Camping and Pregnancy

GEAR REVIEW - Camping comfortably while pregnant. It's possible.

Being an athlete and pregnant has been one of the most joyous and simultaneously frustrating experiences of my life.  As of this writing, I am broaching the 33 week milestone of my pregnancy.  

Prior to conceiving, I was proud of the machine I had well tuned to perform in the mountains – my body.  I made a promise to my pre-pregnancy self that I would continue activities that fulfilled my pursuit of happiness well into my pregnancy – climbing, running, training and mountains.  As my pregnancy matured, I quickly realized I had to be flexible with these experiences, making modifications along the way to accommodate my growing midsection, diminished lung volume, and extra stretchy ligaments (ugh, relaxin).  I embraced the transition to a maternity harness (modern day torture device) and top roping, I scaled back the maximum elevation I could gain in a day, and ultimately had to scale back the running.  These were all ok with me and somewhat anticipated; however, one thing never dawned on me prior to actually being pregnant.  A big part of me accessing the outdoors necessitated camping.  

Any pregnant woman will tell you that sleeping while pregnant is something that nightmares are made of.  It is impossible to get comfortable in a bed, and when you finally manage the impossible its time to get up and pee.  This brings me to the tried and tested ways of the past, cowboy camping (tossing a sleeping pad and mummy bag on the ground and calling it good).  At six months pregnant, I headed out west for a climbing trip to Zion.  I packed the traditional sleeping pad and mummy bag, using my expedition duffle as a pillow.  I was miserable.  I “slept” like this for five nights.  My back ached and I struggled to free myself from my mummy bag fast enough to get out and empty my bladder.  After returning home from this trip, I went back to the drawing board.  Camping while pregnant required modifications I hadn’t anticipated. 

With the help of an expert at Therm-a-Rest, I was armed with a sleep system for my growing belly and tested it out that next month, at seven months pregnant, in Yosemite.  No more back pain, no more frantic rushing to escape the mummy bag.  It wasn’t light, but nothing about pregnancy is meant to be light so I accepted my backcountry camping days were on hold for the time being and embraced the opportunities provided by primitive style car camping.  

Maternity Camping Set-up:

SLEEPING PAD: NeoAir Dream Mattress  ($249.95)

Photo courtesy of Therm-a-Rest

This 4″ pad is actually two pads in one.  A soft 1″ foam pillow top outer encloses a removable 3″ NeoAir Mattress core, making it versatile.  The pad comes with a Torrent Pump which self inflated the mattress in under four minutes.  The pump can either be plugged in to a car’s cigarette lighter or used independently with batteries.  Taking full advantage of my Subaru Outback’s trunk cigarette lighter, I opted for the sans battery mode so I can’t speak to how long inflation takes with batteries vs. cigarette lighter.  This pad also comes with straps allowing you to mate it with another NeoAir Dream.  This sleeping pad provided all night, plush comfort. 

BLANKET: Vela HD Quilt ($239.95) and Argo Blanket ($89.95)

As aforementioned, sleeping in a standard, side zip mummy sack while pregnant has some serious disadvantages.  For one, I can’t comfortably fit a long pillow between my knees and under my belly (an absolute requirement to sleeping comfortably while pregnant).  Second, when (not if) you get up to pee, that side zip can quickly become your arch nemesis.  Enter the camping quilts.  

Photo courtesy of Therm-a-Rest

The Vela HD quilt is a 650-fill down blanket outfitted with baffling at its edges, an insulated foot box, and snaps that mate to other Therm-a-Rest sheets and blankets.  It is rated for temps around 35-45F.  I found it very easy to accommodate my temperature fluctuations and constant need to urinate with these features.  This quilt may have found its way into my bedroom at home more times than I am willing to admit.  

Photo courtesy of Therm-a-Rest

The Argo blanket was a nice addition to my maternity camping kit on nights where the temperatures fluctuated south.  I enjoyed mating it to the Vela HD quilt on such nights to form a streamlined luxurious sleep system.  I imagine in the warmer summer months, I would just use the Argo blanket as cover.   

PILLOWS: Compressible Pillows ($19.95 $34.95)

Photo courtesy of Therm-a-Rest

Next to the super plush mat, I can not overstate the importance of pillows while sleeping pregnant.  I have to have one between my knees, under my belly and beneath my head otherwise I don’t stand a chance at getting sleep.  Therm-a-Rest has compressible pillows in various sizes to fit where I needed them to fit.  I used an XL pillow (16.5 x 27 in.) to extend the length between my knees and under my belly and a L pillow (16 x 23 in.) for my head.  Both of these sizes were 4″ thick which provided plenty of support.  Having never used a camp pillow before maternity, I was probably overwhelmingly amused by how amazing these pillows were.  The price point on these is very affordable and the value far exceeds the cost. 

OPTIONAL: Synergy Sheet ($39.95)

Photo courtesy of Therm-a-Rest

While not necessary if your maternity camping kit incorporates the NeoAir Dream mattress, the Synergy Sheet is nice because it fits to any Therm-a-Rest mattress and comes outfitted with loops to connect the quilts to.  The NeoAir Dream mattress already comes with loops, but the control freak in me likes having a washable and removable sheet option for multi-night camping trips sans shower. 

Gear in Action 

Click on photos for full description

A special THANK YOU to Cascade Designs for providing these items to test while pregnant, in hopes of extending outdoor access options to other expectant mothers.  

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Ilana is a native of Southern California. She is an accomplished rock and ice climber and is the brains behind Thrillseekers Anonymous. Currently residing in Colorado, she is a Registered Surgical/Trauma Nurse, who can be found leading her own adventures on days off. Ilana is a sponsored athlete with GoMacro, WoolX, and an Arcteryx Denver ambassador. She has been featured in various media outlets including the February 2015 issue of ‘Climbing’ magazine, December 2013 issue of ‘Rock and Ice’ magazine, December/January 2013 issue of ‘Gripped Climbing’ magazine, Canyoneering: A Guide to Techniques for Wet and Dry Canyons (How To Climb Series) by Dave Black and Pasadena Magazine as well as a Climbing Expert on MTV’s Parental Control (Season 7 – “Heather”).

Ilana has written 111 articles for Thrillseekers Anonymous.

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