The Book

Babes in the Woods: Hiking, Camping, Boating with Babies and Young Children, a book by Alaska instructor, parent educator and mother Jennifer Aist

Babes in the Woods cover
Click here to pre-order now!
(Buy through this link to help support this site and the author!)

Babies in the backcountry? Absolutely. With a lifelong love of being in the outdoors, I couldn't wait to plan a backpacking trip with my first baby. She was about 4 months old and had already traveled on many an Alaskan trail. But what about bears? What about bugs? What if the baby gets sick or hurt? What if it rains the whole time? I knew how to handle these situations for myself, but somehow with a baby in tow, everything I knew about camping needed to be re-evaluated. With many unanswered questions, I packed up and headed out. No one got sick, no one was injured. It didn't rain. The bugs were a hassle, but overall we had a fabulous time and I was hooked. I couldn't wait to start planning the next adventure. Over the years our family has had lots of rain, a broken arm or two, sick kids, sick moms and occasionally some cranky moods. But more than anything we?ve had tons of smiles and four kids that truly love and respect the backcountry as much as my husband and I do.

In the beginning I had a ton of questions. How do you keep a six-month-old entertained on your back for a 4 hour hike? What do you really need to bring with you for a weekend camping trip? What if someone does get sick or injured? What if the baby won't sleep in a tent? How do you keep little ones warm and dry? I scoured the Internet and read every book I could find on camping with children. What I found was a lot of information about camping with older children and barely more than a page or two on babies. There was a lot of information about weekend RV camping, but next to nothing on tent camping with toddlers who were in the midst of potty training. So I kept hiking, improvising as we went, and I started keeping notes and taking pictures. Before I knew it, I had amassed a whole lot of information on taking babies and toddlers into the backcountry. Other families I knew went on their own adventures and came back to share their experiences. Meanwhile, more and more people were asking for advice about taking their children out in the woods. At the request of many families, in 1999 the first ever "Babes in the Woods" class was held at the Children's Hospital at Providence in Anchorage, Alaska, and by the second year we filled an auditorium with people coming from all over, to learn some of the tricks and tips that my family and others had accumulated over the years. I now teach annual "Babes in the Woods," "Babes in the Snow" and "Babes on the Water" classes—all of which are well attended by families excited to share the outdoors with their young children.

Over the past ten years the interest of families in taking their very young children out camping has increased exponentially. Today's parents tend to incorporate parenting into their regular lives rather than put aside their favorite activities to stay home with babies. The camping industry has responded by creating better gear and clothing designed for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Personal Flotation Devices, or PFD's, are now available for newborns. Baby joggers are now considered basic baby equipment. Clothing manufacturers even make wool socks and polypro—a tough-as-nails, quick-drying material– for newborns.

Camping and hiking are activities no longer reserved for those considered ?hard core.? More and more people are taking an interest in wild places and thus a desire to share those places with their children. Families are also finding that travel costs are keeping them closer to home on vacations. Camping is the perfect eco/budget friendly vacation.

This book is the product of miles and miles of trails with my four children either in my belly, on my back or on my heels. Perhaps more importantly, it is a product of many families learning to camp and returning home to share their expertise. From their travels and my own, I have learned hundreds of tips and tricks to make the wilderness more accessible for you and your kids. This book is intended to not only inspire families to adventure with their young children, but also educate them so that they have a safe and meaningful experience. You'll feel equipped to plan a short day hike, a car camping trip, base camping adventure, boating excursion or backpacking trip in every climate. It is my most sincere hope that it will help more and more families begin a tradition of sharing our great backcountry with their children.

The benefits of connecting children and adults alike with nature are far-reaching. A study of preschool children in Norway and Sweden compared motor development outcomes of groups of children who played on either typical flat playgrounds, or natural settings with uneven ground. At one year, the children who played in natural settings tested better for motor fitness, in particular balance and agility. It is truly an oddity of the last 100 years that we don't spend the majority of the day outdoors on uneven ground in varying weather conditions.

Our physiology is much more adapted to outdoors than it is to climate-controlled indoor environments. Our immune system is challenged to the max by breathing in recycled air riddled with viruses and bacteria from heating and ventilation systems. Our bone mass is decreasing due to lack of weight-bearing exercise. (Weight bearing on bones increases bone mass and, in turn, bone strength.) Elevators, escalators, moving sidewalks and other modern marvels have eased our commutes and daily tasks, but the price has been high, as evidenced by alarming levels of obesity. We need to get back outside and get moving.

American families have shifted from spending all of their time outside to being afraid to go outside at all with their children. I hear so many parents telling me their fears in taking young children out hiking?even day hikes. They are afraid of the weather, getting lost, catching colds, and the thousands of ?what ifs? that loom over parents. The fact is that you can't catch a cold from being cold or wet, very few children get lost in the woods, and most importantly, babies and young children are incredibly resilient. In reality, your baby is at far greater risk driving on the highway than riding on your back down the trail.

The balance between modern technology and nature has shifted too far. We as parents have the opportunity to shift the balance back for our children. We don't need to forgo modern technology or our mini vans, we just need to re-incorporate nature back into our lives. If we can do that for our babies, we will be giving them, and perhaps our planet, the greatest gift.

Our babies and children are well-suited for the great outdoors. So are we. I look forward to seeing you on the trail!

Edit this entry.