If you’re planning a backcountry adventure, the chances are pretty good that you will eventually have to do your business outside, something that can present some interesting (and sometimes embarrassing) questions. Where should I pee? What do I do with this poop? Bury it? Cover it in rocks? Put it in a bag? What if I’m menstruating? AHHHHH!
With even more people flocking to the outdoors thanks to the reach of social media, and the damaging impact of human waste and fecal matter on health and the environment, it’s an important question to consider.
Luckily, peeing in the backcountry is relatively simple. Pee at least 200 feet away from trails, water sources, and campsites. Further, if you’re in an area heavily populated by mountain goats or other animals attracted to the salt in urine (a common feature of hiking in the PNW), try to urinate on rocks to preserve the often-fragile plants and soils in higher alpine environments. If you’ll be staying in one area for an extended time, consider cutting the stench by splashing some water on your makeshift toilet. Whatever you do, try not to splatter on your pants and feet (although there's nothing to be ashamed of if you do, a little splashback never killed anyone)!
When it’s time to do a poo and there’s nary a toilet in sight, you have two main options: bury it or pack it out. Check with the local land manager and area-specific regulations before deciding which option is acceptable and never assume that it’s okay to just bury your poop in the backcountry.
As with urine, any holes you dig for your feces must be at least 200 feet away from water sources, campsites, and the trail. It’s best to select a spot with a lot of underbrush or decaying vegetation to make the digging easier.
Using your trusty trowel or other digging instrument (I don't recommend your hands, just in case you stumble on an old poop cache), dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and 4 inches wide. Deposit your poo, fill the hole in, and cover it up with dirt and ground matter.
There’s a split in treatment of TP: some people bury theirs and if this is the option you take, make sure it’s white, unscented, chemical free TP. Other people find this practice unacceptable and bring a Ziploc or other sealable bag to pack out their soiled TP. I personally am in the pack it out camp, an easy feat if you have a ziploc bag in your pack that's designated for TP and any other wipes. Pro tip: flip your Ziploc inside out, cover it with duct tape, flip it around again and voila, the perfect place for hiding soiled TP and other unsavory items. Whatever you do, DO NOT BURY TP IN THE DESERT or other arid places AND DO NOT BURN IT.
Bag it and pack it out:
Bagging and packing your poo is as simple as it sounds. Do your poo, using bag #1 to collect the waste. Put bag #1 into bag #2. Make sure bag #2 is in a safe place where it won’t explode, apply hand sanitizer, and BOOM, you're done! You can buy some pretty fancy bags at most online retailers or outdoor stores, or you can make them yourself with some sturdy bags and a little kitty litter. Whatever floats your boat, as long as no poo is left behind!
A note on snow: if you are in a snowy area, you'll want to avoid pooing directly onto the snow for a variety of reasons: it's hard to scoop all of your poo up off of the snow and when you do, you'll also capture some snow that will eventually become water--leaving you with some nasty sludge. Instead, put your inner bag on the ground (or use it to cover your hand) and do your poo directly on it, then simply pop that into the other bag. Trust me, you don't want poo water in your pack!
One thing to remember if you’re in the backcountry with kids in diapers, you should ALWAYS pack those out. Even biodegradable diapers in large cat holes will take ages to decompose. Just say no!
Menstruation happens and if you’re in the backcountry, you should know how to handle it without being discouraged. Sidenote: no, you won't be eaten by a bear simply for menstruating. If you use sanitary pads or tampons, the bag and pack method applies and none of those items should be left behind in cat holes (or in pit toilets you encounter along the way).
If you’re using a collection cup instead of tampons or sanitary pads, dig a cat hole and empty any waste and water used to clean your cup into the hole, cover it, and carry on with your adventure!
Baby wipes come in extra handy when menses call, just make sure you pack out your wipes in a Ziploc or other sealable bag and you’ll be good to go!
As always, have fun and stay safe out there! Remember, poo happens!