Overnight backpacking with a baby: weight, responsibility, and power

By Sarah Vincent

Legends from multiple cultures describe a cosmic turtle carrying the world on its back. I’d suggest that the closest a human can get to feeling the weight, responsibility, and power the turtle might experience is to take a baby on a backpacking adventure.

When I experienced a painful miscarriage in 2021, I went to the backcountry with a friend of mine. Trudging a canyon in silence, laughter, or intense dialogue. Weighted down with food, water, and shelter … with a fellow woman. This is exactly what I needed to heal.

Backpacking has been an integral part of my identity for over a decade. So, when I gave birth to Sylvia in 2022, I was concerned that this integral part of my way of being would fade. Sure enough, a couple of female friends shared the load, physically and emotionally, and walked beside me as I experimented with a new-to-me, yet old-to-the-human-race, style of backpacking.

A few lessons from the trail:

  • There’s much less judgment, real and imagined, around a crying baby outdoors versus indoors. My anxiety about bringing along a baby is often very high (planes, board meetings, grocery store, etc.). Rarely have I felt so at peace with the crying than when there are no walls to contain it.
  • Stay close to home. Driving is the worst part anyway. You’ll sleep better at night. And, we live in the Central Highlands — it’s beautiful.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Adult solidarity in support of children is real. We collectively benefit from the loving care of young ones and almost universally get filled up by the joy of babies. We just have to engage that solidarity by asking for it.
  • The pain in my feet and back from backpacking are welcome compared to variations on this theme associated with pregnancy.

Today in 2024, I look forward to the near future when Sylvia’s sister, Chessa, can hold her head up strong and steady. Hopefully she’ll ride along in a baby backpack stuffed with a tent, headlamp, diapers, sleeping bag and more. We owe her (and ourselves) all the sensations of desert springs and Granite Mountain rocks.

These continued adventures are dedicated to all of the turtles out there, steadfastly carrying the load, literally and figuratively. And to those who willingly share it.

Sarah is an avid backpacker and Associate Director at the Highlands Center for Natural History which is also a center-place for the two fellow trekkers referenced in this piece. To learn more about specifics when planning your own baby-backpacking trip, or to experience the outdoors in a meaningful way, come visit the Highlands Center.