When Duty Calls: How to Poop in the Woods

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You’re hiking through the dense forest, enjoying the beautiful scenery and towering trees. Then it hits you, nature’s inevitable urge. Panic slowly begins to set in, and you quickly start scanning the forest for the nearest restroom, but wait, that does not exist out here.

Don’t worry you are not the first to encounter this situation. I have been in this situation multiple times. But believe it or not there actually is a correct way to go pooping in the woods. Before you enter the secret pooping club amongst all the other natural critters you must know that human poop is not quite the same. 

As humans unfortunately our waste is made up of more chemical and processed foods and is not made up of natural materials like our ancestors. As a result, our waste can cause water contamination, make other animals and people ill, and impact the ecosystem. This means before we go poop in the woods, we need to make sure we know how to follow the principles of Leave No Trace this way we manage it correctly. And that is where this how to poop in the woods guide comes in. 

How to Poop in the Woods

Before going to the bathroom in the woods we need to make sure we have a poop kit ready to go. When making a bathroom kit for the trails I recommend the following supplies in a sealable or lightweight ditty bag. 

Bathroom Kit Materials 

Material Purpose
Trowel For digging a cat hole
Toilet PaperPolishing and wiping 
Baby wet wipes*Extra cleaning 
Sealable plastic bagPacking out used toilet paper
Hand SanitizerCleaning up after you poop
Biodegradable soapFor thorough cleaning of hands
Portable BidetFor extra cleaning
Bathroom Kit Materials *optional items

Choosing the Ideal Location

When nature calls while you’re in the woods, selecting a suitable location for doing your business is essential for both comfort and environmental responsibility. Consider, including distance from campsites and trails, proximity to water sources, and the terrain and vegetation.

Distance from Campsites and Trails

To minimize your impact on others enjoying the outdoors and to reduce contamination risks, always ensure that your chosen spot is at least 200 feet (approximately 70 adult paces or 80 child paces) away from any campsites, trails, or trailheads. This distance provides privacy for yourself and ensures that other campers or hikers won’t encounter or be affected by your waste out on trail. 

Proximity to Water Sources

Similarly, it’s important to choose a location that’s at least 200 feet from water such as streams, lakes, or rivers. This helps protect water quality and prevents waste from entering the water, potentially harming wildlife and ecosystems. Always keep an eye on the surrounding environment to avoid runoff areas or potential flood zones.

Terrain and Vegetation

Finally, when looking for a spot to poop in the woods search for:

  • Dark soil: This type of soil is generally more absorbent and promotes faster waste decomposition.
  • No visible evidence of previous water flow: Avoid areas with runnels and washes since these may channel water onto your waste and contaminate other areas.
  • Diverse vegetation: This will help obscure the site and provide better opportunities for waste decomposition.
  • Avoid heavily trafficked areas: Don’t use the same spot more than once, especially if you’re camping in the same location for multiple nights.

Creating a Cathole

When it’s time to go and you have found the best spot to take care of business. The next step is creating a cat hole. Knowing how to create a cat hole can help keep the environment clean and minimize your impact. Below we’ll cover the essential steps and tools needed to properly create a cat hole in the woods.

Selecting a Tool

A lightweight and sturdy trowel is your best choice for digging cat holes. Alternatively, you can use sticks or a large rock, but keep in mind that these may not be as efficient as a trowel. Ensure your chosen tool is suitable for the soil and ground conditions you’ll be encountering.

Digging the Hole

To begin, locate a spot that is at least 200 feet (or about 70 steps) away from any water systems, trails, and campsites. This minimizes potential contamination to water supplies and preserves the overall cleanliness of the area.

After selecting a spot, use your trowel, stick, or rock to dig a hole that is 4-6 inches wide and 6-8 inches deep. The dimensions of the hole are essential to ensuring adequate space for your waste and assisting in the decomposition process. Be mindful to avoid any large roots or rocks that could hinder the digging process or make filling the hole difficult.

Dig a hole in the soft ground

Depth and Size Considerations

The size and depth of the hole are key factors to consider when creating a hole. A 4-6-inch-wide hole provides enough space for waste, while a depth of 6-8 inches ensures that the waste is sufficiently buried to aid decomposition and minimize the likelihood of animals digging it up.

Moreover, choose a site with rich soil and regular sunlight, as these conditions promote faster decomposition of your poop. When the task is complete, make sure to thoroughly cover the hole and place other natural materials over it to leave no trace of your presence.

By following these simple steps, you’ll be able to create effective cat holes that minimize your impact on the environment and keep our beautiful, natural spaces clean for everyone to enjoy.

The Art of Pooping

When it’s time to answer nature’s call in the middle of a hike, having a technique can make it an easier process. We are going to cover two important factors for how to poop in the woods, techniques and supports. 

Squatting Techniques

The basic squat is the most popular and natural position for pooping in the woods. To execute the squat, follow these steps:

  1. Look for a stable, level surface to stand on, away from any water source, trails, or campsites (at least 200 feet or 70 paces).
  2. Spread your feet slightly wider than hip-width with a fairly wide stance, with your toes pointing slightly outward.
  3. Slowly lower yourself into a squat by bending your knees and pushing your hips back as if sitting on an invisible throne.
  4. Once you have completed your business, wipe, carefully stand back up and take care of cleanup and disposal.

A proper squat helps keep you steady and comfortable during the process and allows for better bowel movement.

Using Supports

Sometimes, squatting without any support can be challenging, especially for those who lack flexibility or have balance issues. In these cases, using natural supports can be a game-changer. Here are some popular supports:

  • The Lean: Find a sturdy tree, stump, or boulder to lean against while squatting. Place your back or butt against the support, ensuring it is stable and comfortable. This will provide extra steadiness as you do your business.
  • The Sit: Locate a downed log or sturdy branch to sit on while ensuring your bum is hanging off the edge. This method gives you a chance to rest your legs while taking care of business.
  • The Tripod: Find a sturdy tree or rock to grab a hold of while in a squat position. This helps to take the balance component out of the squat.

Always be respectful to nature when using supports and avoid causing any damage to your surroundings. With these squatting techniques and supports, you’ll master the art of pooping in the woods with grace and ease.

Toilet Paper and Alternatives

When it’s time to go poop in the woods and you have set up your positions and taken care of business. Now it’s time to polish up and clean up. Here we will explore the technique and options toilet paper and alternatives:

Carrying and Disposing of Toilet Paper

If you plan to use toilet paper when answering nature’s call, it’s recommended to carry it with you and pack it out after use compared to burying it. Follow these steps of carrying and disposing:

  • Bring a resealable waste bag to store your used toilet paper
  • After use, fold or roll the used toilet paper neatly and place it in the bag
  • Seal the bag and pack the sealed bag away in your backpack
  • Dispose of the bag properly once you have access to a trash can or waste disposal site

Remember to try to carry out what you bring in including toilet paper. This is also preferred even when using biodegradable toilet paper though when buried decomposes quickly compared to traditional non-biodegradable toilet paper.

Natural Alternatives

If you’d like to explore more eco-friendly alternatives to traditional toilet paper, consider the following options:

  • Leaves: Some plants have leaves that are safe, soft, and large enough to use as toilet paper. Mullein, large-leaved aster, and thimbleberry are popular choices. Just make sure you can identify these plants and avoid leaves that could cause skin irritation.
  • Pine needles: When bundled together, pine needles can work as a makeshift toilet paper. Ensure that you gather plenty of them and use them gently to avoid scratches.
  • Smooth rocks: Look for smooth stones, flat rocks that can provide a decent cleaning surface. Be gentle and try not to scrape your skin on sensitive areas.
  • Trash: In a pinch, you can use pieces of trash like paper, tissues, or napkins that you might have with you.

Staying Clean and Safe

Hand Sanitizer Use

Hand hygiene is essential when you’re out in the woods. After doing your business, make sure to use hand sanitizer to kill bacteria and any potential illnesses. It’s best to use a sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.  Apply a small amount to the palm of your hand and rub your hands together until dry. Make sure you also wash your hands with soap and water when you can especially before eating or touching your face.

Avoiding Unwanted Flora and Fauna

When nature calls and you have to go relieve yourself in the great outdoors, be mindful of the plants and animals around you. Make sure to select a spot carefully. Some plants, like poison ivy, can cause irritation or allergic reactions. To avoid unwanted contact, wear long pants and sleeves and familiarize yourself with common toxic plants in the area.

In wilderness settings, bears and other wildlife may be attracted to the smell of human waste. So, make sure to avoid areas with high animal activity. Look for signs like scat, tracks, or trampled vegetation. Keep in mind that scat varies between species, so familiarize yourself with what to look for in the region you’re exploring.

After you’ve found a suitable spot, dig a hole about 6 to 8 inches deep and at least 200 feet away from any water source, trails, and campsites. When you’re done, fill the hole back up with soil to minimize odor and discourage animals from digging it up. Remember to pack out any toilet paper or baby wipes to further reduce smells and the risk of attracting unwanted visitors.

Wag Bags and Portable Toilets

A Wag bag is essentially a disposable bag designed to hold human waste. They come with an absorbent gel and a sealable outer bag. To use a wag bag, you’ll need to poop directly into the bag, then use the gel to solidify the feces. Seal the outer bag and pack it out with you. This is an eco-friendly option, as it prevents contamination in the soil and can be disposed of properly later.

Portable toilets offer a similar convenience, with a small container that can be filled with waste and packed out. Some models even use bags in conjunction with a collapsible seat for added comfort. These are great for car camping or when you want a more familiar toilet experience in the woods. The most basic portable toilet is the ever popular and simple Luggable Loo.

Pit Toilets and Designated Facilities

If you’re in a more established campsite or recreation area, there might be a pit toilet available for use. Pit toilets are deep holes dug into the ground, typically covered by a wooden or plastic structure with a seat. These work by allowing waste to decompose in the soil over time. When using a pit toilet, try to minimize the use of toilet paper and avoid putting trash or other non-biodegradable items in it, to keep the process efficient and sustainable.

Designated facilities refer to built-up restroom structures within parks or campsites, which often provide composting or outhouse-style toilets. These are nice options to avoid having to poop in the woods. If you have access to these facilities, make sure to use them properly and follow any posted guidelines. This not only helps maintain the facilities but also preserves the environment around it.

What About Urine?

Human urine poses less risk than fecal matter, but it can still create issues in the backcountry. Animals like goats and deer, attracted to the salts in urine, might alter their behavior to linger near human frequented areas. This leads to disruptive digging and damage to plant life, becoming a nuisance. These repercussions remind us of the profound impact even minor human actions can have on nature. 

To minimize these effects, follow similar guidelines:

  • Urinate at least 200 feet away from campsites and water sources.
  • Target durable surfaces like large flat rocks, gravel, or pine needles to disperse urine away from vegetation.
  • Consider diluting urine with water from a bottle to mitigate its impact.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you clean up after pooping in the woods? When around human waste it is important to pack out toilet paper or wipes in a plastic bag or sealable waste bag. Make sure to perform proper hand hygiene with hand sanitizer and then wash your hands with soap and water when able, especially before eating food.  

Can you leave toilet paper in the woods? Properly disposing of toilet paper is an important step when in nature, you should pack out what you pack in if possible! This means to pack out used tp if able.

Where do you go to the bathroom when camping? It depends on what amenities are available in the wilderness area, but if it is a backcountry style campsite then the ideal location consists of a soft organic soil located away from water, trails, and camp. 

What to do if you have to poop in the forest? If you must poop in the forest, follow the steps in this guide for how to poop in the woods. But if short on time, basically, carry a poop kit, find a spot away from water, camp, and trails. Then use a trowel to dig a hole in the ground. Do your business wipe and clean, place dirt back over the hole, mark it with a stick. Do not throw away trash, toilet paper, or wet wipe, pack it out with bags. Use hand sanitizer and wash your hands definitely before eating food. 

Final Thoughts 

Remember the whole reason we do this is to Leave no Trace. If you are reading this obviously you love the woods and care, use this guide for how to poop in the woods to help you and stay up to date on the Leave no Trace Principles. Embrace nature and create fond memories and leave the backcountry how you found it. We are by no means perfect but at least we can try our best. Cheers!

How to Poop Outside / Cómo ir al baño en un ambiente natural

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