When it comes to dealing with a baby’s potty needs while backpacking, you have several options, but they aren’t all created equal. I’ll go over the pit-falls of typical diapering systems first. If you want my suggestion, go to point #4!
1. Disposable diapers
This may seem like the easiest option. When unused, disposables are light weight and they are easy to use. However, picture the heavy, stinky mess you’ll be packing out at the end of the trip. Now picture that mess sitting in a land fill for hundreds of years. And that’s not all. It takes 9 gallons of water and 1 cup of crude oil to produce just one disposable diaper.
2. “Hybrid” diaper systems
Hybrid systems, like G-diaper and Flip, involve a re-usable cover and flushable/compostable inserts. This may seem like the perfect option for backpacking since you only need a few covers and the inserts are biodegradable, right? Here’s the thing, as backcountry use has increased, it is becoming increasingly important to pack out toilet paper. And those hybrid inserts are huge in comparison to a couple sheets of t.p.! They are meant to break down in a compost pile, where temperatures are high and decomposition occurs much more rapidly than in soil. So, you can use a hybrid system, but please pack out the inserts.
For more information: Leave No Trace Principle # 3: Dispose of Waste Properly
3. All-in-one cloth diaper systems
These are heavy, since they use a cover and a cloth insert for every change. I can’t imagine adding this much weight to your pack!
4. My Suggestion: Flats, Covers, and Elimination communication.
Flats and Covers
I suggest packing flats (the traditional cloth diaper that you have to fold), a couple PUL covers, and a couple wool covers. Here’s why:
- This system creates no trash.
- Flats dry quickly, so you don’t have to pack out the extra weight of urine. Hang them on a tree or on your pack to dry. If for some reason you are running short on diapers, you could rinse out a pee diaper, let it dry, and reuse it. Read more about using flat diapers: http://dirtydiaperlaundry.com/why-you-should-use-and-love-flats/
- Flats can serve as bibs, wash cloths, etc., and then be folded up and used as a diaper!
- Only a few covers are required. Even if a little bit of poop gets on a cover, it can be washed off.
- Wool is warm, breathable, and surprisingly water resistant (when properly lanolized). Here are a couple resources for anyone who would like to start using wool covers:
There is another element which, when added to this diapering system, can lead to a mess free backpacking experience. That’s elimination communication. Essentially, this means helping your baby eliminate outside of his diaper by responding to cues and following his natural timing. It’s not “potty training”.
When we went on our first backpacking trip, I had been practicing EC with my daughter for a couple of months. She had grown accustomed to the sensation of eliminating outside of her diaper and had learned that when I hold her in the “classic EC position” it means she should pee or poop. Whenever I’ve got baby in a carrier, I’ve found that she pees less often , so I give her the opportunity to potty when I take her out of the carrier, during a water break, for example.
If you want to try elimination communication while backpacking or camping, I recommend starting your practice now. It takes some work to get started, but once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll save lots of dirty diapers.
I used Andrea Olson’s resources at GoDiaperFree.com to start practicing elimination communication with my baby.
Dealing with Poop
If you are able to practice EC when your baby poops, you can bury the waste in a cat hole, just like you would for an adult. For proper burying procedures visit the Leave No Trace website. To avoid having to scrape a diaper, you can use a thin cloth diaper liner to catch the poop. For a baby who’s eating solids, you may be able to whisk off the diaper and liner, drop the waste in a cat hole, and pack out the liner. For an exclusively a bottle or breast fed baby, you’ll probably want to just pack out poop with the liner.
Sample Diaper Packing List for a Two Night Trip:
- 15 Flat diapers
- 1-2 snappis (optional for older babies with solid poop)
- 10-20 cloth diaper liners (this depends on your confidence with EC)
- 2-3 PUL diaper covers
- 2 wool covers
- tiny spray bottle
- 10 cloth wipes
- Kitchen size plastic bag to use as a changing mat
- Wet bag or plastic sack for dirty diapers
- Kleenex (for wiping after pee)
- hand sanitizer
- Plastic knife (for scraping poop in case you have an EC “miss” and forget the liner)
I know all this probably sounds a bit daunting, but imagine the benefits to your pack weight and to the environment! Try using this system at home, even part time, so that it is second nature by the time you hit the trail.