Does a person poop in the woods? Not if they don't have to. Get it wrong and it can be messy, painful, unhealthy and embarrassing. Here's how to get outdoor bowel movements right.
Poop's Problem: According to the Outdoor Foundation, around 7.9 million people go backpacking every year in the US. That's a lot of poop! Visit any popular camping area and, out behind the bushes and trees and rocks outside camp, you'll find a plethora of little wads of toilet paper. That's a) gross and b) indicative of a real problem.
All that poop causes both aesthetic and health problems. If it gets into a water source, it can lead to Giardia and other diseases, including Hepatitis. Typically, if you drink poop-tainted water, it'll cause diarrhea. Poop is a vicious cycle.
Leave No Trace details four guidelines for pooping outside:
- Minimize the chance for water pollution.
- Minimize the spread of disease.
- Minimize aesthetic impact.
- Maximize decomposition.
Poop Disposal Methods: Fortunately, we humans have been pooping in the woods for an awful long time, so there's some tried and true ways to get rid of it. Let's look at the various different methods and figure out which one's right for you.
Bury It: At least 200 feet from any water source, find a convenient object to hide behind, then dig a hole that's at least six inches deep. Keep the dirt you dig out just off to one side, then bury your poop when you're done.
You'll need a little shovel, I use this $5 plastic trowel. The only acceptable thing to bury with your poop is plain, white, unscented toilet paper. If you prefer baby wipes (I do!) take a strong Ziploc bag and pack them out.
If you're camping in a group and/or in the same place for a few days, you may want to dig a latrine. Follow the same steps as digging the single-serve hole above, just make it six-feet long. Instruct your friends to start pooping at one end, filling the trench in with dirt as they go.
Pack It Out: If you're climbing a popular mountain or visiting another sensitive environment such as a river that runs through a canyon, you may be required to pack out your poop. Or, simply doing so voluntarily is the single best option for the environment
The simplest method is to bag it. Cleanwaste sells convenient kits complete with an absorbent gel, but you can just treat your own poop like your dog's poop — use one baggie like a glove to pick up the poop, then deposit the poop-containing baggie in a larger, sealable bag for poop transportation.
More dedicated campers have figured out sturdier, fail-proof method called a Poop Tube. To make one, visit your local hardware store and acquire a 4-inch diameter PVC pipe, a cap and a threaded collar and plug. Cut the tube to 6-10 inches (longer for groups or long trips) and make a convenient carrying handle out of duct tape and paracord or similar so you can clip it to the outside of your pack. Gather your poop in those same dog poop bags and drop them in the tube. Bonus points for tying the baggies first, it'll make cleaning and reusing the tube that much easier.
Ladies, you've got to pack out any feminine hygiene products. The above methods all work great for that.
Smear It: Can't bury or carry it out with you? Smear your poop thinly on a rock that's exposed to direct sunlight. The UV radiation will sterilize it and weather will wash it away. The tricks here are to smear the poop as thinly as possible (you're not making a peanut butter sandwich!) and to do this in a location where no one's going to come along and accidently put their hand right in the middle of it. Use common sense please and only resort to this as a last-ditch option.
Toss It: Travelling through a steep, rocky environment? You may be unable to leave the trail in some places without falling down a ravine, crevasse or cliff. Well, if no one else is in those either, you can fling your poop down them to get rid of it. Again, please use common sense and watch out for people, frequented areas and water sources.
Wipe It: Don't have any toilet paper? Leaves (know your poison ivy!), smooth rocks or a handful of sand or snow work equally well. Baby wipes are the easiest to use and require a fewer number of sheets than regular TP, but you've got to pack them out, they don't biodegrade.
Tips and Tricks: If I've got the time and privacy, I like to find a rock from which I can conveniently hang my butt off. Or, a strong sapling I can securely grasp with one hand while I lean back. Removing your pants altogether can also be a good idea if you've got something messy on its way out.
You remembered to pack hand sanitizer, right?
Do you have any wilderness pooping tricks? Let's hear 'em.
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