47 miles for everything

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When I die I would like to be sky-buried, cut into pieces and scattered in a propitious location for the consumption of scavengers.  For over a decade my first choice location has been a particular piece of blackbrush-and-sand desert just where the BlueJohn drainage dips over into the Robbers Roost system.  For about a half mile one has perfect views of both the Henrys and La Sals, and it seems like a congenial environment for coyotes, ravens, jackrabbits, and other vital but often unrespected creatures.  Exactly the sort whom I’d like to be karmically recycled through.

More recently a second candidate has taken root in my daydreams; the extensive parks, bottoms, gravel flats, and abandoned channels which run downstream for the miles after the White River dumps into the South Fork of the Flathead.  The logjams along the water shelter cutthroat and bull trout, and the cottonwoods, aspens, and the stately ponderosa and larch groves play host to elk in the winter and spring, to whitetail deer year round, and to black and grizzly bears whenever they feel like sauntering through.  The cobbled flats offer a low-impact place to build a bonfire, and the grassy floodplains make for delightful camping.  It’s a good place for a respectfully quiet backcountry wake.

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Heading in I was glad that I had dropped my ambitions to only the White River parks.  Hunting trips with Little Bear at home carry extra weight, of time away which needs to be well used.  Add to this a face still swimming with the upteenth minor cold since LB began daycare and the miles in did not pass quickly.  The 3500 foot haul up to the ridges was this week not possible.

Expectation and ambition became more tangled still an hour before dark.  I had finally made it to the tunnel like opening in the lodgepoles where the west side trail twitches off the upper bench and falls down to the flats, with the White River valley in the distance, and 15 minutes of glassing had as to plan turned up some deer.  Two I followed for a while suddenly became three, one of whom was a buck, albeit the smallest spike imaginable.  But legal, and right there 400 yards away, and probably extremely tasty.  The many populations of whitetails in Montana who go generations without tasting a crop or even seeing a road have taken my fancy recently, as something which might be nearly unique in a 21st century American that is contemplating lifting the ban on market hunting in order to better manage suburban deer.

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The last two years running I’ve filled my general deer tag on the first buck I’ve seen on September rifle hunts in the Bob Marshall.  On both occasions these deer have been far and away the best meat harvested all fall, and in both cases I’ve seen better (read: bigger antlered) deer in November during the rut.  This year I told myself I’d practice restraint in the name of protracted opportunity, but I was down in deer country with a legal deer in sight, the possibility of coming home days early, and other objectives to fulfill on this trip, which would be the only one of its kind for possibly years to come.  So right when I decided to get off my ass and go shoot that deer the trio reversed course and headed off in a direction where they seemed certain to bust me as I descended the hill.  So I packed up and loaded my tired feet in the direction of camp and dinner.

Decades prior the floodplain had been occupied by two solitary, enormous ponderosa pines, their bark ages into corrugated blondness, their limbs extended horizontally in a gnarled, casual quest for sunlight.  The southern tree had been felled by lightning, or a storm, and cracked off forty feet from the ground.  The upper two-thirds lay where they fell, still pointing northeast, imperceptibly rotting into the dirt.  The lowest, and only remaining, limb had taken up the flat and grown wildly and abundantly upward at an angle, puffs of vibrant, wispy green needles still waving proud in early autumn.

I was admiring the trees, having set my pack down under the still-whole one, when I saw motion.  I’ve learned to obey my gut whenever it says “deer!”, and deer there were.  The three had doubled back and cut along under the cutbank out of sight along the willows, or perhaps over by the river.  It was getting dark, light enough to shoot, but foggy enough to shield me a bit from animals which had not yet seen me, despite my standing in plain sight 150 yards away.  As they fed off, backs turned, I bent double and scurried at an angle, a subtle hump and the two-foot grass hiding me just well enough.  They noticed me as I finally got a clear view of the group and sat down to settle into a good rest, and I had to incongruous experience of watching them walk towards me, visibly quizzical, in the scope.  10 more seconds and they were all three spread out, so I positively ID’d the tiny spike and pulled the trigger.  A flash stole my eyesight for half a second, and when it came back I saw two deer running away to my left, and a single one headed down the bank to my right and audibly crashing away into the willows and the darkness.

r0021084Thankfully I had been smart enough to stow my headlamp, flashlight, and spare rounds in my pockets.  Rather than check where the deer had been standing, I went straight to the edge of the floodplain, where I could solidly guess it’s passage to within 20 feet.  Forty feet of running gives a better blood trail anyway.  Sure enough the cobbles and dust were spattered, not generously, but more than enough.  I chambered another round and put my lights on full blast.  There probably wasn’t a bear anywhere especially close, but I did not want to spend much time in the dark and head-high brush finding this deer, or put it off until the morning.  Sand and slick bark proved an ill host for sign, and conclusively linking piece to piece took a while to get me to the rivers edge.  Where the deer was obviously, thanks to luminescent eyes, bedded right on the bank.  The opposite bank.

It’s illegal to shoot game with the aid of a light, but in Griz country it has always stuck me as a damn good idea to practice doing this, and I was glad I had because I knew exactly how to cock my headlamp up on my head to shine on the deer but not cause glare in my scope.  Judging by motion I could tell which direction the deer was facing, so I extrapolated back to the shoulder and pulled the trigger.  The usual crippled thrashing from a massive double-lung wound ensued, and after 45 seconds the deer lay still.  I waited another minute before calling it dead, for sure.

I tried to stay attentive, but for that minute I couldn’t help but ponder the vicissitudes of deer and rifle bullets and the immense variation in results gained from seeming identical shots.  Two years ago another small buck, in response to a similar quartering-towards one lunger at 70 yards fell instantly as if smote down from on high.  This even smaller buck went 200 yards, the last 50 of which was wading a river which was waist deep on a 5’11” man.  Bloody deer.  Thankfully I’ve spent enough time wading slippery rocks to be able to do it in the dark while carrying a rifle and not fall, and to guess correctly that a diagonal upstream course across several foot deep channels would get me to the other side without having to ascertain how well recently killed deer float.  The rest of the night was occupied by a hurried trip back to get my pack, empty it, hang a line from the truncated ponderosa, return with tag, knife, and game bags, and butcher the deer in the dark.  I only cut myself once, had the deer hanging in the tree before 10pm, and was in bed with dinner eaten and a hot water bottle before 11.

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I woke the next morning with a nagging dehydration headache, and sore muscles almost everywhere.  The meat was hanging high and undisturbed, so I dragged my sleeping pad and bag out under a tree with a good view of the river and had a leisurely breakfast with two brews of coffee.  When I felt alert enough, I retrieved the meat and spent some time boning out the front quarters and doing a bit of trimming before it all got repacked.

I was now thinking about getting home to M and LB that evening, which was not something to be taken for granted.  Over twenty river miles and a three mile hike stood between me and the truck, and with the South Fork lower than I’d ever floated it (280 cfs, at a guess 100-150 cfs lower than this spring) I anticipated slow going.  Which is exactly what I got.  With most of my camp and backpacking gear inside the bow of the boat, and the sixty pound lump of meat in the stern, my Yukon Yak handled fantastically well.  Bizarrely close to normal, in fact, save that it was drafting six inches lower, which posed a serious cobble catching problem.  Packrafting was still the way to go for moving that load that distance in a day, but the miles passed slowly and in a blur of effort, attention, and frequent hops out to guide the raft through riffles.  When I reached the takeout I had delightfully cool and dry venison, and just enough time to get home before LB went to sleep, which I just managed.

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When hunting it is easy to let important moments pass without celebration, due to the work that needs to be done right then.  This was my third attempt in four years to shoot and float something out on the South Fork, and while it wasn’t the mature critter or involved pursuit I had recently envisioned, it was the right deer at the right time to fulfill each goal.  The meat is going into the pan and freezer, and the skull will be cleaned and hung on the wall, the trophy as evidence of an experience which gave me everything.  And I know that floating meat, lots of meat, out inside a packraft is not only a viable but a desirable way to hunt, knowledge which should come in useful in the future.

 

Infant outdoor clothing

LB shown below in Patagonia Baggies jacket and pants, and Patagonia Micro D crew.dsc00854

If you’re going to do a bunch of outdoor stuff with your infant or toddler, it’s worth getting them some primo or near-premium outdoor clothing.  Given how fast they grow it can seem absurd to spend serious money on something which is grown out of in months, but a few key pieces make the backcountry a lot easier for the parents, and safer and more comfortable for the kid.  Not too many companies make such clothing, with Patagonia having by far the largest selection.  Therefore, Little Bear has been Patagucci’d since an early age.  We live in a posh mountain town with several used gear stores, but baby clothing doesn’t pop up too often.  I think most people horde it, either out of nostalgia or for the inevitable next kid.

There seems to be nearly as much variability with kids as with adults, but since he was 4 months I’ve been impressed with how easily Little Bear keeps himself warm.  Bundling him up in massive layers has rarely been necessary.  That said most of the time he’s along for the ride in either the backpack or the trailer, and needs more insulation than the more active adult, though riding in the pack does take some effort and generate some body heat.

Fleece and quick dry base layers have been his foundation, and well worth the investment.  Babies drool a lot, snot a lot, spill food all over, and occasionally overwhelm their diapers.  Poly garments dry fast, which makes drool less chilling and backcountry laundry more expedient.  LB always has a complete change of primary and secondary layers along on multi-day trips.

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Capilene has served LB well.  The daily capilene long and short sleeve shirts (equivalent to Capilene 1 or silkweight Capilene) are nice for sun protection in hot weather, while the Capilene onesie and pants set (equivalent to Capilene 3) is warm and versatile.  None of the stuff in Patagonia’s winter 16/17 line up is what we’ve used; it’s all listed as 88/12 poly/spandex which is too much lycra for good dry times.  They do sell the Capilene pants separately now, which is good.  These pants are bug proof, but the pajama style stays put better than normal pants on the non-waist of infants.

Microfleece has been LB’s bread and butter, and the Micro D crew (still sold) is a must-have item.  We’ve had three different ones as he’s grown, and all have been used heavily.  Full zip, hooded fleece jackets are also good, in a variety of weights and ideally sized big enough to fit over the Micro D.  Hoods defeat, most of the time, LB’s hatred and intolerance of all hats.  The North Face makes a good one we’ve used a bunch, as does Patagonia, though we found a perfectly serviceable microfleece hoody in 12-18 month at Old Navy.  Fleece pants are, naturally, a good idea as well.

TNF Glacier fleece hoody, and Patagonia Capilene pants and onesie.R0013370

The most crucial piece of infant clothing has been Patagonia’s Baggies jacket and pants.  Made of supplex nylon, they’re tough windbreaker-type garments, and in addition to repelling wind and light rain, are mosquito proof.  The pants especially were the only ones of their type we could find, and even then they had sold so fast we got stuck with what turned out to be very charming pink/salmon numbers.  The double knees provide a little padding while crawling, and the hood helps keep sun off. We haven’t invested in proper rain gear just yet, because with a rain cover on either the backpack or chariot it just didn’t seem necessary, and Baggies works enough during fair weather packrafting.  I would not have wanted to have gone through this past summer, especially a few buggy trips in August, without these.

The last piece of the tech clothing puzzle is insulation.  We splurged early and bought LB a Hi-Loft down coat from Patagonia, and auntie Kate got him another for his birthday.  At retail this is a silly expensive and not very utilitarian item, but the style and packed size is very nice.  Infants are a lot harder to hold in a slippery down coat, and the added warmth only seems to rarely be necessary.  When they’re little a far more practical item is the Patagonia fleece bunting with dual access zips, and leg zips which combine both legs into one (sleeping bag or seal mode).  Sadly these amazing items seem to have been discontinued; we bought aggressively from the use market this spring.  Buntings are less pragmatic for older kids, as the integrated booties don’t walk well, and from 9 months on LB found them too confining.

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The last mandatory item is socks, specifically wool socks from Smartwool. You cannot have too many of these, as they are both dead useful and tiny (and forever getting lost).  They stay put better than any proper shoes we’ve found, are warm when wet, and make fantastic gloves.  I’ve taken to stuffing a spare pair in each of the two hand pockets of his down jacket, better to keep track of them on dayhikes and backpacks.

Last, and certainly not least, it should be noted that we only purchased a modest amount of all this stuff.  Most of it has been provided to LB by grandparents, aunts, and friends, who have done a fantastic job of making sure he is well outfitted.  If you have an outdoors-inclined family member or friend who has an infant or is expecting one soon, get them some infant outdoor essentials.  They’re the sort of thing which gets used constantly and is the best way to hope to the top of the list of best relative/friend/etc.

Thule Chariot review

As I’ve stated before, Eric said it best:

A multi-sport kid carrier is the quintessential must-have for active young families…They are expensive with all the add-ons but they become a way of life and open up a multitude of early life adventures that would be difficult otherwise.

We purchased/were gifted (at an industry discount) the two kid Cheetah, which is the unsuspended (lighter) model, with all the attachments (bike, ski, stroller, and single front wheel).  We’ve used them all, though some modes have been handier and are better thought out than others.  Overall it is useful to think of a Chariot system as your new kids very first bike; the cost, as well as the utility of the system, is comparable to a decent teen/adult bike.

Ski mode has been my favorite over the past year, mostly due to circumstance.  Little Bear was 4.5 months when the snow started accumulating, a little too young for the backpack, but just right for the Chariot.  It’s easy to dress infants warm enough for the car ride, then tuck them into the trailer and add blankets around them as needed.  The rigid poles which connect the trailer to the waistbelt work well, I rolled the trailer on to it’s side once while skiing, but that was on a trail which was seriously too skinny.  With burlier nordic boots and skis with a bit of shape (and the skill to drive them) you can absolutely haul on descents with total control.  As seen above the kid harness system is very secure, and the Chariot roll bars protect against the inevitable lack of parental discretion.

The Thule belt is one-size “fits” all, and clearly gauged towards fit, small framed women.  The padding wraps around just enough if I use it as a waist, rather than hip, belt but any smaller and I would have looked at building a replacement.  To my surprise, the water bottle holder centered in the back works well for a bike type bottle.  The pins which hold the pole sections together don’t stay put too well, especially in cold weather.  After one adventure where we made it back to the car with one pole held together with cordage I replaced these with bolts.  The water and air proof plastic flap which seals the compartment cover is held at the bottom end by a 3/4″ strip of velcro, which is not enough in strong winds.  Adding some buckles to the corners is a must-do project, soon, before weather starts up.

I ended this winter in the best shape I’ve had outside full summer, and that was 100% due to hauling 30 pounds of extra weight while nordic skiing 10 hours a week.  The Chariot in ski mode does have limits, mainly on narrower stuff and in deep snow where the skinny skis just bog down, but on fire roads and wider trails the sky is the limit.

Bike mode is probably better engineered than ski mode, and while we use it more I like it less, mainly because the width and not wanting to rattle the snot out of LB restrict it to pavement and mellower dirt, which has never been my thing especially with traffic.  As an around town deal bike mode is awesome, and the two kid trailer creates room for groceries and cargo (though the kid can paw through it all in transit).  Overall bike mode leaves little to be desired, other than the likely impossible rig that would somehow be kid safe and stable on singletrack.

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There are actually two stroller modes for the Chariot; tank mode with the huge front wheel (shown above) and town mode with two smaller, pivoting wheels which snap into each front corner.  I don’t have photos of the former, but its a great way to get two kiddos around, with the Chariot being just big enough to fit through doors and down store hallways.  Once kids get to be 9 months or so they’re elbow to elbow and extended outings in this configuration is basically begging for hair pulling and slap fights.  Tank mode I used to great effect hunting with LB last fall, but not since, as he can now be in the backpack.  Both stroller modes are good options for infants, but probably not super useable for toddlers.

Overall the Chariot is well made, very well thought out, and has been essential for our life with LB.  There are a few things which function in a less than ideal manner, especially in more severe weather, but overall it’s a great investment.  Pretty much everyone will want the bike rig, and probably the stroller wheels for town mode.  Ski mode is great if you have regular access to abundant snow and enjoy nordic skiing or snowbiking.  Just like a nice bike, Chariots have good resale value, so if you see a good used deal, don’t delay.

The Spyderco Dragonfly 2 and the Esee Candiru

This time last year I discussed the Candiru, a knife which does a remarkable job presenting a durable hard-use package in a tiny size.  It does so at the expense of easy sharpening and precise cutting, two things which the similarly sized and shaped Spyderco Dragonfly 2 does very well.  After a year of using both it is worth elaborating on the comparison.
img_0821I carry the Dragonfly on a daily basis, as well as on almost every trip I’ve taken into the woods in the past year.  As a folder with a good pocket clip (once I took it off and made the bend more aggressive), it’s just easier to carry and access than the Candiru.  The thinner blade, and steel which holds an edge far longer, makes it more suited than the Candiru for the things I most often ask of a knife: slicing apples, packaging, and the like.  It cuts easily enough to gut a fish, or even a squirrel, though the moving parts make it harder to clean.  The needlessly abundant texturing on the handle and corrugations (“jimping” in pretentious knifespeak) on the blade significantly enhance this crud collecting tendency, without providing much real world function.  I can see corrugations for the thumb on the upper part of the blade, but like those on the Candiru they should be spaced further apart.  The Dragonfly handle should be smooth plastic, though presumably it would then look a little less cool.  These niggles aside, it’s an ideal pocket knife; being just big enough to get things done, with good ergonomics, light weight, and a reasonable price.

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The Dragonfly is not a hard use knife, as the chips I’ve put in the blade show.  I can’t recall what I did to snap the last millimeter of the tip off (I’ve done this twice, actually), but I know it wasn’t prying.  The largest chip furthest down the blade was inflicted during some aggressive and targeted whittling of a 12″ larch, in order to extract a broadhead after a missed shot on a deer two days ago.  Clearly, a task for which the Candiru would have been better suited.  Even if one is reasonable and stays far, far away from the often ridiculous world of bushcraft, prepping, and zombie hunting, it’s easy to indulge in a hagiographic, almost paranoid desire to have a knife with which one could do anything up to and including build a crude cabin.  And this desire is rooted in fact, albeit a fact I encounter perhaps every 18 months, or roughly 50-60 field days.  For this reason I’ve occasionally brought the Candiru along on trips where the potential for things to go wrong seemed higher (or where fear was simply more abundant), but the lighter weight, convenience, and usually more pragmatic attributes of the Dragonfly has meant it has almost always been the knife in my pocket.

Ideally, I’d like one knife which combines the slicing and edge retention of the Dragonfly with the abuse-ability of the Candiru.  The Bark River Micro-Canadian has been the number one candidate for some time, but it violates my no-knives >100 dollars policy.  A year from now I’ll probably have purchased one, and will hopefully have glowing things to write about it.

Summer 2016: done

A few outtakes and un-used clips from the past four months of backpacking, day hiking, and packrafting in the backyard.  What started as perhaps another low-snow, fire-prone year was delightfully not hot, and quite rainy.  Flowers, vegetation generally, and most especially the berries have been exceptional.  We didn’t have the big, lingering snowpack and fat rivers of 2014 or 2011, but the steady infusion of life (water) has made the summer of 2016 as beautiful as any since we moved up here to the Flathead.

Enjoy.

MSR Windburner review

The executive summary is pretty basic on this one: the MSR Windburner replicates and exceeds the fuel efficiency, wind resistance, and convenience of the category-defining Jetboil while offering vastly improved build quality.  Or, more crudely, it’s an actually wind resistant Jetboil that isn’t a janky piece of junk.
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I’ve been impressed with the fuel-sipping efficiency of the Jetboil for years, when others have brought one along, but the wobblyness and plastic parts, to say nothing of the few versions which have fallen apart in use, and the awful customer service, always put me off.  The Windburner (called the Windboiler before a certain company lawyered up) solves all these issues.  The connection to the canister is solid.  There is no goofy, failure-prone integrated ignitor.  The handle stays put, and the lid fits snuggly enough that it stays on for pouring water.  It uses a toned-down version of the radiant burner pioneered on the Reactor, which as Hiking Jim will tell you is astonishingly resistant to wind.  The only disadvantages are weight (a hair under a pound, without fuel), the reliance on canister fuel, and the utter inability to do anything other than boil water.  As with all upright canister stoves performance below 25F is marginal, and below 5F or so impossible.  The speed with which it boils water does mitigate the temperature issue to a certain extent.

Due to how fast, simple, and fuel efficient it is I’ve brought the Windboiler on just about every trip since I acquired it last fall.  On all but the most weight sensitive of missions, the ease is worth the grams.

How to backpack with an infant

Taking your infant backpacking is both not as hard and exactly as hard as you probably imagine it to be. The following is an aerial view of the major concerns we’ve encountered in the past year, hoping that others (especially new and expectant parents) may find it useful.  Though plenty of sweat and suffering were involved, backpacking trips have been some of the brightest of the many start which have illuminated our first year as parents.

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Preparation for backpacking with an infant needs to start not only before said infant is born, but well before said infant is even conceived (mentally or literally).  To take an infant backpacking you must be skilled at backpacking, a strong carrier of packs, and most importantly comfortable in the field.  Infants eat up your mental and physical resources under familiar circumstances, so it’s ideal if the mechanics of setting up camp, doing chores, cooking, and packing are as routinized as possible.

We did well in all but one aspect of this.  With plenty of trips in a variety of environments our systems were very familiar.  I’m currently between 700 and 800 nights in the woods lifetime, and often sleep better on a Thermarest than I do at home.  M isn’t quite to that level of comfort, especially in bear country (two issues discussed below), but was familiar enough.  Our preparatory shortcoming was M’s almost total lack of background carrying packs heavier than 20 pounds.  With good gear, and with being both a faster hiker and quite a bit heavier than her, it made sense for me to carry more stuff to equalize our speed.  This put us on the back foot when we had to add 30-40 pounds of infant and infant stuff.

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For the first three months backpacking with an infant is not recommended.  Their immune systems are fragile and straying too far from definitive medical care could be dicey.  Day hikes with a front carrier (below) and infant insert are the order of the day, with time to get used to feeding and diaper changes out in the woods.

Depending on the pace of their development, between 3 and 4 months infants will be able to hold their heads up, and themselves erect to a certain extent, for a decent stretch.  Backpack carriers are out, but soft front carriers like the Ergobaby Performance (non-cotton) are a good option.  We used a wrap which was effective but fussy and slow to deploy.  We should have bought the Ergo sooner.  Little Bear loved hiking at this age, but fatigued after a solid half day.  We did minimal backpacking, but a lot of dayhiking, which I do think was enormously important in conditioning him to love being in the backpack later.  Had we lived in a warmer climate without so many bears leisurely backpacks on trails or easy terrain, with plenty of time in camp, would have been really nice.  At this age infants can’t crawl, or even turn over, and are easily amused.

Around six months, give or take quite a lot either way, infants will be large enough to securely fit in, and strong enough to sit upright in, a good backpack carrier.  This is when backpacking with infant starts to really be game on.  Properly acclimate your kid to the carrier, and to the rhythm of backpacking, and don’t push their core and torso strength too much too soon, and you can do some very ambitious trips during this period.  They’re as light as they’ll ever be, love the changing scenery of hiking as well as being up at adult eye level, and before they start crawling are much, much easier to watch in camp.  LB was in this phase when we did our Honaker-Slickhorn trip, and in retrospect I kick myself that we didn’t prioritize another keystone backpacking trip during that phase of his development.

At some point your infant will start to crawl and then walk, and more significantly will emphatically want to be out under their own power exploring the world.  Preemptive, extended breaks while backpacking are vital at this phase, as is taking those breaks and making camp in areas which facilitate safe infant wandering.  Steep sidehill trails, cliffs, talus, and tall brush are all no good.  Meadows and beaches, especially those that gradually slope into a still body of water, are ideal.  This past week we got into a decent cycle, hiking 4-6 miles (2 to 2.5 hours), then taking a 30-60 minute break.  Obviously daily mileage takes a hit.  At some point in the near, but yet to be found future LB will want even more time on his feet, and presumably we’ll drop daily miles drastically as he slowly transitions towards hiking more and more on his own.

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Kids are heavy, and fairly soon after they can ride all day in the pack, they’re strong enough to hurl their weight sideways to get a better look at that one boulder or patch of flowers (colors….).  In an ideal world one parent would carry the kid, the other everything else.  In a really ideal world the gear load will dip close to or below the kid load as food is eaten, though diaper weight makes this happen much more slowly.  Then the parents could swap, as a 28 pound kid load (22 pound 10 month old, plus 6 pound carrier) often feel close to a 35 or 38 pound pack, when said kid is active.  As I alluded to above, M was not able to carry LB in the Osprey, due to both her lack of weight training and hipbelt incompatibility.  Thus the evolution of the rig seen above.  On our recent trip I had all our camp gear plus dinners, stove and fuel, as well as 6 days of diapers in the cargo pocket of the Osprey.  Probably 45 pounds, including kid, but due to the less than ideal leverage it feels like 60 (at least).  I’m in good hiking shape, and good pack carrying shape, and our first day (17 miles with a 3000′ climb at the end) wrecked me like I’ve rarely been wrecked before.  In short, our system works, and will continue to work, but it has pretty high demands on the adults.  Not having to frankenstein a cargo rig would be much better.

This is also a good place to note that any non-backpacking you can do while backpacking is very welcome.  Base camping, which we’ve resisted out of principle thus far, seems pragmatic.  Packrafting adds significantly to the load, but the value of time off the feet can hardly be overstated.  We had heavier packs and did almost the same overall miles in the same amount of time on Honaker-Slickhorn as our recent Glacier trip, but with the later being all hiking and having much more elevation gain and loss made it quite a bit tougher.

This is also the time to point out that traveling to seek out the ideal route, with ideal weather, camps, and terrain, is worth the effort.  Backpacking with an infant is a lot, lot more fun when the sun is out, it isn’t too hot or cold, and there are great places for wiggle breaks.

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Feeding backpackable infants when they’re still totally or mostly nursing is dead easy, provided the weather and bugs aren’t bad.  LB has been slower than many transitioning to solid food, and his reduced nursing and reticence/distractibility made our recent trip a bit more complicated.  A snack cup attached to the pack proved effective, though the snacks needed to be varied from day to day.  Our food bag was bulkier than usual due to the high volume and low cal/oz baby foods.  On days LB’s food intake was a bit low, he made up for it with midnight nursing.  Fine for his health, less fine for M’s sleep.  Being proactive in this area makes a big difference.

Sleep in the backcountry has been quite variable with the kid.  LB set what is still his personal best for continuous sleep on his very first backpacking trip, but most of the time he sleeps less deeply and with more interruptions than at home.  Unfamiliar circumstances?  We can only assume.  He’s always slept in our bed, first in a bassinet and from six months on just between us.  Friends whose infants are used to cribs have had a harder time with occasional outings in a tent.

A fully enclosed tent is a good idea with an infant.  LB absolutely recognizes and values the safe, home-like area a tent creates, away from the pokey and hard things and uneven surfaces, and enjoys playing on our sleeping mats and with our sleeping bags.  Earlier this summer we replaces M’s second leaky (for no reason) Big Agnes IACore with a Klymit Static V Luxe.  This massive, 30 inch wide pad fits both M and LB, allowing for easy midnight nursing, and leaves a bit of room for me tucked into the corner of the tent.

Sleeping bags for kiddo has been a moving target, and not something we currently have dialed.  Early on he did well with the Patagonia fleece buntings, with feet zipped together, but since nine months or so LB finds those too confining.  He had a brief period when the louder premium nylon of the Climashield sleeping bag I made him was so loud it kept him from going to sleep, which was awesome (not).  Currently he refuses to sleep with his arms anything other than spread eagled, so sleeping in an insulating jacket, with socks for mittens and his sleeping bag pulled up to his armpits, is the best we can do.  Adding suspenders to the bag so he can’t wiggle out is top of the current project list.

Fortunately, I’ve been consistently surprised at how easily LB stays warm.  These days he needs less insulation than I do for given conditions.  He is also a 13 month old, which is to say a dirty and drooly creature.  Fleece layers, and plenty of them, are the order of the day.  I’ll address infant outdoor clothing in a separate post in the weeks to come, and just say that we’ve found technical baby clothing, while expensive, to be worth it.  Quick drying, warm when wet stuff makes backcountry baby life much simpler.  The mosquito-proof Patagonia Baggies pants and jacket especially.

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We know about a dozen other couples who’ve had kids in the last 2 years, and exactly one of them has ever taken their infant backpacking.  Most wait months, if not over a year, to even go car camping.  This is a mistake.  Because modern life insulates us from backpacking it is too easy for getting out in the backcountry to seem too hard, too inconvenient.  This even without an infant in the picture. Making backpacking, camping, and hiking with your infant a habit helps keep it as simple and necessary, in your mind, as it should be.  Make no mistake, the longer backpacking trips we’ve done with Little Bear have been physically crushing, and the aftermath would be intimidating if the trips themselves were not almost always so awesomely fulfilling.  Backpacking has been a passion for us, and sharing that with our child is for both him and us the height of necessity.  In doing this well, there is no greater satisfaction.