While home visiting my parents in Colorado, my mom and I decided to go for a hike, my then 5-month-old daughter in tow. Being supremely organized, as always, my mom located the child carrier she used for my brother and me under the stairs in two minutes.
At first glance it looks a lot like the comfy, functional, high-tech second-hand child carrier I recently picked up for a screaming $60 deal. Sure, it gives off a vintage aurora, with its American flag red and blue color and hand-stitched look. But it also has a lightweight frame, waist belt, sternum strap and a kid seat complete with a harness system.
My parents bought this kid carrier from REI when the store was more of a backwoods co-op than the supergiant outdoor retailer we know today. They paid more than $100 for it, in 1980s money – an investment for a family watching every dollar.
“It was a prototype,” my mom reminisced about the backpack. “Everyone would stop and ask us about it.”
Last summer, we got my daughter, Grace, strapped in to it and I hoisted the backpack on to begin our hike.
“Prototype” turned out to be a generous way to describe this kid carrier. A strap designed to connect the pack to the shoulder straps dug into my neck when tightened; it became a choice between the pack flopping back from my shoulders or a rubbed-raw neck.
When I commented on how that particular problem could be solved with a few stitches, we noticed that my mom had, in fact, made the fix years ago but the home-sewing had unraveled with time.
The kid carrier also lacked any straps to distribute weight, creating an overall feeling of Grace’s mass yarding on my shoulders and hips. And the frame itself was less than stable, meaning you wouldn’t want to set the pack down with a child inside it and walk away.
A mile into our hike I began to wonder if I shouldn’t have opted for the Boba wrap. I also gained a whole new respect for my parents.
They had used this backpack to carry me – and tent, sleeping bag, clothes, food, diapers, stove, fuel, etc. – to the bottom of the Grand Canyon when I was 9 months old … and for countless other backpacking and cross-country ski trips. An umbrella was among the necessary gear my parent’s improvised as a way to keep the sun and rain off of me.
I’ve always appreciated the effort my parents made to raise me in an outdoor lifestyle, but carrying my own daughter in that pack made me realize the full extent of that effort.
Today we have Chariots, Patagonia kids clothing, and books and blogs on how to hike, rock climb, paddle and camp with kids. None of that existed “back then.”
My parents decked my brother and me out in old cotton T-shirts, wool sweaters, socks and sunscreen, and off we went for adventures into the mountains.
When my parents encountered others on the trail, some people cheered on their endeavor to bring my brother and me along, and many thought they were crazy.
I imagine someday Grace will look at photos of – or maybe even try out – my state-of-the-art outdoor gear and laugh. Heck, by then, maybe little kiddos will be able to just hoover next to their parents. But, in the meantime, I plan to revel in the advances of today’s outdoor gear … and also appreciate the technology that pioneered the way.
I’ve mined a handful of classic pieces of gear out of parents’ house – wooden skis, a red canvas backpack and an original Patagonia jacket. While the days of dragging this gear through snow and mud may be over, they receive the utmost respect and get worn with honor.