Dealing with Diapers: How to Hike (and Camp) With an Infant
It's one thing to dig a cathole or pack out your waste when you're only responsible for yourself. When you add an infant or young child to the mix, things get slightly more complicated. Below are just a few tips to help your family get outside and teach your little ones to grow into great stewards of our beautiful trails.
DIAPER CHANGES ON A DAY HIKE
Snuggled against you or in a backpack, infants can be easier to hike with than more mobile toddlers. Tackling a diaper change along a trail is just the same as an in-town excursion, with a few extra considerations:
- Check diapers at the trailhead before you start, where you can use the backseat of the car as your changing table.
- Plan to take soiled diapers and used wipes all the way home. Carry a few sturdy ziplock bags in your backpack and keep a few extra in the car (not all trailheads have trash facilities).
- If you need to change a diaper along the trail, try to find a flat spot a little ways off the trail. The last thing you need is to have to move out of the way mid-diaper change or have an overly-curious dog trying to get in the middle of the action.
You'll also want to adjust your hike choice for conditions or the season.
"In winter, when it is too cold out to bare a baby’s bottom, we have limited our trips to the length of time a diaper lasted," advises a former WTA intern and parent, Jodie Murdoch. "In warmer weather, diaper changes become easier, although finding a flat, dog-free spot to change can still be a challenge"
DIAPERS WHEN BACKPACKING: A CASE STUDY
With pack it in, pack it out as the number one rule for backpacking, dealing with diapers on overnights or multi-day trips can get a little more complicated. Ultimately, you'll need to find the system that works best from you, but the generously well-documented experiences of one trip reporter, MikeOnAHike, might get you started.
After spending 15 days on the the Wonderland Trail with his 9-month old daughter, Mike shared this advice and lessons-learned on their diaper system:
- Pack them out. "We have a hybrid reusable/disposable system that generates a little bit less weight in diapers. If I was doing a lengthy trip again, I'd consider bringing 3 of the reusable outer diapers instead of 2. This is because it can be difficult to dry your laundry when it is raining outside."
- Double up. We used GroVia diapers. I think the outer diapers were $18. I'm pretty sure that you can get cheaper versions, but we were quite impressed with how clean those got when we washed them in the backcountry. They also dried a lot faster than I'd expect something of that thickness to dry. Based on previous backpacking trips, we conservatively estimated that we'd need 5 inners per day. This proved quite conservative, and we probably had 15-20 extras at the end of the trip."
- Bring a lot of baggies. "Five unused diaper inners fit nicely into a quart-sized Ziplock bag. Three used diaper inners fit into a quart-sized Ziploc bag. We should've brought more bags - we were always rushing to finish our bagged snacks so that we'd have enough garbage bags."
- Save weight where you can. "We took regular baby wipes, but we air-dried them ahead of time to save weight. When we went to use them, we simply squirted a little water onto them."
- Be OK with doing the wash. "When we needed to wash an outer diaper, we tossed it into a Ziploc bag along with approximately 1 liter of water per rinse. We'd do 3 rinses. If a diaper had blown out, we'd put some Dr. Bronner's soap on a wipe, scrub the diaper, and then do the 3 rinses. We'd dump the rinse water well away from our water source."
- And get creative with drying the laundry. "To dry the outer diaper, we'd first shake it thoroughly with a lasso motion. Then we'd press it in a dry chamois camp towel. Then we'd hang it on a clothes line or on our packs. At night we'd take the outer diaper into the tent (dew or rain would result in a wetter diaper). If the diaper was nearly dry, we were able to dry it by putting it into our sleeping bag. If it was too wet for that, we'd hang it on a clothes line inside our tent. In the morning if it was still rainy we could dry it a little more while taking down camp by stuffing it inside a fleece that one of us was wearing. That would decrease wetness, but would never get it to 100% dry."
Read more about the epic adventure that led to this good advice.
- Backpacking with a Baby: 15 Days Around Mount Rainier
- Read the White River to Summerland section of MikeOnAHike's report for how the family handled a diaper blow-out.
TIPS FOR TRAINING TODDLERS
When you are juggling the demands of a toddler on trail, it might be easy to talk yourself out of taking the time to practice your Leave No Trace ethics. But this impressionable time is the best time to take the extra minute or two to get your kids in the habit of doing it right from Day 1.
- Be matter of fact. Explain why going No. 2 in the woods is a little different, and what's involved. If there is a privy, use it and encourage your toddler to use it. If you need to dig a cat-hole, model finding a good spot, digging a hole and squatting over it.
- Balance matters. Toddlers' balance isn't as good as an adults, you may need to help them stay balanced on a privy that's a little tilted. You can also make a game of finding a sturdy rock or branch to hold onto. In a pinch, you may need to hang onto them while they go.
- Carry extra supplies. As the parent of a toddler, you are probably ready for almost anything. This is no different. Taking along an extra set of pants and socks in case of accidents, and maybe even a roll of dog-poo bags to pack out (or move) your toddler's waste. Don't forget a sturdy ziplock for packing out TP.
- Make it fun. Let them carry the poop trowel (if you have one) or find a stick to dig your cat hole. Let them help dig the hole and cover it back up.