A common concern for new hikers, backpackers, dispersed campers, and vandwellers is how to go the bathroom in the woods.
Yet despite being potentially miles away from modern indoor plumbing (or even a vault toilet), taking care of business in the woods really isn’t all that difficult at all. And, surprisingly, you even have a couple of different options to choose from.
Here’s what you need to know about how to go to the bathroom in the woods.
First Things First
It’s essential to limit your human impact on the wilderness whenever you visit.
Start by following the Leave No Trace Principles. These 7 best practices act as a framework to reduce your impact on the natural environment as much as possible.
In short order, these 7 principles are:
- Plan Ahead & Prepare
- Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Most important, for our purposes today, is to dispose of waste properly – and this includes human waste!
Not only is this necessary to be considerate of other visitors and to respect wildlife, but improper disposal can pollute water sources, spread disease, and otherwise wreak havoc. Furthermore, taking care of business in the correct way ensures anything left behind decomposes as quickly and efficiently as possible.
We discuss the three main ways to go poop in the woods in greater detail below, but remember to check local rules and regulations ahead of time. Many areas still allow you to bury your waste in a cat hole while others require all human waste is packed out (in a wag bag or portable toilet).
Learn more about Leave No Trace.
Peeing in the Woods
Peeing in the backcountry is generally much easier than going number two!
Most important it selecting a spot that’s off the trail, out of the campsite, and at least 200 feet away from any water sources.
Those squatting to pee should do so over relatively soft flat ground is possible. Not only does this ensure nothing runs down onto your shoes, but it minimizes splash back as well.
A female urinary device (FUD) or a pee funnel is helpful for those that want the ability to pee standing up rather than squatting down. These tools are also popular in barren areas, such as deserts, with no objects to squat behind making for minimal privacy.
Pooping in the Woods
Pooping in the backcountry is where things get a little more difficult – although doing so is actually down right easy after you figure out your preferred system.
You have three main options: a cat hole, packing it out, or bringing a portable toilet.
- Cat Hole – Dig a hole at least 6 inches deep with a trowel (make sure you’re off the trail, out of the campsite, and 200 feet away from water resources). Cover and bury when you’re done with business. Always pack out any toilet paper in a sealable plastic bag, even if it’s biodegradable.
- Pack It Out – A cat hole is still the go-to method for most backcountry areas, although some environmentally sensitive and high-use areas require you to pack it out. Most campers utilize a multi-bag method with the first bag to pick up the waste and a second bag to securely seal it inside. Commercially available waste alleviation and gelling (WAG) bags come with a gelling agent to make the waste more solid for packing out.
- Portable Toilet – A camping toilet is a bulky yet comfortable option for going to the bathroom in the woods. The Luggable Loo is a simple, budget-friendly option that works surprisingly well even though it’s little more than a 5-gallon bucket with a plastic lid and toilet seat. The Dometic SaniPottie Toilet 966 is more expensive although the built-in water flush is a nice addition.
Although all these methods work great, I personally prefer the pack it out method. Sure, it might seem a little gross to carry out your waste at first, but so many people are hiking and backpacking these days that many popular backcountry areas are becoming overwhelmed with buried waste.
What About Dogs and Babies?
When hiking or camping with dogs, you have the same two options for disposing of waste.
You can either bury their waste in a cat hole or pack it out with you. Personally, I pack out my dog’s waste in the backcountry since that’s what I’m already used to doing at home. Just remember – don’t cut corners. Don’t leave dog bags to “pick up later.” Put it in your pack right away (bring zip lock freezer bags or a similar system to eliminate smell).
Diapers, on the other hand, must be packed out. When camping with a baby, it’s pivotal to wrap dirty diapers tightly in a plastic bag. A multi-bag method might be necessary to limit smell. You should never bury or burn a diaper to dispose of it.
Backcountry Hygiene Tips
Hand sanitizer or wet wipes are essential for backcountry hygiene.
Just like at home, always clean your hands as thoroughly as possible after taking care of business. If you’re hiking or backpacking, rinsing your hands once per day with soap and hot water is strongly advised.
And, if you’re camping on your period and prefer not to use a menstrual cup, it’s essential you pack out all tampons, pads, and associated waste. Never bury these!
Going to the bathroom in the woods really isn’t so scary.
Now you know the ins and outs of this key piece of outdoor knowledge for your next backcountry camping trip!
For even more tricks and tips, don’t forget to check out How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art by Kathleen Meyers, the definitive resource on this subject.