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.