carry, four days may be the outer limit of how long a trip you’ll take; you’ll fill one large backpack and a kid-carrier pack’s cargo space.

Hike short distances. Better yet, hike in to a nice lake, not too far, set up a base camp for a couple of nights, day hike from it. You’ll spend less time carrying heavy packs, more time having fun, and you can justify bringing a few comforts in. Plus, it’s shocking how much time you spend managing your kid. The Bighorn Crags may be a good choice: You start at a high trailhead, so there’s no huge climb and it’s a relatively short distance to the closest lakes for camping. And it’s short distances to explore the neighboring lake basins from a base camp.

You’ll have to carry Luke at times to make any progress, but let him walk as much as he wants and you have the time for. That’s how to teach a kid to be a hiker.

You might like this blog post (which has been very popular):

I think if new parents go into those first trips with little kids with realistic expectations, they’re more likely to continue and succeed. In truth, while it often seems like a lot of work when you’re doing it, I laugh now over most of my memories of those first trips with our kids. And when you see how absolutely excited Luke is when you’re out there, you’ll know it’s worth all the effort.




You are such a wonderful resource and I am pleased as punch to see your reply. Thank you. I will let you know how it goes… stories from our first trip into the woods. 😉 Thanks for the links and suggestions. We have a wonderful Kelty kid carrier and I think you are right… short hike to lake with as much baby wandering as I can stand is the way to go. Knowing Luke, he will want to explore and walk as much as possible. Getting super excited for the summer!


[In Ask Me, I share and respond to a reader question. Got a question about hiking, backpacking, gear, or any topic or trip I write about at The Big Outside? Send it to me at or tweet it to @MichaelALanza. I will answer the ones I can in a post, using only your first name and city, with your permission.]



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5 thoughts on “Ask Me: First Backpacking Trip With a Toddler”

  1. Our daughter is currently 5 months old. We are starting on day hikes with our Osprey Poco Childcarrier. My husband and I are new to the idea of overnight hikes but are eager for the challenge. We use cloth diapers, and I never would have thought of letting them dry to make them lighter. Thank you for the great insight, and I look forward to reading more.

  2. I was running into this problem as well with diapers, my daughter is 19 months old and she’s starting to potty train but still wears diapers most of the day. I was just going to take a kitchen trash bag and carry it out but we lucked out and the hike-in camp at Point Reyes National Seashore has garbage bins. We are going next week!

    I totally agree with Michael Lanza about minimizing the days and setting up base camp with day hikes. I can’t imagine setting up camp and breaking down camp everyday with my two toddlers running around! I’m planning on still minimizing diapers because my daughter is starting to potty train and 50% of the time knows when nature is calling!

  3. We’re really enjoying your blog posts since we share in your philosophy about getting outside with the kids. Kudos to you and your lovely family!