How to Poop in the Woods
Just because you’re miles away from the modern conveniences of indoor plumbing does not mean that doing your duty has to be a chore. Learn the right way to go to the bathroom in the woods. When do you need to pack it out? When and where should you bury your business following Leave No Trace principles?
Doing your duty: a Leave No Trace basic
Just because you’re miles away from the modern conveniences of indoor plumbing does not mean that doing your duty has to be a chore.
Use a pit toilet or privy. Many backcountry camps offer pit toilets. If one is available, use it. Pit toilets are the most sanitary option and help prevent the pollution of camping areas and water sources.
If no toilet is available, then you will need to dig a cat hole:
- Choose a site at least 200 feet from water, trails and your camp.
- Using a small trowel, dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep in which to do your business and bury your waste.
- Use a duct tape-wrapped resealable bag to pack out your used toilet paper.
Can you dig it? Volunteers pack in and construct new privy box
Ever wonder how those backcountry pit toilets get constructed and maintained? In one case, trip reporters (and WTA volunteers) Mark & Phil took the initiative to replace a toilet box destroyed by an avalanche in one of their favorite backcountry destinations, Leroy Basin. They got in touch with the Forest Service and volunteered to pack in a brand new privy. Then they dug the pit and constructed it. Way to go, you self-proclaimed "loo-natics."
Tips for diapers and dog waste
If you are backpacking with a baby, you will have to create a system for diapers. Always pack out dirty diapers. Do not burn or bury diapers, which is very harmful to the environment.
- When packing for your trip be sure to pack more diapers than you think you will need and realize that they will be heavier (and bigger) when you pack them out than when you pack them.
- Dirty diapers wrapped tightly in plastic bags helps to keep the smell down.
- Cloth diapers can be laid out in the sun to dry before being wrapped.
- Follow the lead of one family who has created a hybrid reusable/disposable system.
When it comes to dogs, you have two options: bury it or pack it out. Pack a trowel and bury the waste as you would your own. Alternatively, pack it out in a plastic baggie.
- If you're packing pet waste out, keep the baggie with you. Don't stash it alongside the trail or leave it hanging from a tree. (If you don't want to carry it in your pack for the whole hike, get your dog a backpack and have your pup pack it out.)
- Keeping your pup on leash will help you keep track of where she does her business.
Get into the finer points of this Leave No Trace basic with the resources below. When do you need to pack it out? When and where should you bury your business following Leave No Trace principles? Watch the video below, and learn how to do it right.
- If you want to learn more about the subject, a good place to start might Kathleen Meyer's classic How to Shit in the Woods: A Sound Approach to a Lost Art.
- More Leave No Trace basics.
- Learn backpacking and overnight camping basics on our Backpacking 101 page.