Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Gear Review: Baby Bjorn One Outdoors Baby Carrier

Hiking with Baby Bjorn One Outdoors Carrier
Photo by Leanne De Craene.
My new leap into motherhood has brought a whole new level of hiking-gear obsession.  As most middle-class mothers have done, prior to the birth of my son, I agonized over which type of baby carrier to invest in.  For those of you who don't know - these things aren't cheap - the average (quality) soft carrier ranges from $50-$300 and each one comes with advantages and limitations.  In the end, thanks to generous friends I ended up with three top-notch carriers.  Unfortunately, it turned out that while they all were great at something...none were great for what I needed...hiking

Other carriers didn't cut it for summer hiking.
From left:No hip support, too stretchy/not enough support,
 too hot/can't wear a pack.
I originally tried a popular soft carrier that my baby's legs could dangle down in. I loved it's simplicity and baby Lucien loved how comfortable it was.  Unfortunately, about the time when he was able to face outward in it, it became uncomfortable carrying him.  With no hip belt and little shoulder padding, it was too painful for a multi-hour hike.

Next I tried a wrap system.  Although this is my favorite for around the house, it didn't work for hiking either.  The stretchable jersey sagged after long walks.  Not to mention - with baby pressed up against me, we both turned into sweat machines in minutes after increased exercise.

Finally I though I had it made when I got a drop-in carrier with a massive hip belt.  Sure, my shoulders didn't hurt anymore, but the giant shoulder pads made it so I couldn't carry Lucien AND a backpack.  Where would I store water, diapers, and snacks? This carrier also placed baby against me directly which made us hot on summer hiking days.

I felt like I was in some momma-hiking version of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears"....I needed to find a carrier that was "just right".  Right when I was about to give up on treks with my boy, I found out that Baby Bjorn was coming out with a new carrier - a hiking specific soft carrier!  They agreed to let me gear test it.  Here is what I found...

Item:  Baby Carrier One Outdoors by Baby Bjorn (in turquoise)
Hiking in Acadia with One Outdoors.
Photo by Leanne De Craene.

The Basics: According to Baby Bjorn's website, this carrier is specifically designed as the "perfect hiking baby carrier".  It works for age newborn to 3 years, is considered a 'hip-healthy' carrier for baby, and has options for 4-way front and back carrying.  The material is a mesh-hybrid which is designed to let air flow (preventing the sweaty problems), and comes with a travel bag and hip belt pouch - perfect for a smart phone.  Color choices are turquoise and black.

Test Adventures:

My initial test of the Baby Carrier One Outdoors was a 4 day trip to Acadia National Park with my girlfriends. I averaged 5-10 miles of hiking a day plus in-town travel.  Lucien probably spent a total of 30+ hours in this pack over the course of the trip.  I took him on easy to challenging trails (See post about trip HERE).

Lucien was 2.5 months at the time of the initial gear test, but he was really long for his age - over 25 inches.  The pack had two options for where he sat in the carrier and he was just too tall for the infant position.  I was easily able to zip him into the larger 'pocket'.  I tested it as a front carrier in both the inward and outward facing options.  **Note - the manufacture recommends you don't try outward facing until 5 months but Lucien was fine holding his neck for short periods of time in it.  At this time, my baby is too small for back carrying so I haven't been able to test that (yet).

Acadia with Baby Bjorn One Outdoors.
Photo by Leanne De Craene
My priorities going into the test was to look for a few things that I wasn't getting in my other carriers.  Here were my questions:

- Carrier Comfort - Can I wear it for 4-6 hours without pain?  Does it distribute weight onto hips and shoulders?  Does it adjust to different body types?

- Baby Comfort - Does my baby sit well in it?  Is it comfortable for him?

- Breathability - Are my baby and I going to be instantly covered in my sweat when I start climbing a mountain?

- Difficulty Using - Can I get it on and baby in by myself?  Can I quickly take it on and off when I need to diaper change, nurse, get in-and-out of the car?

- Storage/Pack - Can I wear a backpack AND the carrier?  Does it provide storage for items for a short walk?

After 4 days and 30+ hours of hiking I found my answers...

Trying the face out option.

Carrier Comfort - I had HIGH expectations for this carrier that claims to be "the perfect hiking baby carrier" and after my initial test, I agree that it is the best soft carrier on the market for hiking.  The weight of my baby was distributed between my hips and shoulders.  I was incredibly comfortable hiking multiple hikes a day for many days with this pack.  I'm 6'1" so I was nervous about it being long enough for me, but I didn't have any issues.  I wore the "hip" belt more like a waist belt so I'm sure on a shorter torsoed mommy it would sit more on the hips, but it could obviously work for 6 ft dads too.  I also love that the hip and waist belt are not too thick so I didn't get sweaty AND the shoulder straps (although padded) were thin enough that I could wear a backpack and the carrier at the same time.

Baby Comfort - I was able to adjust the pack to Lucien's length so he fit well.  I liked these options and can see that I'd get my moneys worth from this pack since he will grow into it and the pack will be adjustable.  He slept in the carrier through pretty much every hike.
Breathable barrier between mom and baby.
I am wearing a backpack over the carrier straps.
Breathability - This is the real genius of this pack.  There is a mesh barrier between you and your baby.  As I climbed up mountains and was dripping sweat in 90 degree humid weather, my baby stayed dry!  It prevented us both turning into sweat machines.  The mesh also helped prevent excessive sweat along the strap lines.  I LOVE this part of the pack.  If you are going summer hiking, the other options are just too hot for you and baby.

Difficulty - While this pack is not as easy to use as the Bjorn Original, it's still pretty simple - especially considering that it works for newborn to 3 years.  It took less than a minute to get Lucien in and out.

Storage - The only storage available on the pack is the cell-phone sized pocket on the waist band.  Honestly, I didn't use this at all.  I keep my phone in my pocket and carried a backpack with me that sat comfortably over the shoulder straps of the baby carrier.


As far as a soft hiking carrier goes, this is (in my opinion) the best choice out there.  It was
Hiking in New Hampshire with One Outdoors.
Photo by Leanne De Craene.
comfortable for me and my baby, we didn't get sweaty, it was easy to use, and I was able to wear a backpack with it.  Still, there are some limitations to this pack since it is built as a hiking specific carrier.

Mentioned earlier, this pack is a little more complicated than the original.  As a result, it takes some user knowledge and fiddling with straps.  It's not as easy to get baby in and out of.   Although this could easily be an everyday carrier, I prefer it strictly for hiking since I have the wrap for in-home use which is a little softer and great for cooler weather.

Some mothers might find it frustrating that they cannot breastfeed while wearing the carrier.  When I needed to breastfeed, I needed to remove baby and the carrier.  This was slightly cumbersome but not a deal-breaker.

It's last limitation is storage - I didn't find the cell phone pocket on the hip band particularly helpful.  I would have preferred a larger pouch in the front or larger hip belt pouch.  This turned out to not be a problem on large hikes, however, since I was able to carry a backpack.


Climbing challenging trails with One Outdoors.
Photo by Leanne De Craene.
The Baby Bjorn One Outdoors Carrier turned out to be everything it promised.  It is the perfect option for parents looking to hike with their child.  With a steep price tag (retailing around $250), it's an investment.  However, for me, it is totally worth it if you are planning regular hiking with your baby.  What's more, because of its versatility, the user can use this carrier for up to 3 years of the child's life - a promise not offered by other packs.  I look forward to using my Baby Bjorn One Outdoors Baby Carrier on all my adventures this summer as well as years to come!  Keep up with my adventures with baby Lucien here at FreelanceAdventurer.com and on Facebook at @TheFreelanceAdventurer and Instagram @FreelanceAdventurer.

Happy Baby after a day of hiking!
Photo by Leanne De Craene.

You might enjoy the following posts about hiking with a baby...

- 3 Family Friendly Nights in Acadia National Park

- White Ledge Trail - Solitude and Views Near North Conway

- Mt. Kearsarge North - 360 Views in the Heart of North Conway

Sunday, July 17, 2016

3 Family Friendly Nights in Acadia National Park

Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park.  Photo by Leanne De Craene
This time our little ones joined the trip!
Photo by Leanne De Craene.
It's that time of year again...Girl's Trip!  For the ninth year in a row, my best girl-friends and I planned an adventure trip together.  Years past have included everything from far off Newfoundland and Iceland to stateside Michigan and Colorado.  Not only have the trips changed through the years, but we have as well.  While we started off this tradition as carefree 20-somethings, we now have husbands, families, careers, and mortgages.  Still, we have found a way to continue our tradition of enjoying an adventure every summer together.  This summer, we honed in on the Northeast.  I had a two month old baby, and Courtney a toddler (and pregnant with number two). Acadia National Park in Maine seemed like the perfect destination - great views, lots of hiking, and relatively "close" to home.  It was the perfect destination for our crew.  Read on to recreate this adventure...

Adventure:  3 nights, 4 days on Mt. Desert Island - Acadia, Bar Harbor, and more!

Hadley's Point Cabins
Lodging:  We wanted an affordable housing option near Bar Harbor (VERY HARD TO FIND!)  Having a baby, I wasn't ready to camp (especially since I booked before I had even had the baby).  We were lucky to find Hadley's Point Campground where we were able to book rustic cabins for $80 a night.

 The cabins included a bathroom, queen bed, twin bunk bed, porch with picnic table, and fire pit.  It was only 10 minutes north of Bar Harbor and 5 minutes from the Acadia Visitor Center.  We loved our stay there.
** Important note - book your stay early!  We booked our July stay in January and Friday and Saturday was already sold out so we stayed Sunday-Wednesday.
View of interior cabin. 
Outside the cabin porch
Trying out the new Baby Bjorn One Outdoors!
Photo by Leanne De Craene
Gear: There's a saying in Maine - "If you don't like the weather...wait 5 minutes".  This is important to keep in mind when packing.  Besides food, camp gear, linens, and beach gear, we also were glad we packed rain gear, warm weather gear, and hiking gear.  I used this trip to gear test a new hiking baby carrier on the market - Baby Bjorn's One Outdoors.  It was crucial as a hiking-mom and allowed me to hike tens of miles each day without pain.  See my gear review HERE.

I also purchased the Appalachian Mountain Club's Acadia National Park Hiking and Biking Map.  This map provided detailed trail information including carriage road and bike trails.

Itinerary: Below is the itinerary for our trip.  I like how we were able to spend time hitting some of the main highlights of the park/island as well as some more offbeat adventures.

Day 1 - Bar Harbor Afternoon

Our first day we arrived by car to a damp and cool Maine day.  We decided to spend the afternoon walking around Bar Harbor, grabbing a bite, and setting up/snuggling in our cabin.  We enjoyed such a great lunch at Side Street Cafe that we ended up going there for dinner again on our last night!  That night we made a camp dinner and enjoyed each other's company at the campground.

Cool and rainy first day in Bar Harbor.

Day 2 - The "Right" Side

View from Gorham Mountain Summit of Beehive.
Mount Desert Island is divided into two sides - almost like two large peninsulas.  The "right" side (north-
east) is more populated and contains the popular tourist town of Bar Harbor as well as the more visited Acadia park destinations like Sand Beach, Jordan Pond, Otter Cliffs, and Cadillac Mountain.  A park loop road takes visitors to the various destinations (note- part of this loop is one-way).  Although there is a free park bus, we decided to drive ourselves around this portion - knowing there was risk of not finding parking at various spots.  Our first stop was the Visitor Center where we purchased our $25 week parking pass.

Our main stop of the day was Sand Beach.  Parking here provides access to the beach as well as popular hiking trails.  We split ways here - some spent 2 hours on the beach, some hiked the challenging Beehive Trail, but I chose to take baby Lucien up Gorham Mountain. It is an easy to moderate trail that provides amazing views of ocean, mountains, and forest at a relatively short distance.  It took me about an hour and a half to hike the out-and-back trail and return to Sand Beach.  We all met up for a little beach time before moving on.
Sand Beach
Courtney decided to stay with her toddler at the beach while Leanne and I meandered on.  We walked the Ocean Path the 1.6 miles from Sand Beach down to Thunder Hole. I enjoyed cliff and ocean views on this easy, flat path.

Ocean Path Views
Back at Sand Beach, Leanne and I hopped back in the car and drove the Ocean Drive around Otter Point.  We stopped for a beach stroll and more scenic views at Otter Cove before making way to our next big stop - Jordan Pond.

Jordan Pond is a heavily trafficked stop.  It took a while to find a parking spot here.  Besides great
Jordan Pond
hiking and views, there is the famous Jordan Pond House where guests can enjoy lunch or tea on the lawn or restaurant.  I've tried this before- it was nice enjoying gorgeous views and their famous popover rolls.  Be prepared for a long wait if you decide to dine!  We decided to pass this time and opted for another hike instead.  The 3.3 mile Jordan Pond Shore trail is an easy trail that takes you around the entire lake.  The trail is flat but involves a mile stretch of "bog bridges" which can be hard for small children and slippery when wet.  Leanne and I decided to add some challenge to our hike by climbing up the South Bubble Trail.  From the south, we climbed the rocky and steep trail to the gorgeous views of the summit.  Near the summit, the trail was very challenging.  The decent on the north side of the mountain was more moderate although involved lots of boulders with some tricky footing.  Hikers can also take a look at Bubble Rock - a precariously perched boulder on the summit of South Bubble.

**Note - Jordan Pond is the water-source for the area.  As a result - swimming and motorized vehicles are not allowed in the water.
Hike up the Bubbles was more challenging.
After our Jordan Pond hike, we returned to our car and headed north back to Hadley Point Campground for a home-made dinner at our cabin.  It was a wonderful day!

Day 3 - The "Left" Side

Hike up to Acadia Mountain.
Day 3 was designed to explore a little bit of the left (or south-west) peninsula.  After a delicious home-made breakfast in our campground, we drove south to Echo Lake.  This spot is a great place to swim, sunbathe, and relax at the freshwater beach.  After setting up Kendra and Sarah with little Cedar, Courtney, Leanne, Baby Lucien, and I headed up Acadia Mountain Trail (a short drive up the road) for a morning hike.  The trail was a moderately challenging.  Although it can be made into a loop with Valley Peak and St Sauveur Trail, we decided to just go out-and-back so we could fit in more adventures.  The peak had gorgeous ocean and mountain views and was a perfect morning hike.

After dropping Courtney back off at Echo Lake for the day, Leanne, Lucien, and I continued south on 102/102A.  We saw quaint views of Southwest Harbor and made stops to take nature walks at Wonderland and Ship Harbor.  Both trails were very easy and provided cliff, beach, and woodland views.  Ship Harbor was my favorite for the pink/red cliff views in the harbor.
Views along Ship Harbor Trail
Ship Harbor Trail
Bass Harbor Light
Our next stop was at Bass Harbor Headlight.  This picturesque light sits at the southern most point of Mt. Desert Island.  A short walk down some steep stairs and you can get the post-card shot of the lighthouse sitting above the seashore cliff.

After the lighthouse, we continued our scenic driving tour up 102.  We returned to Bar Harbor for a delicious dinner at Side Street Cafe followed by ice cream at Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream.  After watching the sunset in the harbor, we returned to our cozy cabins.

Sunset in Bar Harbor

Day 4 - Sunrise on Cadillac and Delicious Breakfast

On our last day, Leanne and Sarah got up at 4 am to drive the auto road up to the summit of Cadillac Mountain.  This popular activity gives viewers an opportunity to be the first in the US to see the sunrise for the day.  I'd experienced the sunrise view on past trips so I decided to sleep in on this occasion.  After a little more shut eye, Leanne and I packed up and went to Bar Harbor's 2 cats for breakfast.  After a yummy breakfast, we spent time gift shopping in town and lounging in the grassy knoll in the town center before leaving the island.
Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain. Photo by Leanne De Craene.

Final Thoughts 

Acadia was the perfect place to spend sometime with kids and girlfriends.  We enjoyed gorgeous views, endless choices in hiking, and a wonderful seaside town.  It would be easy to spend more time there finding more hikes and getting adventurous on the carriage trails.  It was great to realize that even with our busy lives, we could still escape for a wonderful friend and adventure filled vacation.
Me and my girls (and boy)

You might also enjoy the following adventures:

Four Family Friendly Days in Olympic National Park

Waterfalls and Swimming Holes - Vermont Adventures

Girls Trip 2014 - L.A. to Colorado

Monday, July 4, 2016

Wetting a Line on the Kancamagus

Falls Pond near Rocky Gorge on the Kancamagus Highway
Three years ago Matt and I met our friends from Long Island in the White Mountains.  We spent a day driving down the Kancamagus Highway finding spots to swim, fish, and picnic.  The post is titled Kancamagus Cool Down.  Now, exactly three years later, we met to do it again.  We hit up two new spots - Church Pond and Falls Pond - and returned to an old favorite - Sabbaday Falls.  It was a perfect summer day - sunny with a breeze.  We enjoyed our reunion with our friends and some White Mountain spots we truly enjoyed.

Here's how to recreate this adventure...
Rocky Gorge

The Kancamagus Highway (also known as Route 112) runs through the southern White Mountains.  The scenic drive connects Highway 16 in Conway to I-93 in Lincoln.  The entire road is 56 miles and provides access to hiking trails, campgrounds, and stunning views.  There are no stores, gas, or other amenities along the highway.  In addition, almost all the stops are on National Forest Land so vehicles need a pass.  You can purchase this with cash or check at any of the pullouts using an envelope and tag system.  On the date we visited, the charge was $3 a day. We met our friends Joe and Jeanne at the Ranger Station/Visitor Center at the start of the "Kanc" in Conway.  Our plan was to make three stops where we could stretch our legs with a short hike and the guys could fly fish.  Our three stops are listed below.

Stop 1: Rocky Gorge and Falls Pond
Nine miles down the Kanc from the visitor center in Conway is Rocky Gorge.  This scenic are is a small rocky canyon that the Swift river pounds through.  It forms a powerful cascading waterfall of cool mountain water.  Although not a good swimming area, it's a great place to stop for a view, bite, or short walk.  From the parking area - follow the trail across the bridge to access to Falls Pond and the Nanamocomuck Ski Trail (also available for hiking).  Lovequist loop is a short, family friendly, 1 mile loop around Falls Pond.  Matt was able to catch-and-release fish in the Swift River but didn't have any luck at the pond.

Sign for Lovequist Loop at Rocky Gorge

Matt fly fishes in the Swift River at Rocky Gorge
Stop 2: Church Pond
Fourteen miles down the Kanc (5 miles from Rocky Gorge) is Passaconaway Campground.  At the end of the left camping loop is a trailhead to Church Pond.  Church Pond Trail is a 1.1 mile out-and-back.  The entire section was flat and easy.  There were two shallow (but wide) stream crossings at the beginning but no other technical issues after that.  The trail travels through forest and bog lands (or 'moose-country' as Matt called it).  Bog bridges guide your way so no worries about wet feet there.  The pond was lovely with views of surround mountains and forest.  The water was bath-water warm and no fish were caught.
Bog bridges on Church Pond Trail

Trail Sign in Passaconaway Campground

Views at Church Pond

Stop 3:  Sabbaday Falls
Fifteen miles down the Kanc (1 mile from Church Pond) is the parking lot for Sabbaday Falls hiking and picnicking areas.  Before venturing to the falls, we enjoyed our lunch in the picnic area.  Then we took the short walk (0.2 miles) up the Sabbaday Falls Brook Trail to the falls.  The trail allows you to walk around the three tiers of falls.  At the base is an emerald pool.  Joe and Matt were both able to catch-and-release small trout with their fly rods here.

Emerald pool at base of Sabbaday Falls

Sabbaday Falls

Upper Sabbaday Falls
Our drive was a perfect summer day.  We enjoyed each others company and the beauty of the White Mountains.  I hope to do it again with them in another three years!

Baby Lucien enjoyed the hikes too!

You might also enjoy these adventures:

- Kancamagus Cool Down

- Advice for Hiking in the White Mountains

- White Ledge Trail