So today I'll tackle the task of making the outdoors just a little more approachable by bringing you a tutorial of how to poop in the woods.
METHOD 1: THE OUTHOUSE
Many backcountry campsites have outhouses. While these facilities are usually not pleasant, they are the best place for both your number 1's and number 2's. They are built to contain the refuse and therefore protect the surrounding environment (especially bodies of water) from pollution. Other than being a great leave no trace option, they also usually provide privacy and sometimes even toilet paper. The main drawback is the gnarly smell and dirty interior (although I'll admit I've used some fabulous outhouses).
My outhouse tip is to streamline the process of getting in and out - prep your toilet paper (TP) in advance (no fumbling for me!) and don't bother closing the door. While it's not exactly awesome etiquette to do your business with the door open, the outhouse is not the most popular hangout and I haven't been caught yet.
Make sure to use an outhouse whenever it's available.
METHOD 2: BURIAL
Of course, outhouses are not always available. And occasionally they are so incredibly disgusting that they cannot be used. I've only come across an unusable outhouse once but - ugh, I don't even want to think about it.
When traveling in a wooded area burial is a common and effective method of poop management. While there is some debate on the topic, it is fairly accepted that burying your poop promotes quick composting, prevents the spread of disease, and preserves the illusion that others aren't pooping all over the forest. While it is considered acceptable by leave no trace campers, it isn't as good as using an outhouse or packing out your waste (for serious. We'll talk about that later).
A) Choose a Location
Select a site that is 200 feet away from a water source, trail, or campsite. No one wants to see you poop, step in your poop, or contract a waterborne disease from your poop.
B) Dig a Hole
Use a trowel, stick, or rock to dig a cat-hole 6-8 inches deep. This depth is generally considered to promote proper decomposition (go deeper and you'll bypass the most active part of the soil) while keeping your feces out of the reach of animals and other nature enthusiasts.
If you miss the hole while doing your business use a stick (not the trowel that going to go back in your pack) to poke your log into the cat-hole. Of course, if the trowel is going to be stored in your hiking buddy's pack then it is perfectly acceptable to touch the poop with the trowel. Just kidding.
Once you've done your business and made sure everything has hit the target use a stick to knock a little dirt onto the poop and mix it around a bit. This expedites the composting process. Then cover the hole with dirt and you are good to go.
C) Assume the Position
There are several pooping positions for you to try. BUT, there is only ONE position for your pants. In order to poop (or pee, ladies) without worrying about getting any business on your shorts roll your pants and undies down to you knees (that's knees, not ankles). Then, for extra credit, roll your pant legs up to your knees as well. At this point it is pretty much impossible to get turd on your trousers! (Note: this position is also perfect for squat toilets on your adventures abroad.)
There are all sorts of positions that people like to employ when they take a poop in the woods. From simple to elaborate, some common options are:
i) Simple Squat
This position is simple but takes a little balance. Put one foot on either side of your cat-hole. Squat down so that your feet are flat on the ground and your bum is down near your heels. You can hang on to you knees for support.
ii) Hold a Tree
Very similar to the simple squat position but with a little added support. Find a small but sturdy tree (let's say 4-5 inches in diameter). Assume the squat position facing the tree and holding the trunk for support.
iii) Sitting on a log
Find a sturdy log laying on the ground. Sit on the log and scootch your butt back until it hangs well over the side of the log. Do your business as if you are sitting on a toilet. Luxurious but sometimes a little more exposed that you'd like to be.
iv) Back to Tree
Brace your back up against a tree with knees and hips at a 90 degree angel. Take your poop into a cat-hole waiting at the bottom of the tree. This one seems risky to me but many people swear by it.
D) Wiping Clean
There are three main ways to clean up after doing your business.
i) The natural method: use leaves, pine cones (go WITH the grain), a rock, stick, or moss to clean up. Just drop the used item into the cat-hole before you bury it. This is very acceptable from a leave no trace perspective.*
ii) Packed out TP: use toilet paper and pack it out with you. You can store your used TP in a Ziploc baggie. To disguise the unappealing site of used toilet paper you can cover the baggie in duct tape or even put a brown paper bag inside the Ziploc. This is a great leave no trace method, but a little intense for some beginners.
iii) Bury TP: Burying your toilet paper is less acceptable from a leave no trace perspective but it still a common practice. To do this just use a modest amount of organic, unscented, biodegradable toilet paper, toss it in the cat-hole, pee on it, and bury it. Peeing on your toilet paper is recommended because it compacts it down and reduces the chances it will resurface later. Rather than pee on it you could also pour a little water from your canteen (I hear you ladies).
After you've finished with your cat-hole its a great idea to clean up with some hand sanitizer.
METHOD 3: PACK IT OUT, OR, THE POOP BURRITO
I spend most of my time camping and hiking in the temperate rain forests of BC and Washington. Here the ground is wet, fertile, and teaming with lovely things like earthworms and bugs and microbes that will make quick work of composting your doo-doo. However, for people camping in arid, dry, rocky, sandy, dessert, etc conditions I'm sorry to tell you the burial is not a responsible method. Like your other waste materials, you're going to have to pack it out.
The first backcountry camping trip I ever did was a canoe trip to Black Canyon with Aztec Adventures while I attended San Diego State University. The trip was fabulous, one of my all time favorites, and creates a lot of lasting memories. One thing that I will NEVER forget from this trip is the phrase "poop burrito."
Allow me to explain. Before each Aztec Adventure trip, participants attend a planning meeting. At these meetings the group leaders set expectations, go over packing lists, distribute gear, etc. However, because this trip takes place in the desert and is home the the completely unusable outhouse I mentioned earlier, they also included a fairly graphic demonstration of what they've dubbed the poop burrito.
Materials needed for a poop burrito
- A sturdy container to keep poop in (I'll expand on this later)
- Toilet paper
- Sheets of wax paper (about 20" square)
- Sheets of brown butcher paper (about 20" square)
- Paper bags
- Find a private spot. Lay the brown paper on the ground and lay the wax paper on top of the brown paper.
- Cop a squat and do your business onto the wax paper.
- Wipe with TP and drop TP onto poop.
- Roll your poop up like a burrito first with the wax paper then with the brown paper.
- Put your steaming burrito inside a paper bag and roll the paper bag closed. You can even use tape if you wish.
- Deposit your neat little poop packet into your poop container and seal the container shut.
For the Aztec Adventure trip (12 people, 5 days) we used a 5 gallon bucket with a solid screw on lid and double lined the bucket with garbage bags. The bucket was bright orange so that we didn't accidentally mix it up with other buckets. Bulk was not an issue since we were traveling by canoe.
For a backpacking trip a popular option is a length of PVC piping with screw on end caps. You can find something like this at a hardware store. You could also buy yourself an opaque Tupperware with a snap on lid and clearly mark it so that it doesn't accidentally end up in the kitchen later. If you can't find an appropriate container that's opaque you could always line it with a garbage bag or cover the outside with duct tape.
Hopefully this backwoods pooping tutorial will help to make the outdoors just a little more approachable. How about you? Do you have any special tips on how to poop in the woods?
*Update: I did a post dedicated to using nature as TP specifically. Check that out here for more info.