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Don’t let starting a family slow down your tramping

Image of the January 2022 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
January 2022 Issue

Some of the best tramping memories will be made with your children. By Cara McDonald

It was an odd feeling, finishing a five-day tramp with a pack almost as heavy as when we’d set off. The usual shedding of weight by eating and drinking your way through consumable pack contents had been replaced by a growing bag of wet nappies. Times, they were a changin’. Both the pack contents and the company. 

Skye, our 11-month-old, had been carried 85km along the Old Ghost Road and there hadn’t been a word of thanks. To be fair, she couldn’t even say ‘Mum’ yet. It might be many years, perhaps even decades, until she shows some gratitude for the adventures she’s been on, but I’ve no doubt it will come. 

Something magical happens when kids go into the hills. Conversation flows. Ipads are swapped for playing cards. Memories are made, and passions ignited. 

We’re new parents and have found tramping to be key to maintaining our sanity. It has enabled us to retain one of our ‘pre-children’ passions. It’s so easy to get swept up into the vortex of nappies, sleepless nights, playdates and homework. Many mums and dads I speak to talk about losing their sense of identity when they become a parent; life very quickly becomes all about your little bundle of joy.

Pack contents look a little different now: wine and cheese have been swapped for nappies and spew rags, but the feeling of sharing our beautiful backyard with our child makes all that worthwhile.

However, there’s no escaping the fact that those backcountry epics done in pre-baby days will probably be parked up for the next few years. But there is hope in New Zealand’s incredible hut network, many huts being accessible with only a few hours of walking. DOC even has a filter on its website for huts within 1-3hr walk of the road end, should you need ideas for family-friendly trips. 

Tramping with children doesn’t need to cost the world either. Under 10’s don’t pay hut fees and Great Walks are free for under 18’s. There is a thriving trade in second-hand child carriers and outdoor clothes on Facebook and Trademe. Your library has tramping guidebooks and you can read online blogs or use Facebook and Instagram to get ideas. 

Baby years are a great time to start; they’re adaptable, mum has milk on tap and their weight should still allow you to carry baby on the front and pack on the back. If you’re getting back into the hills during the toddler years, you’ll need a bit more time and patience. Snacks, toys, lots of breaks and periods of carrying a child will be your new normal. School-aged kids can probably manage a small pack – even if just to carry a sleeping bag; that’s a weight off your shoulders. You can teach them about native plants, birds and map reading, along with broader concepts like risk awareness, and decision making. 

Tramping has huge benefits for both parents and children. It’s an opportunity for you to make some incredible memories together. When I think back to the first years of my daughter’s life, it’s not the playdates or lazy days at home that spring to mind. It’s the wild storm our family was caught in descending Avalanche Peak, fending off weka as they tried to peck our little girl on the Abel Tasman Coast Track, and watching the strangers-turned-friends reading Skye a bedtime story on the Old Ghost Road. 

Parenthood is a new chapter, but one enriched by time spent with a pack on your back. The kids will be leaving you in the dust before you know it.


Kids gear

Gear for young trampers


Marmot Kid’s Retro Pom Hat $59.95

The Retro Pom Hat harks back to style that came long before they were born, but still looks just as cool. www.marmotnz.co.nz


Marmot Kid’s Precip ECO $179.95

NanoPro PFC-free and recycled nylon fabric, 100% seam taped, roll-up hood with integral collar, pack pockets, double storm flap over zipper, DriClime lined chin guard, Angel-Wing Movement. 205g. www.marmotnz.co.nz 

Petzl Tikkid 20 $58.50

A compact 20-lumen headlamp for children aged three and up. Wide beam offers comfortable lighting for reading or playing. A glow-in-the-dark lens makes it easy to find at night time. Automatic shut-off after one hour allows it to be used as a night light. www.outdoorestore.co.nz