Backpacking while Pregnant: Firsthand Advice from a Trip that Didn’t Go So Well

When I pictured myself pregnant, I imagined myself going to the gym to lift weights with my belly sticking out, or trekking in the woods.

Considering that my pregnancy with Isabel was a torturous nine months, I should have known that these were unrealistic expectations. After all, it took my seven years to get enough courage to go through pregnancy again (actually not courage – more like I forgot how much being pregnant sucks for me.).

That’s how I found myself going backpacking at 4 weeks pregnant.

The plan was to go to Rugova Gorge in Kosovo.  Isabel and I had been there two years prior, and the experience was amazing.  Yes, the hike up to the peak is really steep but you are rewarded with a beautiful glacier lake at 1900 meters, peace, and no cell signal.  There are lots of day hikers that come through, and they make for great company.

Here’s the problem: I get really sick while pregnant.  To give you an idea how sick, consider that normal HCG levels (the hormone which makes causes morning sickness) are up to 426 at 4 weeks.

My levels were 9,600!  By 9 weeks, those numbers had gone up to 250,000!

My crazy hormones basically mean that I am puking 24/7.  I lost 2 kilos in the first weeks of pregnancy simply because I couldn’t eat.  By week 6, the morning sickness was so bad that I couldn’t even drink water and was getting massive dehydration headaches.

Luckily, I figured out a solution to the terrible morning sickness. Write me if you want to know what it is.

I didn’t want to let a baby stop me from doing the things I love – especially before it was even born!”

The first few days we spent camping at a ranch just outside of the small city of Peja, the gateway to Rugova Gorge.  I was tired, but I was basically laying around all day while Isabel played with horses and dogs. Since the weather was a lot cooler, my morning sickness was actually better than it had been in the city.

Tromping up the mountain a few days later was a different story.  Lightweight backpacking with kids is a fantasy, especially if you don’t want to spend a fortune on fancy kids hiking clothes that they’ll outgrow in one season.  My pack weighed 18 kilos.

Isabel was complaining during the hike up (as she usually does).  I was too tired to motivate her. It was easier for me to just carry her backpack for her than argue with her.  Now my load was up to over 20 kilos.

Somehow the hike up wasn’t too bad. We stopped a lot to pick berries and snack. The 2.5km trek took us 3+ hours.

I didn’t want to let a baby stop me from doing the things I love – especially before it is even born! But the next few days I was tired as hell.

“It’s really hard to respect “leave no trace” when your morning sickness has you puking all over the trail.”

Isabel wanted me to play with her, and I simply had no energy.  I suggested that we go for a hike a few times.  Isabel said no (she was having too much fun catching salamanders and water beetles).  I didn’t push the hike – I was happy to lay around and rest.  We basically stayed at the same spot for 3 days.

Even though we’d planned to stay 5 days, I couldn’t make it.  I was vomiting about 3 times per day, and dry heaving the rest of the time.  It’s really hard to respect “leave no trace” when your morning sickness has you puking all over the trail!

backpacking while pregnant

One month pregnant, puking and extremely exhausted — but trying to keep a smile for Isabel

My camping food also didn’t suit my pregnancy belly. Ramen noodles were okay, but throwing up trail mix was painful.   The one good thing was that pregnancy constipation meant I didn’t have to dig a fox hole too many times.

So we decided to head back home early.

It wasn’t an easy decision.  I felt like I’d failed. Luckily, my fatigue didn’t leave me much energy to dwell on this failure.

“Normally I’d never let a man carry my backpack for me.  But, when he offered, I didn’t object too hard.”

Downhill is actually harder for me than uphill (I need to do calf exercises for backpacking). Since we left early, I also had leftover food in my pack. Thus, my pack was heavier than I planned it would be for the downhill.

We had to take like 15 breaks on the way down.

At one point, a local man with his wife and kid passed us while we were taking a break.  Men from Rugova are some of the tallest in the world and built strong.  You can tell they grew up climbing mountains and splitting wood.

Normally my feminist pride would never let a man carry my backpack for me.  But, when this local offered to help, I didn’t object too hard.  He ended up carrying my backpack down the last 300 meters of the trail.

When I told him that I was pregnant (trying to explain why I couldn’t handle my own damn backpack), he looked at me like I was crazy.

I don’t think I’m crazy.  I just want to keep doing the things I love.

“Mothers have to fight like hell not get caught up in “baby prison.”

Once I got back, I realized it was going to be a long time before I do any backpacking.  It will be November before I feel normal, and I don’t feel like winter camping with a huge pregnancy belly.

I know I should take it easy.   But I also don’t want to give up the things I love just because I’m pregnant (nor do I want to stop once the baby is born!).  There’s a group camping trip in October which hopefully I’ll be able to make.

But there is the question of what I’ll do once the kid is born.  Do I go hardcore and take the baby backpacking? Do I ditch the kid for a few weeks at a time so I can get away? Do I put my life on hold until the kid stops breastfeeding?

Mothers have to fight like hell to keep time for themselves, to not get caught up in “baby prison.” Trust me, it would have been a LOT easier to just sit at home with Isabel than organize trips and babysitters for the times I wanted to go have a friggin’ drink with friends.

But women also take on way more than their share of the work.  We shouldn’t have to struggle just to keep up our passions while being mothers!  Here’s to hoping that the fathers of the world will finally step up and share the burden of the housework and child-rearing so we women don’t have to give up our sense of selves because of motherhood.

I’m still hoping that I’ll be able to get to the gym after this first trimester fatigue wears off.  But, if I’m ever pregnant again, I’ll make my husband take the kids to the mountains while I rest.

“Getting outdoors while pregnant is doable, and not entirely crazy.”

With my first pregnancy, I also had terrible morning sickness for the first 5 months (resulting in a lot of lost weight and complications).  But the last trimester was fine.  I was able to go car camping and hiking (not backpacking though) easily.  One of my favorite memories is being at the beautiful Tara Mountain at 8 months pregnant.

So, yes, getting outdoors while pregnant IS doable and not entirely crazy.  Just please don’t push yourself.  It’s okay to take it easy on yourself.  We don’t all need to be superwomen!

camping pregnant

During a camping trip while 8 month pregnant with Isabel. The first 6 months were terrible. By the 3rd trimester, I could climb mountains. 


Tips for Backpacking while Pregnant:

Just in case you do want to try it, here are the things that I would have done differently and tips.

  • Don’t go alone. You’ll appreciate having someone to share the pack load with, and to help with camp chores like hanging the bear bag.
  • Consider car camping instead: Car camping means you don’t have to walk far with a heavy backpack. You can also bring more gear, like a thicker sleeping pad.
  • Choose food wisely. A lot of typical camping food will upset your stomach. Soups were the best option for me.  Later in pregnancy, you’ll need more calories, fat, and protein in meals.
  • Electrolytes! Electrolytes are nutrients that help hydrate your body. I always keep them in my first aid kit.  While pregnant, I’d pack a bunch extra to take after puking.
  • Make sure you have a way to leave. In other words, don’t embark on a 40 mile loop only to reach the halfway point and realize that you want to go home.
  • Avoid developing countries. Traveler’s diarrhea is never fun, but particularly dangerous while pregnant. If I were to go to a developing country now, I’d treat all the water.
  • Don’t use iodine water treatments. The iodine can build up in your body and is bad for the developing baby. Use a water filter instead.
  • Consider altitude. When you are pregnant, you’ve got up to 50% more blood in your body. This means you’ve got an increased demand for oxygen.  At high altitudes, there is less oxygen and your body could react very badly!
  • Figure out your insurance coverage. If something happens during your trip, your insurance might not cover it because pregnancy is a “preexisting condition.”
  • Don’t plan too far ahead. Pregnancy is unpredictable. You might be one of the lucky women who doesn’t have morning sickness or symptoms during the first trimester, but then get hit with dizziness during the second.  So don’t make any definitive plans.  See how you feel the days or week before the backpacking trip and then decide if you still want to go.


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