Whether you're considering a car camping, a day hike, or an overnight backpacking trip, sometimes you just have to go when toilets aren't accessible. Finding privacy isn't the only thing to keep in mind. Learn how to minimize your impact to do your business and do it properly. Let's get started.
The improper disposal of human waste can contaminate water sources, spread disease between humans and animals, and is just plain gross to come across on the trail or camping. There’s a lot of reasons why this can be intimidating to learn what the rules are to finding the right place to go.
Turning it into a game is a fun way to make this approachable for everyone in your group because we guarantee you they all have to pee and poop at some time. Being able to point out good spots to poop throughout the trail is a way to get everyone talking and you can discuss the reasons why that’s a good location to go. Again, this makes it approachable, laughable, and doable for those who may feel uncomfortable with this.
We’re going to break this down into a few simple steps that you can follow next time you’re outside.
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Unlike being at home when you can flush your toilet paper, be prepared to pack out your toilet paper if you’re using it to go pee or poop outside. We’re here to give you a few pro tips on how to pack it out without contaminating other things in your backpack.
Toilet paper squares
Pee rag, bandana, or Kula Cloth
1 to 2 plastic bag(s) that zip
Soap or hand sanitizer
Blue bags (optional)
When packing your toilet paper, rip off 2 to 3 squares from the roll in your bathroom and create a pile. Insert into a plastic bag to keep it dry. Add an empty plastic bag inside the one with the toilet paper squares that can hold the used toilet paper.
Most likely, you’ll be going pee, or #1, more frequent. Instead of filling up your spare plastic bag with toilet paper, consider bringing a more sustainable cloth to use and tie it on the outside of your bag. A bandana or pee rag work well. Even better if you purchase a Kula Cloth, which was made to reduce the amount of toilet paper left on the trails and also are machine washable when you get home.
Site selection may be the hardest factor to consider because when you have to go, you just have to go and finding a spot can be difficult. The main thing to keep in mind is you want to do the best with what you’ve got.
Where to pee
Peeing outside doesn't involve as many steps as pooping outside. Usually, you'll want to find somewhere off the beaten path for privacy. Though site selection can still be important.
Find a location that is 200 feet away from a small body of water, like ponds, streams, and rivers.
Leave no trace recommends going right in a large body of water instead of around the perimeter to help keep the camping areas less contaminated.
If you're peeing in an alpine area, where mountain goats are present, pee on rocks instead of vegetation. High alpine animals crave the salts in urine and will dig up fragile plants.
Where to poop
Try to find spots that are somewhat hidden–think about downed trees, shrubbery, or gentle hillsides.
Look for deep, organic soil, which is rich and full of color that will help decompose your poop.
If possible, find a location with lots of sunlight shining down.
Locate an elevated site that doesn’t receive water flow, or runoff, when it starts to rain. If it does, the water is going to carry your poo into the water sources in the area.
Know before you go! In some areas, you may have to carry a blue bag with you at high elevations because the terrain’s ecosystem is too fragile to dig or is snow-covered. If that’s the case, you can pick up blue bags at ranger stations and pick up your poop using the blue bag and carry it out like you would if a dog was with you.
Digging hole and poop deposit
Tip number two is digging a cathole, similar to what a cat would do to dig a hole in a litter box, just human-sized. Your cathole needs to be about 6 to 8 inches deep and about 4 inches wide. In order to dig a cathole, you can use a few different objects: a trowel, stick, or rock. None of these objects will touch your poop, they are just tools to help you cover up your poop.
Now that you have your hole, it’s time to deposit your poop. Grab your toilet paper and a separate bag and go to your hole. The toilet paper is for wiping and the plastic bag is to put your used toilet paper in to pack it out and leave no trace.
You want to have a focused, concentrated mindset for this activity.
Go ahead and lower yourself down over the hole.
Deposit your poop.
Place used toilet paper in a plastic bag.
Cover and hide
Now that your poop is deposited in the hole, go ahead and cover it back up. We want to make it look as natural as possible, so it doesn’t look like you’ve been there. Fill the hole using your tool of choice. Avoid touching the poop. And you’re done!
Wash your hands with soap or hand sanitizer.
There’s a lot of guidelines here, if you can’t meet all of them, make sure to do your best and work with what you’ve got.
Make edible scat
Scatologists are scientists who make their living from studying feces (POOP!) to determine a variety of things about the animals or humans who made it. They can even identify an animal from its feces or "scat" alone.
It may sound gross, but we can learn a lot about an animal’s habitat and habits from its poop! Not only can we see what they’ve been eating, but we can determine what types of plants and animals live in their habitat, where the animal has been hunting or grazing and what types of diseases they may have.
On wax paper, take 1/3 cup of oatmeal, use fingers to grind oats into fine pieces.
Add about 1 teaspoon of cocoa and 1 teaspoon of artificial sweetener - this acts as a binding agent.
Add some warm water a little at a time until you arrive at a consistency that will allow you to roll and form the scat into the desired shape.
Dust or roll the scat in a mixture of cocoa powder and artificial sweetener to shape. See scat chart on next page for examples.
Show to your friends to see if they can identify which animal made it!
More bathroom resources
Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics provides detailed information on how to dispose of waste properly.
REI shares how to go to the bathroom in the woods.