How to Poop Outdoors and Leave No Trace

Know how to poop outdoors, pack out toilet paper, and stay clean when camping or backpacking so you can Leave No Trace outside.

An orange trowel, toilet paper roll, hand sanitizer, and Ziploc bag laid out on the ground. This is a poop kit for backpackers.

How to poop outdoors. It’s a serious topic — that is a little unusual to discuss — but in all seriousness, pooping outside AND packing out your toilet paper (TP) takes knowledge and skill, and it’s so important that everyone doing this knows how to do so correctly. On almost every backcountry trip I’ve been on, I’ve stumbled on used poop-covered toilet paper. Not only is it gross, but leaving your toilet paper and not following Leave No Trace principles can pollute water supplies, cause disease to spread, and attract unwanted wildlife.

The fact is, many folks simply don’t know how to poop outside, thus the reason I chose to write this post. It’s okay if you’re a little disgusted by the topic, but it’s something we gotta talk about. In this blog post, you’ll find out WHY and HOW to poop outdoors properly so you can Leave No Trace, keep trails and camping areas clean, and reduce your impact when you go #2. 

Learn how to poop outdoors and follow Leave No Trace with our step-by-step guide below!

Why Is It Important to Pack Out Toilet Paper?

It Helps Protect Wildlife

Animals are attracted to the smell of feces. If you leave toilet paper lying around after pooping outside, you might get some unwanted visitors in your campsite. The last thing you want is a potentially dangerous wildlife encounter that was caused by used toilet paper around camp.

It Helps Protect Drinking Water Sources

If you don’t properly poop outdoors and pack out your toilet paper, when it rains, there’s the potential that the bacteria could contaminate the water source that you and other campers rely on. Diseases such as hepatitis, salmonella, giardia, and other gastro-intestinal diseases can spread as a result of using the bathroom close to water sources. Not to mention, human waste is also a carrier for a lot of infectious diseases not necessarily carried by animals, including cholera, E. coli, salmonella, shigella, rotavirus, norovirus, hepatitis A, and E, etc. While you should always filter your drinking water, it’s still important to follow the Leave No Trace guidelines for using the bathroom outdoors, which means going at least 200ft away from any water source and packing out your toilet paper.

It Helps Leave No Trace

Preserving our wilderness areas and keeping them nice for everyone is so important. You wouldn’t want to come across someone else’s toilet paper remains on the trail, so treat the trail as you want others to treat it. It’s a bit like our post on decorative rock cairns. Coming across used toilet paper is an unwanted reminder that other humans have used and abused the area. With a record number of people getting outdoors to parks and public lands, there is risk that some of these areas will be shut down because of the overuse. In fact, this has happened to many BLM areas and campgrounds as more people get outside and fail to abide by Leave No Trace. Across several states such as California, Utah, and Colorado, the Bureau of Land Management is cracking down on high traffic areas that are left trashed – citing human waste as one of the top reasons for either banning camping in the backcountry, or requiring a permit system.

Burying It Doesn’t Make It Go Away

Pack it in, pack it out. Toilet paper can take a long time to decompose—especially if you are hiking in an extremely dry climate, like the desert — which is why you should pack it out rather than burying it. Animals, including your dog that you share a tent with, can also dig it up. Nothing like getting a nice wet kiss from your dog after it’s chewed up poo-covered toilet paper – yuck! 

This is an example of how not to poop outside / Know how to poop outdoors, pack out toilet paper, and stay clean when camping or backpacking so you can Leave No Trace.
Nasty poo & toilet paper we found on the trail

Also, think about this: in 2019, there were 327 MILLION visitors to our National Parks, 180 million visitors to Forest Service lands, and 740 million visits to state park units throughout the U.S. That’s ALOT of people who potentially might poop in the wilderness. Unlike animals, who spread out and roam more freely and widespread, we concentrate our adventures in these parks along narrow corridors (trails and shorelines mostly). This means that human waste and TP left behind from these visits is also heavily concentrated along those corridors.

Special thanks to reader, Jeff M, from Michigan for providing these additional thoughts. Now let’s get to the important part, how to poop outside like a pro.

How to Properly Poop Outside

Step 1: Make a Poop Kit

Pooping outside is easy as long as you have the right tools. First, you need a small shovel, also called a trowel. Here is a trowel that is ultra-light. I carry my trowel in a ziplock bag, along with my clean TP and some hand sanitizer. Then you’ll need a second ziplock bag to carry your used toilet paper (see step #4). It is important to always keep your poop tool kit in your hiking bag – even on shorter hikes, you never know when nature will call, and it’s best to be prepared.

Step 2: Dig a Cathole

When looking for a spot to poop outside, this is what you are looking for:

  • Private and off the trail
  • At least 200 feet from a water source
  • Deep soil where you can easily dig a cathole
  • A sunny spot – the sun hitting the cathole will speed up the decomposition

Once you’ve located the perfect poop spot, you want to dig a cathole that is at least 6 inches deep. If you aren’t sure if it’s deep enough, dig a little deeper. The purpose of a deeper hole is to protect the water supply, aid in decomposition, and mask smells from nearby wildlife.

PRO TIP: Don’t wait until you REALLY have to go. Digging a cathole takes a few minutes, and if it feels urgent, your efforts to follow Leave No Trace principles are going to go out the window.

Digging a cat hole for pooping outside / Know how to poop outdoors, pack out toilet paper, and stay clean when camping or backpacking so you can Leave No Trace.

Step 3: Poop in the Cathole and Cover it Up

Next, do your business, cover up the poop with dirt, and fill in the cathole using your trowel. Be careful not to touch the poop with the trowel, since you don’t want to contaminate your handy tool and the bag you store it in. Sometimes I like to put a rock on top of my cathole, so my fellow campers might think twice about digging a hole in the same spot.

Covering a cat hole when pooping outsie / Know how to poop outdoors, pack out toilet paper, and stay clean when camping or backpacking so you can Leave No Trace.

Step 4: Pack Out Your Used Toilet Paper and Use Hand Sanitizer

The final step for how to poop outdoors is what weirds a lot of people out…packing out your used toilet paper – but I promise it’s really not that bad. In the next section, we share some pro tips for packing out your toilet paper privately so no else can smell or see it. So scroll down to hear our advice…and I’ll spare you the pics here 🙂

Oh, and don’t forget to hand sanitize once it’s all said and done!

How to Pack Out Used Toilet Paper When Pooping Outside

When pooping outside, I like to use as little toilet paper as possible to get the job done. After I wipe, I’ll fold my toilet paper and wrap it once with extra toilet paper.

To dispose of your used toilet paper, create a two bag system to keep it disguised and smell-free. First I put the used TP in a small black trash bag (doggie bags work well too). Then I put that into a larger ziplock bag. My trash bag system then goes into a pocket somewhere in my backpack that isn’t used for any food or group gear. That way my friends don’t accidentally find it when they are rummaging through my pack lid for a snack or sunscreen. This two-bag system is also great for ladies who are on their period, since tampons also need to be packed out. 

If you find yourself having to use a lot of toilet paper, you might want to consider using baby wipes instead of toilet paper or having a wet-wipe for a final wipe. On the Pacific Crest Trail, Kim started carrying wipes and realized very quickly the many uses they have. If you choose to use wet-wipes, make sure to get the non-scented kind, so you don’t have to worry about putting it in your bear canister at night if you are in bear country.

An anti-microbial Kula Cloth (pee rag) is handy for hikes and backpacking trips as well – while this is only meant for wiping after you pee, it significantly reduces the amount of toilet paper you need to carry in and out. One side of the Kula Cloth is waterproof with a fun print, and the other is the absorbent, anti-microbial side to wipe with. It’s super easy to wash after a day or two of hiking. (Note: be sure to rinse your Kula Cloth 200ft away from water if you are cleaning while backpacking).

Keep in mind, you can also consider using natural resources, like leaves, instead of packing toilet paper. This isn’t for everyone. On the Pacific Crest Trail, Kim tried to use snow (not sure about that haha) for wiping after hearing rave reviews from trail friends, but found that it left her with a wet tush and more prone to hiker rash. Others use leaves or smooth rocks but do be careful that the leaves you choose won’t irritate your skin. If you do use rocks or leaves, it is really important that you bury the material in your original cathole.

If you’re still unsure of the double bag system, check out this excellent example from our friends at Leave No Trace.

Once you get back to civilization, you simply throw the entire ziplock bag away.

How to Pack Out Poop in Sensitive Environments

The above step-by-step guide for how to poop outdoors works for most public lands – however, there are certain places, like sensitive alpine environments, desert ecosystems, and narrow river canyons, where physically packing out your poop is required. With more and more people enjoying the outdoors every year, packing out human waste is likely to become a more common practice to ensure the longevity of public lands. Luckily, there are several easy ways to do so, including Go Anywhere Bags and Double Doodie Bags. These can be used on their own, or with a portable toilet seat (a portable toilet might be best if you are dispersed car camping, van camping, or on a longer overnight river trip as it is bulky). Always be sure to check ahead of time to see if the area you are traveling to allows you to bury human waste or if it must be packed out in one of these bags.

Portable toilet option for camping and van life / Know how to poop outdoors, pack out toilet paper, and stay clean when camping or backpacking so you can Leave No Trace outside.

Outside Poop Kit Essentials

Here are the top items we’ve mentioned in this post for your poop kit, minus the toilet paper and ziploc bags:

What tips do you have on how to poop outdoors? Leave us a comment below!

Know how to poop outdoors, pack out toilet paper, and stay clean when camping or backpacking so you can Leave No Trace outside.

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  1. Thanks for talking about the “less than glamorous” side of being outdoors and enjoying the woods. Hoping many read this and stop leaving their TP along the trail! I was just in Iceland and the amount of TP at the beginning of the trail was disturbing. Also might be worth mentioning something like a GO GIRL or a SHE PEE for women who feel the need to wipe after urinating and leave their TP behind (mostly what I see!)

    — Katie @ Katie Wanders

    1. We use biodegradable TP at all times since we live in a trailer and don’t flush TP
      Biodegradable TP is GREAT FOR backpacking too

  2. Ok, now I know how to properly poop in the woods. An interesting topic really because it’s something that I bet many people take for granted until they’re out there and need to go. Thanks for bringing that one to us.

  3. There is a classic book I’ve had on my shelf for nearly 30 years by Kathleen Meyer – “How to Shit in the Woods”. It’s a great guide and covers, literally ;-), everything human scat related in different environments (deserts to tundra). Great read.

  4. Thanks, Kristen!

    As a Boy Scout Leader, we have had the exact same discussion. We have an area called Three Creeks near us, and it’s pretty close to a 100K+ town. It’s horrible to walk along a trail and see strands of TP from even (I’ll assume) women peeing. (please don’t bash, it was “clean” TP). LOL. None the less, I have taken pics to show the troop that you poop, bury it, and take several WalMart bags or Zip loc bags and carry out your paper. It’s easy, for real. In our family camel backs, we have bags, TP and hand sanitizer as well. Leave no trace is something we all need to do.

  5. Another suggestion would be to buy a roll of doggy poop bags as they wrap up really small and you can get scented bags too.

  6. What a great post. My husband and I are continually talking about all the toilet paper that gets left at camp sites in Australia. Unfortunately so many women leave toilet paper after peeing as well.

  7. Can’t help thinking that by using the two bag method you are creating another problem,
    the bags have to go somewhere and we are told how we should be using less plastic to avoid
    it ending up in land fill sites or harming wildlife, as you say there are thousands of people
    using these trails and beauty spots so potentially many thousands of plastic bags that all
    end up somewhere, I think TP is generally less harmful to the environment than plastic.
    I think (not sure) TP sold in countries that have flushing toilets is designed to dissolve quickly
    once it is flushed so as not to clog the sewerage pipes, so surly it would be better to bury the
    TP with the poop ? and the ladies that use yards of TP after just a wee could use a small pouch
    or washable / re-usable bag ?
    Just so you know, I have never been on a trail or pooped in the woods so these are just my thoughts
    on the subject.

    1. Thanks, Ray, for your comments. There are biodegradable Ziploc bags that you can purchase to help reduce plastic consumption. Currently, I’m actually testing out various options and have considered if they would be an option when camping. Burying the TP with the poop can be harmful to an animal if it then consumes the TP. TP is often also bleached white with bleach which is incredibly harmful to animals.

      1. I like the idea of doggy bags because you can turn the bag inside out, use it to wipe the majority of your rear, then use wipes (like Wysi’s) to finish up. Drop the Wysi in the bag when done. Scented bags inside a ziplock and baking powder inside the ziplock. When you get somewhere to literally throw away the crap, just dump the used doggy bags, keep the zip lock. Google Wysi. Dry compactable wipes and once they get wet, they expand.

    2. There IS TP that quick breaks down, i believe it is marketed for RV users for Chem Toilets.
      As to plastic bags, there is nothing on the planet that gets re-used as much as plastic shopping bags.
      Landfills are not designed to allow anything to naturally bio-degrade unfortunately .
      I have had the unfortunate need to poo while nowhere near a loo… I used a plastic shopping bag, wipies (that I always have in the car) and the double bagged it all and tossed it in the next commercial bin I saw.
      Not pretty, but better than the alternative ….

  8. Hi there. An interesting topic that every person outdoors should learn.
    I would also suggest to use water instead of toilet paper. Something that is so common in Asia and M.East.
    Please search about it if you are interested, for your health and for the environment.
    Enjoy and happy trails…

  9. I burn my toilet paper when I am out in nature and then scoop the tiny leftover flinters into the hole I dug. I always have a a lighter with me.

  10. Great article! One thing not mentioned is that there are places where everything has to be packed out, including the poop! This is par for the course in many southwest canyon areas. In addition, folks should take personal responsibility and use common sense when deciding whether or not leaving your poop in a cathole is the right thing. We shouldn’t have to be told by land managers & should just do the right thing. Thanks again!

  11. I’ve read about invasive species being introduced to new areas through seeds in human waste. Is this something I should worry about while hiking? Should I avoid foods with viable seeds in them (like tomatoes or figs or whatever) for a few days before a backpacking trip?

    There’s also the reverse situation: people take seeds out of the environment when they eat wild berries. If I like to pick and eat berries while I hike (and I do), should I make an effort to poop in the woods the same day?

    1. Hi Colleen, this is really interesting. Personally, I’m not 100% sure as to the answers to your great questions but I’m going to do some research myself now! Thank you for adding to the discussion.

  12. I work with toddlers and change several poopy diapers a day. I wear exam type gloves on my dominate hand and them stretch it over the dirty diaper to throw ut away. I think the next time I need to go in the woods I’ll try this with the tp; glove on wiping hand, go, wipe, pull glove over used tp, place in zip top bag( still double layered, glove inside bag), pack out and dispose of properly.

  13. This might seem like a silly question, but you mentioned how we should get unscented wet wipes so it doesn’t attract wildlife, but shouldn’t we put the poopy tp in the bear canister anyway, rather than in a special pocket in our bag, since wildlife (esp bears) are attracted to human feces? I can’t fathom putting my poopy stuff in my bear canister tho, with my food, no matter how sealed up it was

    1. Hi Holly! Not a silly question at all. I’d recommend getting an odor-proof bag for storing used toilet paper. We do see your concern and definitely understand not wanting to put your “toilet bag” with your food. Personally, I haven’t stored my dirty toilet paper in my bear canister but I do triple bag my soiled toilet paper.

  14. I save the small resealable bags that Dunkin Donuts is packaged in and use them for used TP and feminine products while hiking. The bags conceal the view AND odor!

  15. What about using a washcloth? I know having to bring multiple ones would make packs heavier, but maybe on shorter hikes, you could use a washcloth, store it in your bag as described in the article and wash it when you get home? (Kind of like cloth diapers.)

    1. I know a lot of women that use washcloths (the Kula cloth in particular) to wipe after going pee while hiking and backpacking, but I’ve never heard of anyone using a washcloth for #2. I suppose you could do that, store it in a ziploc bag, and wash it when you get home if you’re comfortable with that as long as you’re following all the Leave No Trace guidelines.

    1. That’s certainly an issue that many of us have seen. Bringing doggy bags and picking up after your dogs is important as well and helps everyone have a better experience on the trail.

  16. Hi, I’m on a camping trip with friends right now. It doesn’t seem like anyone brought toilet paper. We’re in a desert so there’s no leaves or snow to use either. Can you suggest anything else I might use? I’m too embarrassed to ask my friends what they’re using for TP, it feels much easier asking anonymously on the internet. I really need to take a dump, I’ve been putting it off for days. Please advise.

  17. I really appreciate all your information. It’s one of the many questions I have when contemplating going on a 4-day backpacking trip this summer. So I have a follow up question–how in the world do you squat long enough to poop and feel comfortable about it? I plan on using a GoGirl but squatting for #2? That sounds impossible!

    1. If you are not used to pooping outside I suggest that you try to get some practical experience before setting out on a camping trip lasting several days in the wilderness, for example when out on a day hike. If really in doubt about being able to master the technical side of it, I fear that your brain will suppress the signals from the guts and you may risk constipation. That will heavily reduce your mental and physical fitness for the trip. I often take groups of newbies out in the wilderness and I have seen may inexperienced hikers struggle with squatting. But I also know that for most people it is easy to master with just some experience. By the way, when first mastering it, squatting may be a very relaxing positure! For those that are not capable of squatting (for example having hip problems) I recommend to find a fallen tree or a low branch to sit on. When acting on the urge most persons do not need to squat more that one or two minutes to get a complete relief. Even if it is quickly done I always recommend people to try to relax because if stressing and binding the muscles it for sure will require more, much more, time. To relax it is necessary to walk to a spot where you may be quite sure to be alone. Especially the first times it is a great barrier to pull down and expose the private parts without a door to lock. But, for sure, training a bit also helps to that! Furthermore with increasing experience you soon will discover that all of us have the same challenges. In some hiking groups toilet issues are a popular subject for discussion. In other groups it will never be touched. But for sure even in those groups the participants have to obey the order of nature.

    2. Visualization techniques can help. Closing your eyes and picturing your bathroom at home might help you relax. I have a friend who says that she pictures a waterfall or dripping faicet when going #1, and a cement truck pouring cement when going #2!

  18. What happens when you throw out the bag? Use a sharpie to write Biohazard in the bag, if possible use red bags like hospitals do. You don’t want to contaminate the poor trashman or the landfill– they must have a place for hospital waste.

  19. If your coming to Moab, Grand Co. has a law NO BURYING HUMAN WASTE. anywhere in the county. Leave no trace means YOU Packed it in YOU CAN pack it out.

    1. Hi Keith, you’re absolutely right! The desert is a pretty sensitive environment so packing out waste is a must. We always recommend people check local regulations regarding human waste.