Diapering in the Outdoors

Diapering in the Outdoors

Adventuring outdoors with a baby is a lot of fun for both parents and baby. But if you’ve never done it, you might have some questions. For instance, how do you deal with diapering outdoors? For many parents diapering and all the waste that comes with it, is a big concern when hitting the trail with a baby.

We want to help you get out with your baby and we have put together some tips and tricks for hiking, camping and backpacking with a baby in diapers. We also have some tips for diapering outdoors in the winter. Let’s take a look!

Mary diapering her son in the outdoors on their bike backing trip along the west coast.
TMM team member Mary diapering her baby in the outdoors on their bike packing trip along the west coast

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How and Where to Do Diaper Changes Outdoors

Let’s first have a look at how and where it’s easiest to do diaper changes when you’re out on the trail or camping with your baby.

Finding a Spot for Diapering in the Outdoors

So, you’re on the trail and your baby needs a diaper change. First of all you will have to find a good spot. A good spot is flat and safe, best will be to do it on the ground.

I recommend you to go a bit off the trail as to not have to move out of the way of other hikers or get disturbed by overly curious dogs. You could also use a picnic table or bench, as long as you always hold baby with at least one hand.

Keeping Baby Cozy and Happy When Changing Diapers Outside

When changing diapers outside, it’s important to keep your baby feeling cozy and comfortable. This will make diapering easier for your baby and for you, as you’ll be both more relaxed.

Make sure the surface you use is as flat as possible and dry, you could put a changing pad or blanket below your baby. When it’s raining you’ll want to look for a sheltered spot or put an umbrella up or something above your baby.

Dressing Baby for Easy Diaper Changes Outside

When you’re heading outdoors and will have to deal with diaper changes, you’ll want to make things as easy and quick as possible. One way to help make diapering go quicker is to dress for it.

I prefer to dress my baby in pants and shirt/sweater rather than overalls. Often I dress him in a wool-silk onesie with a wool-silk long sleeved shirt and some baby legs and socks.

Like this his legs stay covered even while diapering and this keeps him warmer when it’s cool outside. In summer it helps for keeping his bum from overheating, as it means one less layer without pants. We’ll look later at dressing for winter.

My son being diapered outdoors, dressed with baby legs underneath his pants to keep him warm during diaper changes
My son being diapered outdoors, dressed with baby legs underneath his mud pants to keep him warm during diaper changes

What and How to Pack for Easy Diapering in the Outdoors

Preparation is key! As is for many things the case, it definitely counts as well for making diapering in the outdoors go smoothly.

Essentials for Diapering in the Outdoors

When you start packing to hit the trail or go camping with your baby, there will be a few things you can’t live without. For most parents that means diapers, wet wipes and a bag to keep the soiled diapers.

As for diapers, there are mainly two options, cloth or disposables. Later on we’ll look at pros and cons of both. Same for wet wipes, you’ll have to decide if you’re bringing cloth or disposable wet wipes.

You’ll also need some kind of bag to keep your soiled diapers from making everything messy and smelly. Most convenient is a wet bag, although you could always take a plastic grocery bag as well if that’s what you have on hand.

Optionals for Diapering in the Outdoors

There are some things that some people like to take and others decide to rather keep things more lightweight. I would include a changing surface, you could use a lightweight changing pad, a blanket, towel or burp cloth. The Iksplor Adventure Blanket is super cozy and lightweight and can be used for many different purposes.

Baby on a lightweight changing pad in the grass with her sister sitting next to her
TMM team member Jami’s baby being diapered on a lightweight changing pad

I personally always have some burp cloths with me for all kinds of baby messes. Often I put my jacket or something on the ground and cover it with a bigger burp cloth to keep it clean in case of a mess.

A set of spare clothes is something I always pack in case of a blowout. Baby clothes are small and pack easily into a corner of your pack, but they may save the day!

Really useful as well is a good diaper rash ointment, to prevent and treat diaper rash.

Deciding What and How Much to Pack for Diapering in the Outdoors

When planning for your next hiking, camping or backpacking trip, you will want to make sure you got everything you need without carrying unnecessary weight. There are many factors to help you decide what you need or not and how much of it all.

Weather and Temperature

Are you going in summer or winter, will it be wet, dry, cold or especially hot? Look at the forecast before you leave so you can make sure your baby will be comfortable, especially during diaper changes.

In this article you will find lots of information about hiking with a baby in hot weather and how to dress baby. And here you’ll find extensive information on hiking with a baby in the winter.

All this info will help you decide how to dress your baby and maybe if you’re going to use cloth or disposable diapers. Disposables might help baby feel drier and warmer when it’s cold outside.

How Long is Your Hike or Activity

This is of course a big factor in deciding how much of everything you’ll need to pack. For a hike of three hours or less, I usually take three diapers and some wet wipes. I also always carry spare clothes (base and mid layer) with me when we’ll be gone for a few hours or more. Just in case of a massive blow out!

When you’re going backpacking or camping you’ll want to plan a bit more. A good idea is to count how many diapers you’re using per day and night over the course of a few days. I would then add one extra diaper per day just in case. Same goes for wet wipes.

What Facilities are Available on the Trail

Are you going on a hike where there will be toilets or garbage bins along the trail? Or will you be backpacking for several days without passing any facilities? Will there be toilets or washing facilities on the campground or are you going to do dispersed camping?

All things to consider when planning how many diapers and wipes you’ll need and how you’ll handle the diaper waste.

Needs and Habits of Your Baby in Diapers

Every baby and family is different of course. Some parents change diapers much more often than others, and some babies are much more sensitive to wet diapers than others. Here again it’s good to take note of how often you diaper on average per day.

wet/dry bags ready for diapering in the outdoors on a hike of three hours or less
Wet/Dry bags ready to take on a hike of three hours or less, on the left with disposables, on the right with cloth diapers. I always pack wet wipes, a muslin blanket and a dog poop bag as well.

What Kind of Diapers and Wipes to Choose

When deciding what to pack you could just take the diapers you usually use, or you could look into the options of cloth and disposables and decide what better fits to the kind of trip you’re going on.

Many families, including ours, cloth diaper at home but sometimes change to disposables when traveling or adventuring in the outdoors. Some use disposables at home but might change to cloth when planning for a longer camping or backpacking trip. We’ll look at pros and cons of both options in different situations.

Disposables are lightweight when dry, but you’ll have to pack out all of it. They are preferred by many outdoorsy families as washing in the outdoors can get tricky and add to the complicatedness of adventuring with a baby.

One tip of a fellow outdoor mom is to use night diapers or the next size up, as they absorb more. This would be great for longer stretches of hiking or for overnight obviously.

There are tons of different kinds of disposables, some more lightweight than others and there are even some compostable diapers on the market. We’ll look at the advantage of that when we talk about how to handle soiled diapers.

As for cloth diapers, there are so many options out there. Some systems are pretty lightweight and some are way too bulky and heavy to pack for longer trips. If you are using an Ai2 system, it would also work well for your adventures as they’re lighter than for instance AiOne cloth diapers. You can keep using the covers, unless they’re soiled with poop. Only the inserts will need to be packed away or washed. For inserts I highly recommend flat cloth diapers, they are multi purpose and dry very quickly.

Then there is also a hybrid solution. This means you’ll use a cloth diaper cover with a disposable insert. There are even some biodegradable inserts available. This way you produce less waste and save some weight as you can reuse the cloth covers and only replace the insert

Reduce the Amount of Diapers You Need With Elimination Communication

Do we really need to carry loads of diapers with us? Many of us don’t know about it, but there is a way to use no or much less diapers. It’s worth learning about when you’re thinking of how to diaper in the outdoors. It might save you a lot of weight and mess and keep your baby happier.

So what is this about? There is this thing called Elimination Communication (EC). It was practiced by our ancestors and is still the way most people in the non-western world take care of their babies elimination needs. EC is a way to potty your baby starting as early as birth. It’s nothing like potty training, it’s about communicating with your baby and offering to potty when they need to go.

It’s actually pretty simple, but I won’t go into detail here, as there is a lot to say about it. Andrea Olson from Godiaperfree has tons of information on her website, podcast and in her books if you want to learn more about it.

One way to start could be just offering your baby to potty at diaper changes. Other good times are after waking up or feeding or at transition times, like going into or coming out of the baby carrier. Treat your baby’s excrement same like your own and dispose of them properly.

And don’t be put off by the phrase ‘diaper free’! We practice EC since birth and our baby wears diapers most of the time as a back-up. It’s about using the diaper as a back-up instead of as a full time toilet. Of course this might not be for everyone, but it’s actually quite fun when you get started with it.

And it keeps baby happier for longer, for instance because he’s longer dry in the carrier. Plus you’ll save some diapers and might even avoid poopy diapers at all, which is a big win when you’re out on the trail!

How to Carry Everything When Adventuring With Your Baby in Diapers

You figured out what you’re going to take with you for your trip and now you’ll need to find the best way to carry everything you need. Depending on your activity and the way you carry your baby, you’ll need to pack differently. For backpacking trips, you’ll need your personal sherpa;)! Just kidding, but a baby, diapers and diaper waste add up to quite a big part of the weight you’ll have to carry.

So everyone here agrees on packing lots and lots of ziplock bags, more than you think you’ll need. Let’s see what else you can use to pack all the diapering stuff.

Changing Diapers While Hiking

For day hikes or hikes of only a couple of hours you don’t need anything special really. If you carry your baby in a front carrier, you can just use a normal daypack. If you’re carrying your baby or toddler on your back in a wrap or soft structured carrier you could carry all you need in big fanny pack or use a baby wearing bag. These bags are especially designed for using when baby wearing and can be worn as a shoulder bag, or as a backpack that goes below baby’s bum.

Mom carrying a baby on her bag and wearing an Onbag.

When you carry your baby in a framed hiking carrier, there is usually enough space to store everything you need at the bottom of the pack. Here you learn more about our favorite baby hiking carriers.

In our ultimate guide for hiking with a baby you’ll find much more information and tips about all the different options to carry your baby while hiking.

I usually can fit everything I need for diapering while hiking in a medium sized wet/dry bag. I’ll put diapers, wet wipes, ointment and a spare set of clothes in the dry pocket and any soiled diapers afterwards in the wet pocket.

You could even clip it on the outside of your pack for easy access. A baby blanket or big burp cloth fits easily into your backpack and you’re all set.

Remember to check diapers at the trailhead before you start, here you can use the backseat of your car and it means one less diaper to carry.

Camping in Diapers

Depending on the kind of camping you’ll do, things will look differently. When you go car camping you could pretty much just stick to the same diapering routine you do at home. Space won’t be a big issue either.

Baby in diaper watching sunset while camping
TMM team member Cece’s baby in diaper watching the sunset from their tent

When setting up camp, you’ll want to have a diapering spot where you organise all the things you need and have a comfortable place to do diaper changes. This could be in your tent or outside on a flat surface.

Backcountry Diapering

When you go backpacking, are hiking to your campsite or go dispersed camping, things look differently. Every ounce you carry counts and you want to minimize and reduce as much as possible.

The first decision to make will be to choose cloth or disposable diapers and wipes. We looked at diaper choice before. The most lightweight option is probably the hybrid system with cloth diaper covers and disposable inserts. Just be careful if your baby often has massive blowouts, the disposable inserts might not contain the mess as well as cloth diaper inserts.

As for wipes the absolute lightest solution will be to use regular wipes and let them air dry ahead of time. Then when you need some you can simply squirt a little water onto them.

It’s key to bring a good wet bag and / or lots of ziplock bags. You can use them for storing clean diapers and soiled ones.

A small baby can be carried in the front and a backpack with all diaper stuff on your back. An older baby or toddler can be carried in a framed hiking carrier with storage space.

One fellow mom said she carried her baby and the diapers and her husband basically carried everything else. A good baby hiking carrier and a good backpack for the other adult are super important.

Packing Out Soiled Diapers From Outdoor Adventures

Maybe one of the least fun parts of diapering in the outdoors is taking home all the soiled diapers. But there are ways to make this job easier. Being outdoor parents, we want to take care of nature as best as we can, making sure to Leave No Trace (LNT).

Let’s take a look at how you can deal with used diapers when hiking, camping and backpacking and how to do this with respect for nature following the LNT guidelines.

How to Handle Soiled Diapers in the Outdoors

Depending on the kind of activity, the length of your trip and what kind of diapers you’re using you’ll have to find different ways to deal with soiled diapers in the outdoors.

When using disposables you’ll have to take them all with you again. Sometimes you’ll have the possibility to get rid of them along the trail. In other places, even when doing longer trips you’ll have to take them all the way home with you, as there might not be any trash facilities along the trail.

If you opt for cloth diapers, you’ll have to find a way to wash and dry them if you’re going on a longer trip. This might be easy at a campsite and a bit more challenging when backpacking or dispersed camping.

Handling Soiled Diapers When Hiking

On day hikes you’ll take your soiled diapers home or at least back to the parking lot, if their are garbage bins. A zippered wet bag is great for this, no matter if you’re using cloth or disposables. You can use dog poop bags to dispose of poop rests.

Handling Soiled Diapers When Camping

When you’re camping, it all depends again on the kind of camping you’re doing. If there are trash facilities for disposables or washing machines for cloth diapers, you can just diaper like you would at home.

You can bring an airtight container or trash can to store them when the trash facilities are not so close by. Some more tips for camping and cloth diapering can be found here.

If you are dispersed camping or on a campsite without any facilities, you’ll have to pack out any disposable diapers and wash your cloth diapers. Read on in the next part about backpacking for tips on how to do this (also when camping).

Drying cloth diapers while camping with the van.
Drying cloth diapers while camping with the van.

Handling Soiled Diapers when Backpacking

When you’re using disposables, you’ll want to reduce the weight of the soiled diapers. One way to do that, is to let pee diapers air dry when you’re at camp. No matter if you’re using cloths or disposables it’s a good idea to use a liner to separate poop from the diaper to dispose of it. Then you can burn the liner like you would with toilet paper.

To dispose of poop you can use your poop shovel, following LNT principles. To pack out soiled disposable diapers there are many options, you can put them into zip lock bags, a wet bag, or you could use these long plastic bag tubes used in diaper bins and make a knot every time after putting in a diaper. This reduces the smell.

If you are using compostable diapers and you’re allowed to make a fire, you can just burn them every evening.

There are many ways to wash cloth diapers while backpacking. You don’t need much for this there are three easy ways to do it.

  1. First option is to use the zip lock bags you have on hand to wash your diaper covers when they get soiled. This is a good option if you’re using a hybrid system and won’t have to wash inserts. This way you don’t need to carry any extra equipment, just some biodegradable soap. Add some water and soap together with your dirty cover in a zip lock bag, shake it and rub it until it’s clean. Dispose of the dirty water far enough off the trail and any water sources, in a cat hole, following the LNT principles. Then rinse using the same method.
  2. If you are using cloth diaper covers and cloth inserts, a zip lock bag won’t be big enough. You can use a foldable wash basin and hand wash them.
  3. The third option is a Scrubba Wash Bag, it’s super light weight, makes it easy to wash and you’ll use less water.
Testing the Scrubba before our camping trip.
Testing the Scrubba before our camping trip.

Last but not any less important, you’ll have to get creative at drying the cloth diapers. During summer on sunny days this won’t be much of an issue, but it might get a bit more challenging on overcast days. Some tips to shorten the drying time are to shake off covers thoroughly or wring out inserts, press them into a travel towel and hang them onto a clothes line on your pack while hiking.

When you arrive at your camp you can hang the clothes line with diapers out in the sun and at night when they’re almost dry, you can take them into your sleeping back to dry them completely, or hang them on a clothes line inside of your tent.

Leave No Trace and Diapers

Be prepared to take soiled diapers and used wipes all the way home. Poop rests can be buried in a cat hole following the LNT principles. When washing cloth diapers or soiled clothes, treat your dirty water like you would treat human waste.

Diapers and Bears

When you are camping or backpacking with your baby in bear country, the soiled diapers might attract bears. Any dirty diapers you have will go into your bear canister. Then follow the normal safety procedures, such as hanging your bear canister up high and keeping it away from your camp.

Diapering in the Winter

The idea of having to diaper your baby in the outdoors when it’s freezing, or in the snow, might keep you from going out for longer periods of time. This doesn’t have to be the case! With a few simple tips your baby will stay warm and cozy to enjoy your winter hikes.

Finding a Spot for Diapering Outside in Winter

Looking for a spot in winter can be a bit of a challenge. The best would be to find a snow free picnic table or bench. If you are nowhere near any of those, then just do it on a flat spot on the ground.

As I usually carry my baby in a carrier under my jacket, I will take of my jacket and put it on the ground, then put a little blanket or burp cloth on top and then lay baby down.

Try to find a spot where you are protected from the wind or snow. Maybe behind a wall or rock or under a tree.

Dressing Baby for Staying Warm While Diapering in Winter

I like to carry my baby under my jacket in winter and dress him in wool base layers, onesie, baby legs, socks and shirt and wool fleece pants and jacket over that. This way when you diaper your baby, you’ll only have to pull down the pants and open the buttons of the onesie. The jacket and baby legs will keep your baby warm during diaper changes.

If you carry your baby above your jacket, you can also put wool baby legs under whatever clothes or snowsuit he’s wearing, to keep his legs warm. This article about How to Keep Babies Warm has tons of information about layering for babies and kids.

My son dressed in wool fleece pants and jacket for easy diapering in winter, sitting on my jacket and playing with a ski.
Our son dressed in wool fleece pants and jacket for easy diapering in winter, sitting on my jacket and playing with a ski.

Tips to Help a Baby in Diapers Feel Dry and Warm

When it’s freezing cold outside some people like to change to disposables even when they usually cloth diaper. Disposables feel less wet and therefore less cold. If you would like to keep using your cloth diapers, there are ways to keep baby warmer.

Changing more often or doubling up your cloth diaper inserts would help of course, but also using a stay-dry fleece liner inside the cloth diaper makes your baby feel drier and warmer.

More Tips for Diapering in the Cold

When it’s too cold for baby to be bare bottom you can limit the length of your hike to the length of the time a diaper lasts. We don’t have to do that often, as I just diaper really quick and put him straight back into the carrier to warm him up again.

Prepare all you need for diapering before undressing baby. You can bring a waterproof lined blanket for changing your baby’s diaper on the ground. If you’re hiking with a stroller, you can diaper your baby right in there.

Find What Works for You and Go Have Fun!

It can seem overwhelming at first to do all these newly learned new mom’s skills, like diapering, when you’re on the trail. But as soon as you get the right gear and learn what works best for you, it’s going to be almost as easy as at home.

We hope these tips will help you to enjoy many great adventures with your baby. You could even make a game of finding the most scenic diapering spots, like TMM Team member Mary did!

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