My baby hiking skills are in their early days, so this page is a work in progress and will be updated as I go.
BEST SLINGS FOR HIKING (A WORLD OF RETAIL ANGST)
So we wanted to find something fully synthetic. We first borrowed an Ergobaby Cool Air Mesh 360 (with newborn insert). This is 100% polyester so dealt with our drizzle problem excellently. It seemed super comfortable for the baby and has lots of options for changing the shape and size. However I never really got it to sit comfortably on my shoulders; it always felt like it could slip off. At £135 new/£85 used, these also weren’t really in scope for us pricewise. So we ‘downgraded’ to an older Ergobaby model, the Performance, which is a polyester/cotton mix (£25 used). Though it’s not perfect (the big waistband can bump against your legs), it is much better on my shoulders, balances the weight well and packs down smaller. It has a waterproof hood to shield from rain and sun and a pocket for the baby’s hat or other stuff. It doesn’t have a front-facing option but realistically once our baby is big enough for front-facing he will be on our backs as that will be safer for hiking. We’ve recently added an Ergobaby fleece cover that attaches to the sling, covers his arms and legs, creates a high neck and has a warm hood. Although it adds a bit of weight, this is a great addition that makes me feel more confident about taking Elmo into the mountains in the Spring weather.
We also were tempted by the Boba 4G, which is well-designed and super comfy for the baby, but declined on account of it being cotton. Boba make a nylon sling, the Boba Air, though this isn’t suitable for babies under 7kg so we haven’t tested it yet. It probably would not be suitable on long walks as it doesn’t have any padding.
I suspect slings are a bit like therapists, you always wonder if there is a better match for you out there, but this will do for now.
FEEDING ON THE TRAIL
Breastfeeding on the trail can be easy or stressful depending on the weather. The main consideration for us was how to time his feeds in with our needs and the terrain. On our first trip, Elmo always seemed to want food just when it started to rain, or when there was no shelter from the wind. But I’m certain I will look back on the breastfeeding days and marvel at how easy it was when we didn’t need to bother with carrying food or cleaning up after a messy smashed food fest. And things would be a lot harder were we bottle feeding. In cool weather, the baby will get cold quickly once you get him out the sling, so we use the fleece sling cover or another adult jacket as a blanket and I try to keep his hands next to my skin while he’s feeding.
While you focus on the baby’s warmth, you’ll initially forget about your own. At home I often just wear a long-sleeve top and lift it up to feed. This is fine indoors but outdoors you quickly realise you’re exposing a lot of skin to the elements and/or the mosquitos. So I wanted to find a proper nursing top. However, most of them are made of cotton, which is useless for hiking as it is cold when wet and takes ages to dry. Merino wool is the bees knees for outdoor activities because it keeps you warm even when it is wet. After scouring the internet I was very happy to find the Lumina Nursing Top from Myllymuksut. It has a flap of a decent size that you lift up to allow the baby access to the milk bar, and is a decently long length so that your back is always fully covered. Thanks to the wool it is warm, but it is short-sleeved like a tank top, which is my favourite combination for hiking. This has improved the outdoor feeding situation no end. On top of that I wear more merino layers and a waterproof jacket depending on the conditions. I try to remember to add a layer before he latches on, as I quickly cool down once I stop moving.
You can’t always choose the optimum feeding spot when the insistent cry arrives, which likely results in sitting on wet ground and getting a wet bum. I now carry a piece of old yoga mat – doubling as his changing mat – for a seat when the ground is wet. Warm and easy.
BABY HIKING CLOTHING
We are still working on this one. The main principle is – as with any hiking/tramping – NO COTTON! We would never wear cotton when doing outdoor stuff so there is zero reason to put your baby through that discomfort either. We are looking out for good synthetic and woollen clothing and will report back when we find it.
In the interim, he wears a short-sleeved vest and the warmest babygrows that we have. Being in the sling he gets really warm. However if your clothing gets sweaty from ascending hills, so does the baby’s. So we take at least two changes of baby clothes for a day trip – and a spare top for the adult carrying him – and change them half way through if needed and straight after the walk, so that he doesn’t get cold when the residual heat wears off. With the sling and the fleece cover we haven’t yet needed extra layers on him, though this may change as we do more and push ourselves. Elmo also wears a merino buff (adult size so far… do they make kid’s ones?) to keep his neck warm and a woollen hat.
OTHER HIKING GEAR
The rest of the gear is the same as for any hiking trip – warm layers, the right food and drink, essential safety gear – but with the caveat that the consequences of missing something out / getting it wrong are greater when you are travelling with a small baby. So the safety gear and warm layers are essential, plus a suitable intentions system. But more on safety stuff later on.