When it comes to outdoor adventures, Jenny Jurek doesn’t shy away from taking her three-year-old daughter and 18-month-old son along for the ride. She designs outdoor gear for a living, and her husband, Scott, (yes, that Scott Jurek) is a professional ultrarunner known for his 2015 speed record on the Appalachian Trail, among other feats. In 2016, the couple carried their daughter, Raven, 21 miles across the Grand Canyon. She was just three months old. In 2018, Raven and her then six-week-old brother accompanied their parents for eight miles to the summit of Georgia’s Springer Mountain, to revisit the site where Scott had begun his AT record three years earlier.
Like most parents who get outside with their little ones, Jurek has discovered the limitations of kids’ gear. It doesn’t always fit right. It’s often overbuilt. It’s usually pretty expensive. And it gets outgrown faster than you can say “growth spurt.”
Her motto is to make do with what you have. “Kids don’t care,” she says. “They’ll go in jeans.” If you have something sort of close to appropriate but not totally right, “don’t be afraid to cut it or modify it to make it work,” she says. Jurek’s decades of experience designing running equipment and women’s clothing for the likes of Montrail, Outdoor Research, and Patagonia have come in handy when customizing her kids’ gear. “I’m constantly crafting stuff that makes it fun for them to be outside,” she says.
Most recently, the Jurek family spent the month of August bikepacking around Japan. When you’re dealing with roadside diaper changes and all the other challenges that come with bringing children on a long adventure, having confidence in your gear and your kids’ gear is key. Outside chatted with Jurek to learn about the pieces she modified in preparation for the trip.
DIY Kid’s Sleeping Bag
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On any trip that involves carrying all your gear for multiple days, weight is a primary concern. The only issue: lightweight, warm, and compressible sleeping bags for kids are hard to come by. “There are a lot of kids’ sleeping bags that are puffy and synthetic for sleepovers but really nothing for ultralight backpacking,” Jurek says. The couple lucked into a warranty-returned down quilt from Sierra Designs, which Jurek turned into two kid-size bags.
She cut the quilt—a hybrid with a closed footbox but open shoulders and no hood—down the middle crosswise. The footbox portion became the 18-month-old’s sleeping bag. (Jurek added a bungee cord and cordlock for a makeshift hood.) For Raven’s sleeping bag, Jurek sewed together the sides and bottom edge of the quilt’s upper half to make it a fully enclosed bag. “The kids loved having their own sleeping bags,” she says. “It was so cute.”
Pro tip: when splitting down-filled fabric into multiple pieces, sew closed the area you plan to cut with two parallel lines, like a tunnel, and then slice in between them. This keeps the down from spilling out. Jurek warns that you need a heavy-duty sewing machine to handle this kind of bulky, stuffed material, though many high-quality home machines are up to the task.
DIY Ultralight Baby Carrier
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Baby carriers aren’t typically compact. They come with heavily padded hipbelts and shoulder straps built for comfortably holding a heavy baby, not folding into your frame bag. Jurek knew they’d need something to carry her son on short hikes and in busy airports, but she wanted something that was “super light and packable,” since they’d be lugging it around for a full month. The answer came in the form of an Ultimate Direction hydration vest Jenny designed with Scott.
She stripped off all the pockets, leaving just the mesh base—the part that sits right against your skin. An 18-month-old is bigger than most hydration vests, which are narrower in width than most baby carriers. Jurek split the back of the vest down the middle and spliced in some of the leftover pocket mesh, to make the carrier wide enough to hold in her son. The last step entailed using more of that pocket fabric to lightly pad the underarm webbing adjusters, which turned into leg supports.
Of all the DIY hacks Jurek shared with us, she strongly cautions against doing this one at home. “You have to make sure everything is not going to rip out,” she says. “I used a lot of heavy-duty, extra-strength thread, and I don’t know if a home sewing machine could handle that.” If you’re motivated, seek out a local tailor who has the requisite machinery and ability to work with technical gear.
A Trailer with Reflectors
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Before leaving for Japan, Jurek tricked out their Thule bike trailers with all manner of high-visibility reflective and fluorescent patches and flags. “We just happen to have a really great outdoor-fabric store” nearby that has lots of reflective and fluorescent materials, she says. “But you can order it online, too.”
Jurek also added bug-screen mesh to the back of the bike trailer to cover the rear gear-storage area.
Modified Children’s Bike Seats
(Photo: Jenny Jurek)
Most children’s ride-along bike seats come with robust, secure harnesses. But the shoulder straps on Jurek’s children’s seats kept slipping (their kids are both small for their age). Jurek again turned to her home library of running-vest parts to find a spare sternum strap, which she attached to the bike seat’s shoulder straps. When the kids started to nod off halfway through a 30-mile day, and their heads began to bob, she felt better knowing the shoulder straps would stay in place.
Homemade Kid’s Bike Shorts
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Jurek’s number-one recommendation for kids’ gear is to not let the gear you have—or don’t have—hold you back from getting your little ones outdoors. After a few fun family outings, chances are your mini-me will want to look pro just like mom and dad. “After this bike trip, Raven really wanted bike shorts,” says Jurek. Of course, Raven didn’t need bike shorts to get out on a bike. But Jurek knew it would make the activity more fun for her and would be easy to accomplish for very little cost.
The morning of our phone call, Jurek bought a pair of cheap spandex girls’ tights at a big-box store. That night she was planning to cut off the legs and make a faux chamois out of removable sports-bra pads (those tan, foam, cupped disks that get crumpled every time you wash your favorite racerback). “She’s gonna flip out,” Jurek says.