HOW TO POOP OUTDOORS: A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO LEAVE NO TRACE
How to shit in the woods. It’s a serious topic—that is a little unusual to discuss—but in all seriousness pooping in the woods AND packing out your toilet paper (TP) takes knowledge and skill. Almost every backcountry trip I’ve been on this summer, I’ve stumbled on used poop-covered toilet paper. Not only is it gross, leaving your toilet paper and not following Leave No Trace principles can pollute the water supply and attract unwanted wildlife to your campsite. The fact is many folks simply don’t know how effectively do their business in the outdoors, 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 pack out your toilet paper so you can reduce your impact on the environment and other campers when you go #2.
Why It Is Important to Pack Out Toilet Paper
Protect the wildlife
Animals are attracted to the smell of feces. If you leave toilet paper lying around, you might get some unwanted visitors in your campsite.
Protect drinking water sources
If you don’t 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.
LEAVE NO TRACE
Preserve our wilderness areas. 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 the trail. It is a bit like our point on decorative rock cairns. Coming across used toilet paper is an unwanted reminder that other humans have used and abused the area.
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. 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.
Nasty poo & toilet paper that our dog found on our last camping trip. GROSS!
Not convinced? When it comes to humans, there’s some truth to the saying, “You are what you eat,” and so is your poop! Our diets are full of preservatives and artificial ingredients. The human population also consumes prescription medications, and some people take illegal drugs. All of that stuff comes out in your waste. These additives in our diet make our poop a non-natural part of the ecosystem. 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.
Also, think about this: in 2015, there were 280 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 minimize your impact by pooping in the woods like a pro.
How to Properly Poop in the Woods
Step 1: Make a Poop Tool Kit
Pooping in the woods 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, another that is ultra-cheap. 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).
Step 2: Dig a Cathole
When looking for a spot to poop, 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.
Step 3: Poop in the Cathole and cover it up
Next, do your business, cover up the poop, 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.
Step 4: Pack Out your Used Toilet Paper & Hand Sanitize
The final step is what weirds a lot of people out….packing out your used toilet paper. 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
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. 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.
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 with your original cathole.
If the double bag system is creeping you out, check out this excellent example of a double bag system from our friends at Leave No Trace.
Once you get back to civilization, you simply throw the entire ziplock bag away.