Monday, June 21, 2010

Camping with Cloth Diapers?!

Hello parents, and hello summer! This is Natalie at Punkernoodle Baby. Seeing as how my family just got back from our first summer camping trip, I thought I would blog about a question I get asked all the time up here in outdoors-crazy Seattle: Can I go camping with cloth diapers?

At first I would laugh when parents asked me this question, because although I am an experienced cloth diaperer, I am not a camping authority -- not by a longshot. That would be my husband, Lukas, who can set up a tent and cook a delicious camp dinner blindfolded while simultaneously chopping firewood and beating me at cards.

But, parents really want to know if they can and should even attempt to camp with cloth. So, I consulted Lukas, tested out a few things with my nighttime diapered preschooler, took a quick poll of my camping expert friends and, voila, my top recommendations for avoiding those revolting plastic diapers and keeping your baby in cloth while you kick back in the wilderness.

First, Should I Camp with Cloth?

The answer is yes! It is actually quite doable, and the few minor challenges you might encounter are actually counterbalanced by the benefits:

  • Less trash. Trash is a serious consideration when you are camping. Trash attracts animals, gets stinky, and it requires careful storage and disposal (which can cost you extra fees). Bring a single stack of cloth diapers and you avoid any extra trash.

  • Baby's comfort. Plastic diapers are sweaty in the heat and bulge when wet. Cloth diapers are made of fabric and can keep baby cool, and a reusable cloth Swim Diaper is easy to use, can be rinsed quickly by hand, and lets baby's skin breathe when you are splashing around.

  • Leak protection. A good cloth diaper has fantastic leak protection. Keep pee and poop out of your sleeping bag!

  • Practice what you teach. You're camping, right? Getting back to the land, teaching your little ones to love nature and Mother Earth. Humans lived "green" for thousands of years without plastic diapers. Be true to the pack-it-in, pack-it-out value and you will set an example for generations.
Which Diaper Should I Choose, and What Else Do I Need?

Ok, you're going to try it. What works best? I asked around, I reviewed my own experiences, and here are my recommendations.

  • Prefold cloth diapers. These are lightweight, quick-drying when you are sans machine, and can withstand some washing tricks that waterproof pocket and All-in-One diapers cannot (See Washing info below). They are also cheap, so if you lose or stain one, it's no big deal. bring about 1.5 days' worth and plan to do a quick wash each morning.

  • Waterproof diaper covers. These go over your prefolds, and because they are wipeable you only need a couple per day max. They are also very easy to wash by hand or just spot clean, super duper lightweight, and good leak protection. And in case of a downpour, one can double as a rain hat for baby. Just kidding. I especially recommend Thirsties Duo Wraps.

  • A Snappi or two. Bring along a diaper fastener so you can do different folds with your prefold -- this is useful so you can let baby go around with just a diaper and no cover sometimes. Baby will enjoy getting air, can get as messy and wet as she wants.

  • Flushable/disposable diaper liners. These are what makes cloth while camping doable for many folks. Super thin and lightweight (think toilet paper consitency), these collect most of the poop messes and allow you to either flush away if your campground has toilets or throw away (a week's worth of these tiny liners won't amount to much waste at all compared ti disposables).

  • A few hemp doublers. Bring these along to double up at nights and ensure no leaks. Hemp is super absorbent and naturally antibacterial.

  • Swim diapers. As mentioned above, these are a superb choice for any swim or travel for the diapered baby: Breathable, light, easily washable and so much more comfortable than a saggy-bottomed plastic paper diaper. I adore the Bummis Swimmi.

  • Wet Bags. Bring a regular wet bag to store diapers in on day trips or hikes, plus either an All Day size wet bag or a waterproof pail liner to store all your dirty diapers in at your tent or cabin site. If you want to use your pail liner from home, just seal the top tightly with a rubber band.

  • String and clothespins. Tie a clothesline up between two trees and you are good to go for drying your clean diapers!

  • Buckets and washboard. Old-school washboards still have their uses (see Washing info below). The buckets are optional, a giant pot also works well.

  • Dishwashing gloves. Ok, not necessary but makes it so much nicer!

Ok, Give Me the Dirt: How Do I Wash These Suckers?

So, if you've brought along your trusty disposable liners, that's gone along with most of the solids or yucky stuff. Heat up some water on your camp stove and fill one bucket with water as hot as you can stand with your hands (or dishwashing gloves). Add soap (bring a cloth-safe detergent that you use at home and dissolve some into a cup of hot water, then add the solution to your washing bucket. You may also add a few drops of tea tree oil, a natural disinfectant). Scrub each diaper on washboard with hot soapy water for 1-2 minutes, dunk, wring all the way out in a corkscrew fashion.

Then move the diaper to the second bucket/pot, which is filled with plain cold water. Rinse, wring out in the same fashion until all water is squeezed from the diaper. Hang on clothesline, preferrably in sun if you have it. The sun is a natural bleaching agent and will finish off the cleaning process nicely and dry them more quickly.

Repeat for each diaper and doubler, replacing cold water and hot water with a fresh batch if you find it necessary. Covers, wet bags and swim diapers may be scrubbed gently in the same manner when needed, and/or spot cleaned.

Don't forget to take lots of cute pictures of your little one in his cloth diapers enjoying nature! Do you have a cloth-diaper camping story or tip? Shoot us a Comment and keep the conversation going!

Happy Summer and Happy Camping!



  1. How wonderful, Natalie! I've also found that flats (or, in my case, receiving blankets) make great travel diapers. They don't take up a ton of room, and are easy to wash, too. We're camping a couple times this summer . . . may have to take your advice!

  2. Just in time... We're planning our first camping trip with the little one for the 4th of July. I was thinking I'll bring flats so they'll be super easy to rinse in the hose.

  3. I never bothered washing diapers when camping.
    I would just bring a duffel bag of prefolds, 5 or so wraps, and a rubbermaid with a really tight fitting lid. And a few disposables in case I couldn't *quite* make it through the trip. We went on many camping trips while my son was in diapers, often to campsites with no running water, and usually hike in tenting sites. It's really easy and sure beats packing out a bunch of used disposables! EW!!



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