Home » On The Trail

Category: On The Trail

Potty Post #1 – Waking Up to a Warm Flood

I woke up early on day 4 of a 5 day backpacking trip and 17 miles away from the closest parking lot. A storm had hit us and I didn’t sleep well as the wind whipped against my two person tent throughout the night. We, being my little backpacker (LB), myself and two friends, had set up a base camp at 8,500ft. and with it being early season in this region, we were greeted to high winds, pounding rain and eventually half foot of snow on our last evening in high camp. I quietly got dressed and climbed out of the tent trying not to wake up my little backpacker and walked around camp assessing the situation. Ah, June in the high alpine, bipolar weather and extreme temperatures. I had every layer on as I walked around while the snow was coming down. Off in the distance I could see the clouds clearing. This storm was going to pass early in a few hours. I glanced in the distance to see if my friends were awake yet, but saw no indication.

I climbed back in my tent but left part of the fly open so I could start heating up water on the stove for breakfast. After mixing the water in our oatmeal bowls, I reached over to shake my little backpacker awake. With no immediate response, I tried a second time. This time I as I shook LB, I felt something wet. I looked over and noticed a well placed volume of liquid halfway down the sleeping bag. I quickly woke LB up and asked if there had been an accident. LB checked out the wet spot and panicked. This caused me to panic. Of course, at LB’s age, we were panicking for different reasons. My little backpacker was just horrified that it happened. However, I had quite a few more concerns like how are we going to wash a sleeping bag in the four miles of snowfields we have to cross today, what dry clothing do LB have for backpacking in a storm, and with temperatures just above freezing will this sleeping bag even dry out. Beyond those actual concerns, I think we were both embarrassed that this issue might be noticed by our friends.

This was not the first time I had experienced waking up next to a child with a wet sleeping bag. I have backpacked with my kids through all stages of bladder control. This time, however the solution wasn’t as simple as stuffing the sleeping bag in the compression sack and washing it that evening in the washing machine. We still had one more very cold night ahead of us.

This is somewhat of a “worse case scenario” which we survived quite well, all things considered. So if you happen to find yourself in this situation, know that you too can survive the clean up and embarrassment while still having an amazing backpacking experience with your little one.

Here are some tips that I have learned along the way:

If you think there is the slightest chance your little one will have an accident:

  • Pack some night time pull-ups. Yes, this could be embarrassing, but the alternative is just as embarrassing. Toss a grocery store bag in with them so your little backpacker has a place to discard used pull-ups without creating unpleasant odors.
  • If possible, have your little one sleep naked in his sleeping bag a spare pair of underwear. Should there be an accident, your little one will still have available dry clothing and backup clothing when he wakes up.
  • Set an alarm on your phone to wake you in the middle of the night to take your little one potty. This is inconvenient, but so is morning clean up. 3 am was my alarm setting for a short period of my backpacking with kids time.
  • Another option is to bring a waterproof sleeping bag liner.

If you wake up to a surprise flooding in your tent:

  • If you are hiking out that day, no worries, pack that sleeping bag up and address when home. If any clothing was caught up in the crossfire, pack it into the sleeping bag as well.

  • If you still have another day or two in your itinerary, consider getting into the next camp sooner to dry the sleeping bag out. If you happen to be leaving your tent in the same place that day, toss that sleeping bag on a branch or on top of your tent to start drying out. I have been known to toss my sleeping bag on top of the tent next to my kid’s bag, just so it seems like we are both just airing our bags out and doesn’t draw attention to only one bag sitting out.

  • Depending on the type of sleeping bag, weather conditions, etc. you may be able to “wash” the sleeping bag. I can’t say I have used this solution, but I could see under the right conditions, this could be feasible option.

  • Warm up some water and use a bandana, for example, to clean your little backpacker. Not only will she feel cleaner, but also feel better about the situation. Baby wipes work as well, but could be more uncomfortable if it had been a cold night.

  • Don’t let it ruin your trip. Even though it is a challenging inconvenience and it can create a moment of unpredictable stress, remember, you are still out backpacking with your little one and making awesome memories.

  • Stay positive, especially if your little one is old enough to feel embarrassed. Keep the the overall vibe as upbeat as you can and hopefully your little one will start to feel better about the situation.

  • This occurrence more common than you might think and even older kids have been known to have an accident in the night. Parents, you are not alone in this experience.

How did my story end? We could not stay in our camp for another day and the weather was too wet and cold to dry out the sleeping bag. Instead, we packed everything up according to our original plan and began the descent toward low camp. Along the way, we didn’t talk about “the event”, but focused on these beautiful partial frozen lakes we continued to pass and the different wildlife along the way. We arrived at camp around 6 pm and realized it was just too late in the day to dry out my little backpacker’s sleeping bag. Instead, we kept it packed and shared my sleeping bag, along with additional layers as blankets. I set my alarm to wake LB two different times in the night to take care of business. The following morning we were a little tired, but DRY, and packed up camp while relishing in this amazing backpacking trip we were finishing up…..and our friends never even knew something happened.

Bribery…..I Mean Rewarding

The stand off. The point where your child looks at you and says, “I quit, I can’t go on, or I can’t do this!” I sat my fifty-two pound pack on the ground from exhaustion, sat down on a log lying next to the trail and just looked at my son in bewilderment. How could he just stop, again, for the tenth time, and tell me that he could no longer continue down the trail?


The setting: You have secured permits for 5 days of backpacking with two friends and your child. You have assessed your child and know that he/she can physically handle the challenge of 5 days in the backcountry with the miles/elevation planned out. Your backpack is packed to its capacity as to take on all necessary gear needed for the two of you in the backcountry. On day 1, you wake up at 4 am, to meet the rest of your group at the trailhead after three hours of driving. As you unload your packs from the car, throw them on your backs and make adjustments, your child looks at you and says…..I can’t, I just can’t. WHAT!!!!!!! Let’s fast forward this adventure two hours and 2.5 miles/1000 elevation gain down the trail and your child takes a break for the 100th time stating “I can’t go on and attempts the greatest acting job of exhaustion.”  Over the course of trail, I had slowly removed gear from his pack to lighten his load incase pack weight was the catalyst to desire to just quit. So, what do you do now if the pack weight is reduced, your child is plenty hydrated and has continued to snack but no longer wants to go on?

For the purpose of this example, my child was fully capable, had the stamina and determination to complete this trip, however in the first two hours, he wanted to just quit. I say this to note that the first solution was not to turn around even though it is a viable solution. At times we do turn around, even when we have longingly wanted to hike a particular trail or climb a particular peak. However, based on the conditions, trail, his abilities and mine, turning around did not need to be the immediate solution. So where do you go from here?

I shamefully call it bribery but one educator clarified it to me by stating, “it’s not a bribe, it’s a reward.” Though I laugh, I don’t necessarily buy into that ideal entirely. However, if I want to feel like a good parent on the trail, I just repeat it over and over to myself. Personally, it is a tough call. I’m not trying to bribe my child to hike….otherwise, why are we doing this. However, if I persuade my child into completing day one’s itinerary or to complete the trip, he/she may be proud of the accomplishment or excited about the really unique experience. And after all, I want to teach my child to persevere and to learn that hard work and sweat pay off. Personally, I also wrestle with the idea of whether a child needs a bribe or reward to complete a task. My perspective is that I am guiding the next generation and just completing a task doesn’t always result in a reward. Then I find that I am overthinking the entire concept and start over.

I imagine every parent has been caught in this same moment when there is a stand off and the trip is coming to a complete stall. Obviously, every parent parents differently with varying ideals and philosophies. The trick is finding out what works for you and your child to ensure the best outcome for both of you and being prepared to face the challenges on the trail. On day hikes, I frequently observe parents trying all avenues of persuasion to the point of picking child up and walking back to the car. I have personally promised ice cream, pick out any drink you want or an hour of XBox. When the kids were little I would stash lollipops or cookies in my pack for desperate times.

For backpacking, this could potentially become a little tricky on the days that you can not fulfill ice cream and Xbox promises. With a little planning, however, you might be able to stash some bribes….or rewards in your backpack. In this particular trip, I was prepared but only by chance. I happened to be packing an IPad mini to track my path with a navigation app and during my son’s final “I can’t” moment, he asked if he could play Minecraft on it when we made it to camp. I placed a strict no whining policy for the next three miles to camp and he suddenly found new energy to make it to camp quicker than he had previously hiked all day. When he arrived at our lakeside camp spot, surrounded by tall granite mountains and plenty of trees and car sized boulders to climb, he was so excited. The hard work had paid off and he chose to explore for hours until the sun went down. When it was completely dark, a young boys adventurous soul had been filled, he climbed into the tent, curled up in his sleeping bag and sweetly asked to play on the IPad.

Kids Love to Cook in the Backcountry

Cooking is empowering to kids! The very idea that your little one gets to use fuel and an igniting system; and then start a fire are highlights for many trips! For my kids, the very thought of “being in charge of a meal” gives them a sense of self-worth because they are contributing to the effort and being entrusted with fire and boiling water/food. When I asked my daughter what she liked most about getting to cook a meal while camping she said, “It is so much fun setting it up and starting the flame. I also like dishing out the food to everyone.”

I started talking my kids through the process of cooking when they were about 5 or 6. Currently we use butane fuel with a stove that has an igniter switch. We started with ensuring, there was water in the pot before igniting the flame and moved on to how to properly melt snow in a pot. We walked them through the importance of stove placement selection in regards to terrain and weather and how to start the stove if the igniter switch gets melted due to improper use (think blow torch to start camp fire gone wrong).

I encourage you to get your little one involved in some process of cooking if they are ready. It may bring an additional appreciation for camping.

IMG_1035 IMG_8290 IMG_0334