Monday, April 6, 2009

How to Poop in the Woods

Relieving myself is my absolute least favorite part of camping. As a female, I can tell you how jealous I am of a male's ability to pee at the drop of a zipper with no issues about privacy, cleanliness, or - most of all - toilet paper. But the infamous outdoor poop effects us all equally.

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
Method to create a poop burrito
  • 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.
You have plenty of options for a poop container. Just choose something appropriate for the size of your group/length of your trip.
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. 

33 comments:

  1. This is hilarious. Especially the diagram of the options.

    I love that it's so thoroughly researched and covered- nice journalism!

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  2. Thanks! Maybe it's just me, but i think this is an important barrier to camping for some people.

    Just trying to help more people expereince the outdoors!

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  3. I've heard of PVC pipe being used as a poop container in snow trips. You can get ends that screw on, it's easier to pack that a bucket or box, you don't want that thing cracking open while you scramble over rocks on the last day :)

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  4. I guess that going to toilet is an important barrier to hiking for many of us. The technical side is not the biggest issue to me. I do not like the risk that anyone shows up when I am sitting there squatting with my bottom uncovered. (Even though I know that everyone of my fellow hikers also do it!) I have been unlucky a couple of times and felt very embarrassed about it. Therefore it is fine that someone writes about it from time to time reminding us that it is a normal thing....

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  5. @Linda - girl, that sucks! I've been fortunate enough not to have been caught. My suggestion would definitely be to assign a lookout! I'm also a big fan of doing the business after dark. TMI? Ok, like this whole post isn't too much information!

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  7. This being a guided trip, you probably didn't realize that someone had to go back and flush your poo. Use a gelling agent like kitty litter or a blue bag if you're going to throw your poo in the dumpster folks (and I would recommend this over sitting by the toilet and waiting to flush your poos of indeterminate age one by one. I imagine this is very smelly).

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    Replies
    1. Actually in this case the whole garbage bag of burritos was just tossed the dumpster afterwards.

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    2. Which is grossly irresponsible. That's why even disposable baby diapers say to flush the poo before tossing the dipe in the trash.

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  8. These are great tips. The whole concept of packing it out/poop burrito is a little gross to say the least. I haven't done any extended hikes, but have pooped in the woods during day hikes a few times. I would imagine it can be embarrassing when you have to store your poop somehow and bring it with you (even just storing used toilet paper would be gross). But I guess everyone has to go poop sometime or other. However, I would think that constipation might become an issue with some people if they tend to hold it in instead of going when nature calls. I don't know; if I had to pack it out I would probably hold it in instead!

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  9. Good info, This articles was perfect to try and explain (to my not so outdoors liking wife) on how to tackle this part of back packing trip.
    Thank you

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  10. Great post! Two tips:
    * Toilet paper degrades slower than poo (especially in alpine areas) - When burying your poop, set your used TP on fire. Use a stick to stir around to make sure it burns well. Don't attempt if high forest fire risk.

    * Poop container (not tried yet): Wide mouth Nalgene bottle. Put poop (closed burrito, or in [flushable] doggie bags) in the bottle. Duckt tape the outside to "hide" contents and avoid thinking it's your water bottle.

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  11. Just pop a squat HELLO PEOPLE its nature you think the local bear in the woods Carries his poop around the forest in neatly double wrapped "poop burritos" and if other hikers do not want to see a random pile of poo in the woods THEY SHOULD NOT HAVE COME HIKING. . .that is all

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  12. Animals do bury their poop, and they also know not to do their business near water sources. Humans aren't so savy. Nor is a pile of human poop with toilet paper scattered about a natural occurence. Nor is it decent to leave your poo around for others to find. A great page, this is.

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  13. Great article on a delicate subject! It can be a horrifying thing for some city folk to think about, and although I don't think it is as big of a deal as some people make it out to be about the whole burying it so deep, etc, etc... neither do we need to get careless with it.

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  14. I disagree on Method 1 (as I maintain some natural composting outhouses as part of my volunteering: Do not do No. 1 in the outhouse - No. 1 is determental to the composting of No. 2... Go No. 1 somwhere in the woods and the visit the outhouse for No. 2 only...

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  16. I do have a cannon—I’ve had it for 22 years—and it’s full of the very tips mentioned by CB. I’m the author of the international bestselling outdoor guide “How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art.” The feisty, jam-packed 3rd edition was recently released.
    I’ve responded here for two reasons: first, because I was stunned that CB did not reference the origins of about 95% of her blog knowledge (then again, maybe she got it from one of the other 63,000-ish results when you Google my title) and, second, because she deserves kudos for broaching the subject at all. Pooping in the backcountry IS a touchy topic, and it’s a serious problem, particularly in areas of high-use and fragile ecosystems. As outdoor folks, we are now often encouraged to haul home our poop, or the whole business, with increasing frequency, is shifting to mandatory. The practice of packing-it-out began with river runners in the Grand Canyon in the early 1970s. But nowadays, it’s readily employed by hikers, rock climbers, sea kayakers, horse packers, and mountaineers. Many viable containers are on the market to assist both group and solo sojourners with responsible disposal. Some products are throw-away, others washable/reusable. Keep in mind that plastic bags cannot be tossed into vault or home toilets, and deposits of raw fecal matter are not welcome in our regular garbage and landfills.
    For lots more of the “real and responsible poop” come visiting at www.Kathleeninthewoods.net where you can find helpful links and also jump onto my blog “Shooting the Shit.”

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  17. As I dream about and research a future AT hike, this is the only article I have come across on the subject of waste in the woods. EVERY book I've read has, at best, made only vague references to the process and no packing list even mentions an optional trowel or pack-out bag. Thank for the refreshingly blut, practical, and thorough advice! This demystifies a potentially daunting subject.

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  18. Very good. The only caution that might be mentioned is using the local flora to scrub your butt may be a little risky. Don't ask me how I know that.

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  19. Awesome article. I'm just about to go camping for a week in a remote coastal area. Prepared for everything but hadn't thought about pooping.

    But then again, no one else in our party of 4 has brought it up ... I guess i get that honor. ;)

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  20. Packing out poop is ridiculous. We are animals. Bears poop in the woods. Some eco-terrorist thought of this idea no doubt! Leave your poop in the woods. It is organic and will decompose just like the bear poop! Rodent poop is more dangerous than human poop as when dry can carry the Hanta virus. We are all exposed to coliform bacteria everyday from all the people we are around who don't wash their hands and now you are saying we can't leave it in the woods! ROFL! Don't leave it near water-sources is important even though no one (sane) drinks unfiltered water on a hike).

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    Replies
    1. Oh, I'm not suggesting that you need to pack it out during a hike in the woods, but it's a good practice in other areas such as the dessert.

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    2. Man has been pooping in the deserts, the mountains, in the jungles for thousands of years, using leaves, bark, moss, rocks, socks, underwear, and yes even his fingers. I can garrantee he never pack it out or stirred it or worried about peeing or not on it, good grief - next well have greenies worried about passing gas on the trail. Man, just like any other animal has not killed anyone with a misplaced pile....

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    3. Definitely kills the splendor of being somewhere amazing when you come across TP and shit next to the trail.

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  21. So far, E. coli outbreak stumps health officials - see:
    http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/national_world/2012/06/09/so-far-e--coli-outbreak-stumps-health-officials.html

    Most likely cause - People creating "poop burritos" and bringing them back home!

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  22. Thanks so much, I'm putting a link to this post on my blog http://homelessgal.blog.com/ (Homeless and Female) to share on my How to Shit in the Woods post, very well described indeed. Thank you.

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  23. i think it could be extremly disgusting if u suffer from diarrhoea or slimy poo....thats definitly a barrier for me

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  24. this article is immense lol

    always take Liquorice with you, helps bung you up which makes it less messy ;)

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  25. nothing i didnt already know but i did enjoy the diagrams. shoooo cute!

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