Does a bear shit in the woods?
I can’t speak for the bears, but I know that I do. Let me clarify that statement, I don’t leave my place to poop in the little patch of grass in front of my house, but there are times when I poop outside.
The idea of taking a weekend trip to the mountains, getting outside and enjoying nature is a romantic notion. There’s one little thing nobody seems to be talking about. How do you poop outside?
Sometimes you just gotta go and you are outdoors and have no other options. There are no laws to follow and hopefully, no one is going to stand over you and watch you do your business, so it’s on you to figure it out.
Table of Contents
Yes, everyone poops and it’s not always on a porcelain throne in the comfort of your own home. Having a conversation about “number two” makes some people blush, however, it is something that needs to be discussed.
There is, believe it or not, a right and a wrong way to take an eco-friendly dump. If myself or anyone else steps on it, smells it, or can see it. You’re doing it wrong.
The Leave No Trace guidelines outline the following ways to dispose of your waste…
- Pack it in, pack it out
- Poop in 6-8 inch holes and bury it
- Stay 200 feet from water sources
Is Pooping Outside a Problem?
According to Statista.com 44.1 million people went hiking and backpacking from Autumn 2015 to Spring 2016 in the United States.
The average 160 pound person poops about 1 pound a day. Using those numbers, that’s about 22 million pounds, or in other words 11000 tons of shit.
Consider that hiking is typically done on human-made trails and backpacking is similar, typically a week or two trek unless you’re thru-hiking one leg of the triple crown.
If everyone pulled off to the side of the trail and took a poo, we would have a stinky mess on our hands. That being said, there are times when you just gotta go…
- A day hike on a busy trail
- Camping in a remote location
- Multi-day backpacking trip
- Climbing a peak
How to Poop Outside
It sounds horrible and is something that nobody is comfortable doing, however, if you spend enough time outdoors eventually nature will come calling. It’s not the end of the world, even though it may seem like it at the time.
1. Bring the Proper Equipment
Have you ever had an itchy butt? It’s the worst.
Do you want to wipe your ass with a rock? Me neither.
Having the proper tools to clean up after yourself makes your experience more enjoyable, or in the least, tolerable. The last thing you need is to be stuck in the woods having to poop, with a choice between a rock, a strange plant that might cause irritation, a pine cone or your hand.
A few pieces of poop equipment to consider…
- Plastic bags
- Tool to dig a hole
- Water to clean up
- Hand sanitizer
- Toilet paper (must be packed out)
2. Stay 200 feet from the water
The Leave No Trace guidelines state to stay 200 feet from any and all water sources with human waste and wastewater. The further away from any water source the better.
When we’re talking about poop, burying it and giving it a chance to decompose away from springs, rivers and alpine lakes will keep the nasty bits from getting into any nearby water source.
The goal is to minimize the negative impact on water sources in surrounding areas. Excrement in a water source is an excellent way to receive a number of water-borne illnesses, including, but not limited to…
3. Pop a Squat
The most common method is squatting over a hole that you dig, pretty straight forward. In the past I have used a hand behind for a little stability, once your balance is right this won’t be an issue.
Having a branch or trunk is another good way to support yourself, for the newbies you can lean against it or hold onto it in front of yourself.
This step is subjective to the person doing the work, try out a few different stances and determine which one works best for you.
4. Dig a Hole
We’re don’t have the privilege of someone walking behind us and picking up our poop like a dog.
It must be nice to be able to squat down wherever you happen to be and look everyone in the eye while you let it fly. Meanwhile, your human is waiting patiently to clean up after you (not everyone, we have all seen it).
I can’t speak on the science behind it, and I can’t find any studies on the decomposition rate of human feces when buried 6-8 inches deep. There is more important science to be studied, I know I wouldn’t want to do that research.
Eventually, it will decompose, and it eliminates any unnecessary poo piles.
5. Follow Local Regulations
On Mount Everest there is a real problem with human feces and garbage on Mount Everest, considering it remains frozen, the human waste has no real way to decompose. According to the Nepalese government, poop is a major concern moving forward in terms of health and spreading disease for future climbers.
The feces issue on Everest is a learning tool for every other popular destination and for adventure sports enthusiasts worldwide.
On Mt. Ranier in Washington State, for example, people leaving their shit behind for others to worry about is having similar effects.
They have blue bags for disposal all along the path to Camp Muir and beyond, unfortunatel,y people continue to make it someone else’s problem.
The responsibility lies on all of us to educate people on the dangers of exposed human waste with real world examples, such as Everest and Rainier.
The potential for adverse inadvertent effects of human waste damage is real and well documented.
6. Best Practices for Cleaning Up
There’s no way to sugar coat this, cleaning your ass outdoors is an issue.
The lack of cleaning up your bum well will leave you with a terrible itch that you can’t get rid of and embarrassment. Walking around trying to discreetly itch your behind, constantly falling behind the group and hoping no one is behind you watching you scratch that itch sucks, trust me.
Consider that you’re on a long backpacking trip or a short day hike when your stomach decides to hit the eject button. In either situation, the struggle is real and preparation is key to not totally ruining your day or more.
- Smooth rocks
- Toilet paper
Everybody poops every day, sometimes multiple times a day. We can’t fully control when it happens or what the consistency will be. We can control our removal of the waste, this is what everyone should strive for. Take your shit with you.
If that isn’t an option, then excavate before you extricate. Following these few guidelines and helping others understand the importance of waste removal will make everyone’s life less stinky. This is why you can’t poop like a dog when you’re on a hike.