Doing Your Business is Serious Business
DO BEARS POOP IN THE WOODS?
Of course they do! And for the majority of human existence, we all pooped in the woods or in whatever environment we were in. Prehistorically, humans ate local food stuffs, stayed primarily in their local environments and lived in small tribal groups. Our collective poop was not much of a problem. Humans, like bears, pooped whenever and wherever it suited us. Today, the human population has exploded and we tend to gather and recreate in the same places year after year. When, where, and how we poop can create problems. There is nothing more disheartening than to travel deep into the backcountry, find the perfect place to camp with stunning views, shade, and flat ground, only to discover a TP flower blossoming from a pile of human feces, right where you wanted to lay down your bedroll.
PROPER WASTE MANAGEMENT = PRESERVING WILD SPACES
Unlike bears and the other wild creatures pooping in the wild, human poop today contains synthetic chemicals and hormones, heavy metals, residues of medications, GMOs, and is generally neither particularly organic nor healthy for wild ecosystems. Human poop contains biological containments which can cause diseases in other humans and wildlife. Yet we still must poop when we are in the backcountry where toilets are not available. Ideally, following Leave No Trace protocols, the backcountry would be better off without our poop contribution. In areas characterized by heavy use and/or environmental sensitivity, the best solution is to haul our poop out, as we do other trash and waste. In places like the Mount Whitney Trail, popular alpine climbing routes, and along wild rivers, poop packing is mandatory. Hikers usually collect their poop in WAG bags or, on river trip, in portable vaults (often called “grovers”). These removal systems are then dispose of the poop at appropriate facilities located outside of the backcountry area. A WAG bag, also known as a cleanwaste bag, is a waste kit made of puncture resistant material and usually comes with a small amount of TP and a sanitary towelette. The bag is approved to be thrown away in most municipal garbage cans.
If your outdoor adventure includes exploring and base camping from a vehicle or ATV or by horse packing, a portable toilet system simplifies pooping in the backcountry and frankly makes pooping much more comfortable for people unaccustomed and/or unwilling to squat on the ground. Outdoor and camping suppliers offer a wide range of portable poop collecting systems ranging from a WAG bag suspended from a folding toilet, to kits that turn 5 gallon plastic buckets into reusable toilets, to compact flushing toilets with small holding tanks. Some innovative DIYers make their own custom, reusable poop tubes from PVC or ABS plastic. Each of these systems have their merits and disadvantages. Most of these systems use a chemical or organic materials to manage odors and some even include powders to gel liquids. Of course, when you return from your trip, your poop should be properly disposed of.
A Pocket Toilet Kit: Toilet Paper; Towelettes; Hand Sanitizer; Zip Bag for Used Toilet Paper; Snow Tent Stake for Digging a Cathole
“I wanted a little of that swagger that comes with being able to gaze at a far horizon through eyes of chipped granite and say with a slow, manly sniff, ‘Yeah, I’ve shit in the woods.'”
POOPING IN THE BACKCOUNTRY
If you love wandering and camping far from roads, vehicles, and facilities, at some point you will have to poop in the backcountry. This means digging a small hole (called a “cathole”), pooping in the hole, and completely burying your waste. Human poop takes about a year to biodegrade (even longer in arid environments), can be an environmental hazard, and can contaminate, springs, streams and groundwater. People unaccustomed to the outdoors may find the idea of conducting your basic biological business in the wild a bit daunting. For many people, squatting down on your haunches and remaining in that position for the time it takes to poop can be uncomfortable, painful, or impossible. Fortunately, there are some workarounds that can make pooping in the wild less stressful.
Plan Ahead and Prepare- In your pocket, daypack, or backpack, always keep a toilet kit well supplied and ready to go. This kit should fit easily into a quart sealable plastic bag. A basic kit should include:
Biodegradable, non-scented toilet paper. Only pack as much as you anticipate you could use. It is worth practicing at home to reduce the amount of toilet paper you use so you can better anticipate what you actually need when you don’t have an endless supply of TP coming out of the wall.
A small alcohol-based hand sanitizer or individually wrapped hand wipes.
Additional sealable bags for packing out used toilet paper and sanitary products.
Optional: A small plastic trowel or an aluminum tent snow stake can be helpful when the time comes to dig your cathole.
Choosing the Spot- The biological expression “dilution is the solution to pollution” applies; the more human poop is dispersed on the landscape, the less impact it has on the ecosystem and on the experience of other backcountry explorers. The primary rule applies: Do Not Poop within 200 feet (70 paces) of water, camping locations, or trails. A good secondary consideration is to choose areas where no one would want to camp or choose to sit and enjoy shelter, shade, or the view. Also, the further you wander, the more privacy you will have and the less likely you will be digging your cathole where someone else already buried their poop (totally gross). The best thing about pooping in the wild is your ability to choose the perfect spot with a great view for doing you business. Often in the open desert, you will not be able to find vegetative cover to hide from others. The solution is to wander even further- the farther you go, the more privacy you will experience. Also pay attention to the slight variations in the landscape, even slight variations in the landscape can make you completely disappear when you squat down to do your necessary. The final considerations is to look for an area with a slight to moderate incline and soft, dig-able soil. If you squat facing downhill, it will relive some of the pressure on your knees and make it much easier to stand up when you are finished.
Digging a “Cathole”- The idea of a cathole is to bury your poop to remove it from the surface of the landscape. Covering your poop in soil facilitates the biological breakdown of waste. The ideal cathole is a small trench approximately 8 inches deep, 3-5 inches wide and 8-10 inches long. In desert soils, catholes should be only about 6 inches deep because the active biological soils are much shallower than in well-watered areas. Catholes can be dug using your boot heel, sticks, rocks, or by using your trowel or snow stake. After you have finished your poop, bury it with the dirt you removed from the hole and very lightly tamp down the soil then kick or scatter the ground litter back over the ground you disturbed. Placing a single, small upright stick in your buried cathole will be a good sign that this is not a good place for someone else to dig their cathole. It is always best to pack used toilet paper out, but if you do leave it, make sure it is completely buried with your poop. Do Not Burn toilet paper- the slightest gust of wind can pickup the smoldering paper and spread it to flammable vegetation.
Alternatives to Squatting- As mentioned above, squatting on an incline makes squatting much less stressful for the legs. The same effect can be accomplished on flat ground by finding two fist size rocks and placing them under you heels before you squat down. Building a throne out of rocks is an alternative to squatting. Usually this requires just two medium sized rocks placed on opposite side of your cathole. Beware- rocks are the home to spiders, insects, scorpions, and snakes. Moving rocks can result in unwanted visitors and painful bites and stings. Rocks also carry micro organism communities. Please replace the rock to where you got them and in the same orientation as to not disrupt the micro environment of the rock. Another option to squatting is to lean against a tree or rock (this is often not practical as the soils beneath trees and at the base of big rocks is hard-packed and/or full of roots making digging a cathole nearly impossible). A final alternative to squatting is to hang from a tree branch over your cathole to relive some of the pressure on you legs.