How to Poop on the Trail

Sometimes, in the middle of the wilderness, away from camp, you may find a need to toilet. This can be a particular challenge for females needing to pee. It’s a quirk of nature that males have a much easier time peeing in the bush. No issues of cleanliness (males are generally dirtier beings), privacy or toilet paper. However, pooping in the woods effects us all equally.

If you wash down breakfast with a nice strong coffee and leave camp in a rush for the day’s hike then you might find yourself in need of an emergency on the trail. Here’s a big hint for multi day trips: always make sure to use the camp outhouse when available. An outhouse provides a seat, privacy and toilet paper (although always keep some handy just in case!).

It’s always a good idea to have some soap handy too. The hand sanitizer is great but rinsing hands in water first is preferable to remove any dirt. Keep those hands clean! Careful planning of your day will avoid any sudden surprises ;)

If you do have a surprise on the trail, the first thing to remember is that people have been pooping for thousands of years, long before there were flush toilets.  So don’t resist the call of nature, it’s okay to poop in the great outdoors.

While traveling through a wooded area burial is a common and effective method of poop management. It is accepted that burying your poop promotes quick composting, prevents the spread of disease, and keeps it sightly (nobody likes lots of visible mess). Leave no trace is the ultimate goal with modern adventurers.

A) Choose a Location

Select a site that is furthest away from a water source. In some circumstances this will be limited. In a perfect world this will be 200 feet away from a water source, trail, or campsite.

B) Dig a Hole

Use the guide’s trowel, or a stick to dig a hole 6 – 12 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.

C) Assume the Position

There are several pooping positions for you to try. BUT, there is only ONE position for your pants (trousers in Queen’s english). In order to poop (or pee, ladies) without worrying about getting any business on your clothing roll your pants down to you knees (that’s knees, not ankles). Then, for extra credit, roll your pant legs up to your knees as well. Then assume a suitable position which may be dictated by your surroundings and desire for privacy:

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 hole before you bury it.
ii) Packed out TP: use toilet paper and pack it out with you in a Ziploc bag. 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 a common practice. To do this just use a modest amount of organic, unscented, biodegradable toilet paper, toss it in the 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.

Don’t forget to clean your hands!

E) Burial

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.

For more information we recommend reading:

“How to Shit in the Woods”, Second Edition: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art by Kathleen Meyer