One thing most professionals in the outdoors aren’t prepared for is the stigma around excretion. During first-aid courses, our teachers explain how the most common issue we will face is poop related, often with guests who take medicine to keep them from needing to poop while they are away from a western toilet!
We’re here to help everybody be safe and prepared for their next backcountry trip. Learn how you can enjoy the view while you poo!
Even if you’re just out for an easy day hike, there’s no knowing when nature will call. Exercise stimulates the digestive system and will make you need to go number 2 more often. Make yourself a “shit kit” – a ziplock bag with a roll of toilet paper, a tube of hand sanitizer, and extra ziplock bags. Keep it dry! Wet toilet paper is nobody’s friend.
While on a summer’s day these can be hot, reeking chambers of discomfort. They are also significantly better than not having an outhouse when you need to go. Outhouses require much less fuss to use and reduce our impact on the environment.
Look at maps, find out where (if at all) they’re located on the trail, and if you’re passing one, take the chance to use it.
Yes, this is slightly more of an issue for ladies than gentlemen – but all of us should know the best place to place your pee.
Salts in your urine can attract deer, porcupine & marmots, and too much urine in the same spot can damage vegetation (ever see all those dead patches of lawn in the dog park?). So, avoid peeing next to your tent or cooking area. Peeing on rock will limit the amount of damage to vegetation, as all the salts will evaporate away, although it can cause some splash back when squatting.
For women, we will share how to pee in the woods. First of all, select your location well. Pee facing downhill, so the stream runs away from you (and your shoes), and pick something absorbent – moss, soft earth, pine needles are good. Once you have your location set, pull your pants & underwear down to your knees, squat as low as you can, knees together, feet apart, and go for it. If you have trouble squatting, lean your back against a tree or a rock. The easiest method of clean-up is the shake & air dry – most backcountry women swear by it. If you’re going to use toilet paper you won’t have a hole to bury it in, so pack it out, or use a pee rag. What’s that? A designated bandana for wiping, which you then hang to dry on your backpack. Rinse it out at camp.
Another option for women is the FUD – female urinary device, which allows women to pee standing up. But then you’re carrying a pee soaked plastic thing around – not ideal. Some people love them, but in my experience the process of getting it out, setting it up, undoing your clothes, getting it in place, convincing your bladder it’s ok to pee now even though you’re standing, then packing everything up again is a lot more annoying and time consuming than just telling everyone to turn around and popping a squat. Plus, there’s issues with backflow in those small funnels when you must pee badly.
Those stunning, pristine backcountry Instagram shots we all want are easily ruined by used toilet paper lining the trail, and nothing is worse than stumbling upon someone else’s manure.
Remember that you aren’t the only one thinking you can get away with doing the wrong thing “just this once”, especially judging from the state of some of the more popular trails last summer (Wilcox Pass and Lake Agnes stand out). Respect the environment and other trail goers by going well off trail, and at least 100m from any water source. If it’s hard to judge distance in varied terrain, go for a 5-minute walk while thinking about the horrors of giardia (a gastrointestinal disease caused by drinking water contaminated with feces).
Dig yourself a “cathole”. Many people use a lightweight trowel for this purpose. If you don’t have a trowel, sticks, rocks and hiking poles work. A cathole must be 15 – 20 cm (6 – 8 in) deep (about the length of the trowel blade), and 10 – 15 cm (4 – 6 in) wide. The idea is to get into the organic layer of soil, to help your waste break down more quickly. Squat over the hole, aim and fire. Mix some dirt into your deposit, and cover everything back up with the original dirt from the hole, leaves and pine needles.
Use toilet paper sparingly and dispose of it thoughtfully – it should either be buried thoroughly in the cat hole, or packed out, which is better for the environment. Toilet paper does break down but takes a lot longer than most people think: 1 – 3 years depending on climate.
If you’re packing your toilet paper out, be prepared with a designated ziplock bag. Some people put powdered bleach in their ziplock to eliminate stains & smell. Seal the ziplock and place it in another sealed ziplock. You can cover the outer bag in duct tape for durability and added discretion. If this is entirely too gross for you, consider purchasing some bio wipes, which are supposed to break down in 21 days. Or make leaves, conifer branches (go with the grain) or smooth stones your friend. Just watch out for the poison ivy.
We assume it goes without saying, however we’d be wrong. You still need to use that hand sanitizer, liberally! Make sure you rub vigorously, paying attention to the fingers.
We hope these rules help you on your next trip to the woods. Mentally prepare for going pee and poop when you’re in the woods and have a more enjoyable mountain experience!