Life changes profoundly for women after bringing a human being into the world, so it’s best to enjoy your normal routine as long as you can. If your pull towards the wilderness is stronger than your desire to nest, I have outlined a few things to keep in mind while planning your outings. To ensure your backpacking experience is as comfortable as possible, food, clothing, endurance, and sleeping are all things to consider when backpacking while pregnant.Ultralight backpacking is part luxury and part minimalism. You can save weight by purchasing high-quality light-weight gear like sleeping pads and bags. And/or, you can do without a selection of gear like kitchen items and extra clothes. It is a personal choice for many individuals. However, going ultralight is a prerequisite when backpacking while pregnant. This is true especially in the last trimesters because of the inability to effectively use a backpack’s hipbelt. Besides going ultralight, what else does a pregnant backpacker need to consider?
First trimesterOne might assume that the first trimester is the easiest trimester for backpacking because of minimal weight gain. However, nausea can make it the most miserable of the three trimesters for some women.
Double use for a trowel?Although I never found my head poised over a toilet bowl during my first trimester, I had severe nausea and food aversions. It was extremely difficult to pack meals for a backpacking trip because the thought of food made me feel queasy.
To relieve the pressure on my backpacking companions for predicting the erratic food desires of a pregnant woman, I became solely in charge of packing my own meals. Normally, the food I packed was both nutrient dense and lightweight. These requirements were put a tad lower on the list. Yummy took precedence. I packed food that I reliably craved like olives, beans, chocolate peanut butter cups, sweet and salty nuts, and any kind of dried and fresh fruit. Gone were protein bars, dehydrated mashed potatoes, and boxed mac-n-cheese. I was also concerned about preservatives in dehydrated store-bought processed food, so I spent some extra time making my own meals using a food dehydrator.
You thought the pass was difficult before...
I felt the most out of breath during the first trimester. Usually trouble catching my breath was my very first symptom of pregnancy despite being in excellent shape pre-pregnancy. I had difficulty on the trails in Kings Canyon National Park (~8,000 feet) during week 7 of my pregnancy, yet felt great summiting Half Dome (>8,000 feet) during week 24.
No nausea while asleep!
A good night’s rest was easily attained at a campsite during my first trimester. I slept comfortably on my NeoAir pad and my clothes were not yet fitting snugly, so they were still comfortable to wear while sleeping.
Above: Am I thinking about the beauty of King’s Canyon National Park, or my pregnancy-induced nausea? Second trimester
Months 4, 5, and 6 are the sweet spot of pregnancy for most women. Nausea has usually subsided and weight gain is minimal, so there is not too much difficulty hiking or sleeping comfortably. However, using a hipbelt strap on a backpack gets in the way of a growing uterus. So, the weight of the backpack needs to be on the shoulder straps and thus can be uncomfortable during long hikes.
Super ultralight backpacking!My solution was to carry only clothing, snacks, and water, while my backpacking companion(s) carried the remaining food and all the gear. This is only possible when backpacking with fellow ultralighterers. I also started hiking with a trekking pole which helped any balance issues caused by my changing center of gravity.
My future offspring were craving mountainsI felt wonderful in the second semester of my two pregnancies, and was able to do a total of six backpacking trips. Modern life made me feel overwhelmed with the complexity of adding a new member to the family, especially the amount of gear (clothes, diapers, blankets) needed. I enjoyed the simplicity of ultralight backpacking because I needed very few things to enjoy my time outdoors and was reminded that my children wouldn’t need a plethora of toys and clothes for survival. Instead, I focused on how I would be able to encourage a connection between my children and mother nature so they could grow up appreciating the wilderness.
Above: Hiking to the base of Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome with my bestie. We camped at Little Yosemite Valley, and summited and hiked out on the same day. Because it was late October, the posts for the ropes had been taken down so I didn’t feel comfortable walking up the dome and did miss out on the 360 degree view. Above: Taking one of many snack breaks on the way to a 2-night stay at Gilmore Lake in Desolation Wilderness.
Do any of your favorite outdoor companies sell maternity gear? Likely not, as it is an extremely small market! I recommend borrowing weather appropriate clothing from some of you larger backpacking friends if you are interesting in backpacking during the third trimester. Also, be sure to ask permission from your midwife or doctor. Or not! She will likely tell you not to go.
There is no place to find a good night’s sleepSleeping during the third trimester isn’t even comfortable in your own bed, so why not be uncomfortable in a beautiful setting outdoors? While sleeping in the tent at 36 weeks, my hips hurt very much. I had the same problem sleeping at home, so I knew to expect this and relieved the pain by putting my Montbell Pillow in between my knees while sleeping on my side. In the middle of the night I heard a hissing sound and felt my knees collapsing together. Ooops, I broke the pillow that I had been using for 5 years!
Staying dry and comfortableMost of my maternity clothes were made of cheap and comfortable cotton. So, I did wear some cotton on the trail and also raided my partner’s closet for a wool shirt and down jacket.
Yes, I’ll have seconds! And thirds!My food aversions decreased by the third trimester, but my appetite was strong so we left camp with no extra food- ideal!
I am getting passed on the trail by someone who learned to walk a few months ago!Despite my reduced lung capacity and increased weight, I felt strong enough to keep up with the 2- and 3-year-olds in our group trip during the 1.5 mile trek to camp. However, I’m not sure I would have been able to handle a more intense group of backpackers!
Above: Sky Camp Trailhead at Pt Reyes National Seashore with our 3 backpacks. Note that the Double Rainbow tent on the outside of the Ghost is for another mom hiking in with her 3-year-old.Now you are strong enough for childbirth
Backpacking is a great way to stay in shape during pregnancy, increase circulation to reduce swelling, and connect yourself and your family to the natural world. I highly recommend it as an activity during pregnancy. Disclaimer: talk to your doctor first.
A new appreciation for ultralightUltralight backpacking, to me, used to be about how fast, how far, how long, how light. That became impractical during pregnancy and instead I was able to appreciate simply getting out.