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Good night, sleep tight

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May 2022 Issue

Taking your baby on an overnight hut trip and ensuring a good night’s sleep for everyone is perfectly feasible.

Many families with young children cite worries about sleep as one of the major barriers to tramping. It’s hard enough getting a baby to sleep through the night in their own cot, let alone in a shared hut full of snorers, rustling sleeping bags and 2am ‘popping out to the loo’ door slams.

As new parents who love to tramp, we agonised over what to do. Many comments on internet forums were critical of parents who took young children into huts. So, we decided to aim for a gradual introduction for our little girl into hut life.

Our first overnighter was on the Old Ghost Road when Skye was three months old. This track suited us because of bookable sleepouts. We could test our girl on a lumpy DOC mattress, expose her to rustling sleeping bags and Dad’s snoring, whilst knowing that others’ sleep needn’t suffer if we had a rough night. 

After an 18km walk, we were all tuckered out. After Skye had cuddles with her new hut-friends, she was put to bed in her Merino Kids sleepsack, Mountain Buggy sleeping bag and with the white noise machine on the lowest setting – we tried to recreate her home conditions. We then jammed our packs in around her in case she rolled in the night. And, after a good night’s sleep, we woke next morning, all happy and well-rested. 

This first foray gave us the confidence to step things up a level. By the time Skye was five months old, we started keeping an eye on a nearby bookable hut. One Sunday, we could see the hut was still free by lunchtime so we locked in three beds and walked in. The night wasn’t as successful as our first trip. Skye was older and more inquisitive, and it seemed that the excitement of being in a hut, wanting to roll out of bed to crawl around and see mum and dad in the torchlight, was a bit too much. Breastfeeding calmed things down, and once we were in our sleeping bags and the lights were off, things improved. She woke three times during the night but I was able to breastfeed her and send her back to sleep. 

When she was seven months old, I set off with Skye to walk the Abel Tasman Coast Track. Although I had intentionally booked mid-week and mid-winter, it was inevitable that other people would be in the huts. At Awaroa Hut, several ‘hut-mates’ were unable to disguise their dismay at finding a baby crawling around. The hut environment was frosty and I was paranoid about the experience of other hut users. Skye is inquisitive and she quickly crawled up to everyone, inspecting their shoelaces and giving them big smiles. People thawed out quickly. 

Family sleep set up on a five-day Old Ghost Road tramp. Photo: Cara McDonald

I had taken some picture books and asked a few of the frostier hut mates if they would read her a bedtime story. Involving the other hut users was a great way to get buy-in, so much so that two young women insisted on wanting to share a room with us so they could sleep with the baby. The night was a shambles. Skye woke five times. Luckily as soon as she stirred, I had milk at the ready and quickly scooped her up and fed her. The other girls only heard her squawk twice, and the others in the hut all swore they didn’t hear her once.

Skye is now 15 months old and we have found a compromise that works for us. Most of our tramping trips take the form of day trips to huts. We usually set off early in the morning, aiming to have a long lunch at a hut, then head back to the car mid-afternoon. It feels like a win-win. Mum and dad still get the opportunity to stretch their legs, have some restorative time in the hills and explore new parts of the country, while Skye adores being out in nature, exploring around the huts and trying to solicit food from new hut friends. We don’t have to worry about potentially disrupting the sleep of 20 others and we also don’t have to carry in the huge amount of gear needed to service a baby overnight. Everyone gets to sleep in their own bed at the end of a long day.

We are booked to do the Milford Track with our little girl. So much could go wrong. But then, so much could go right. Either way, it will be a trip we won’t forget.

How not to lose sleep when taking your baby on an overnight trip

  • Do a day walk to a hut.
  • Book a sole-use DOC hut.
  • Monitor bookable DOC huts and if one is empty, head in late in the day.
  • Visit huts outside peak times or mid-week.
  • Take a tent.
  • Do a private track with bookable private rooms.

Hut hacks

  • Try to replicate baby’s sleeping setup from home.
  • Involve other hut users – extra pairs of hands or story readers give you a rest and can break the ice.
  • Take an old phone to use as a baby monitor, so when baby goes to sleep, you’re not trapped in the hut.
  • By using a travel dome on a DOC mattress, you can prevent your child crawling off after waking from a nap.