Family Backpacking Series: How to Deal with Diapers and Potty Issues

Backpacking with toddlers isn't impossible!  We have had multiple successful backpacking trips with our toddlers since our youngest was in diapers.  Don't worry there will NOT be any pictures of my children on the toilet or any gross bathroom pictures.  The most common question I get from my readers about family backpacking is the bathroom issue with diapers and potty training.

"What do you do with diapers in the backcountry?
What about potty training on the trail?
What about accidents?"

Thankfully my children are almost fully potty trained and my days of diapers are almost over so I would love to impart my "Diaper and Potty Training" backpacking wisdom with anyone who is willing to go backpacking with little ones.

Diaper and Potty Training Equipment

  1. Disposable Diapers
  2. Baby Wipes and Toilet Paper
  3. Sanitation Trowel AKA "Poop Shovel"
  4. Extra Clothes for Accidents
  5. Freezer Gallon Bags and Sandwich Bags
  6. Hand Sanitizer
Diaper and Extra Clothing Calculation

I have a boy and a girl so as a mom of both genders, I have learned that boys and girls are different in the manner they go to the bathroom, especially in the angle of pee. Usually as parents, especially those with diaper wearing little ones, tend to OVERPACK especially when traveling, I am one of those! But when it comes with backpacking with little ones that is the worst thing you can do.

  • Diaper Wearing Babies/Toddlers ~ In the few days/week before going on your backpacking trip count how many diapers your child uses in a day.  Our first backpacking trip was when my daughter was 19 months old and was still in diapers.  Her diaper calculation was 3-4 diapers during the day and 1 diaper at night = 5-6 diapers in a 24 hour period.

*NOTE: Change your child's diaper RIGHT BEFORE you hit the trail and leave extras (not the calculation extras)
in your vehicle. Hence the reduction of one diaper in the average use of daily diapers on Day 1 & 3.  
  • Clean Diapers ~ Keep all clean diapers with all your toiletries at night.  Keep one diaper in your tent at night in case your child leaks.  One clean diaper won't have a bear tearing into your tent, well I hope, I'm still alive!
  • Clothing for Accidents ~ Whether you have a diaper wearing baby/toddler or in-process potty training toddler, you need to bring extra clothing in case of accidents.  For this reason, I HIGHLY suggest purchasing quick drying, wicking clothes for babies and toddlers.  Why you may ask? You only want to bring ONE extra set of clothing, so the wet/soiled clothing can be washed and dried in case you need to use it again during the rest of the trek.  I'm not one of those who say "Cotton Kills" but if you don't have "Hiking Clothes" for your children bring clothes that are light and could dry quicker than jeans.
  • Underwear Calculation ~ This really doesn't need a chart but one underwear a day plus one extra.  You can always wash a urinated underwear to wear the next day.

The Diaper Disposal

Sorry to burst your bubble but those dirty diapers just have to come along until your trek is done.  As part of Leave No Trace, you MUST pack out the soiled diapers.  Though there are somethings you can do to minimize the fact you are carrying human waste:

Do kids go in bear boxes?!
  • Backcountry Sites with Trash Cans ~ What?! There are hike-in or backcountry locations with trash cans as in our first family backpacking trip at Point Reyes National Seashore.  Of course you still want to minimize trash in these campsites, but it was really nice to be able to throw away diapers.
  • Bear Boxes, Canisters and Ziplock Bags ~  Let's start with what to do immediately after a dirty diaper is changed:
    • Stuff the diaper in a sandwich bag along with the baby wipes if it fits.
    • Put the diaper stuffed bag into a large freezer storage Ziplock, preferable with freezer bag with the zipper top.
    • Bear Country: Designate one bear canister as the trash canister and use that one to put the dirty diapers along with your other trash.  Proceed with normal bear canister procedures for your area (hanging, canisters at safe distance etc).  If your location provides bear boxes then keep the dirty diapers (in the freezer bags) in the bear box.  Even if you are not in bear country, like Point Reyes, still keep the dirty diapers in the bear boxes because there are other pesky wildlife around that would love to eat your child's diaper. Gross.
  • Poop Disposal ~ If the poop is solid (sorry...) and easily falls out of the diaper, dig a hole and bury it so you have less weight and smelliness on your trek.  Follow Leave No Trace, Principle No.3 Dispose of Waste Properly.  

Going "Potty" Outdoors

This section can be applied to day hiking as well, which I highly suggest can be used as an opportunity to practice for backpacking trips!  Obviously boys and girls go to bathroom differently and even though I believe we are equal, boys just have it easier when having to pee than girls.  So I will start with the how to go #2 outdoors since that is the same for boys and girls.

  1. Pull their pants and underwear ALL the way down to ankles.
  2. Hold their hands and have them "Sit down" on the invisible toilet, pretty much squat with their bottom sticking out as far as they can without falling over.
  3. Clean their bottom! Make sure you have baby wipes/toilet paper. poop shovel, hand sanitizer near by, before this point.  Baby wipes/toilet paper should be put in your sandwich bag or trash bag.
  4. Dig the hole with the poop shovel (Leave No Trace, Principle No.3), push the poop in with a STICK NOT THE POOP SHOVEL!! Cover it up.
  • Peeing for Girls ~ The same as going #2, except you don't need to dig a hole and have them spread their feet more so the urine doesn't dribble down her legs.
  • Peeing for Boys ~ Same as peeing in a toilet.  Just make sure their pants are pulled down far enough.
  • Ask every 15 mins if they have to pee, especially before putting them in the kid carrier!
You can also have them practice in your backyard, so its not so traumatic when you are backpacking or hiking.  Remember going "potty" outdoors might be scary for toddlers so make sure a parent is always with them when they have to go.  Diapers and potty training is part of parenthood and learning how to deal with this issue can be frustrating just at home.  But I can testify that backpacking with toddlers in diapers and in-process potty training trainees can be done!

Do you have any tips in dealing with diapers and going "potty" while backpacking?

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Related Posts and Links:

  1. Toddler Hiking Cycle
  2. Backpacking in Point Reyes National Seashore