Human Waste Disposal in the Backcountry: How to pee and poop in the woods

2:44 p.m. on April 2, 2010 (EDT)
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This thread is for comments on the article "Human Waste Disposal in the Backcountry: How to pee and poop in the woods"

Most hikers, backpackers, and climbers know that answering the call of nature in the backcountry can present an interesting (sometimes embarrassing) challenge. At the very least, it may cause uncertainty. As some suggested practices change, here are guidelines for taking care of business miles from indoor plumbing.

Full article at

10:44 a.m. on April 5, 2010 (EDT)
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On this topic, the American Alpine Club is presenting the conference "Managing Human Waste in the Wild" at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden, Colorado, July 30-31 and August 1, 2010.

From the AAC:

We invite top land managers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and wilderness participants from around the globe to discuss and formulate strategies for managing human waste in remote areas. The Exit Strategies conference will include general/plenary sessions, poster presentations, field-proven techniques and opportunities for focused problem solving. To create a productive setting in which participants can spark important conversations, explore innovative ideas, and develop effective solutions, the conference will be limited to 100 attendees

12:22 p.m. on April 5, 2010 (EDT)
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I'm all for better management of human waste in the outdoors, particularly in areas where biological degradation of bodily waste occurs either very slowly or seemingly not at all. (The archetype here is perhaps Everest base camp, or so I've been told. Too high and cold for stuff to efficiently break down, and few want to carry their own s*** back down the mountain.) But my concern also stretches to highly traveled areas wherein the mass of people--and the masses they leave behind--can be problematic as well.

I do wonder a bit about the limitation on number of participants to only 100, though. Such small conference numbers are generally seen in invitation-only events wherein the heavy hitters of the field are assured of each other's presence and a suitable opportunity to present their own ideas and respond to the notions of others. Very seldom does it work out well to have such limitations on numbers and simply hope that the right people show up.

It may be, however, that this conference may generate an appropriate critical mass of people, ideas, and interactions, as well as perhaps some links to funding opportunities, that we outdoor lovers may eventually benefit from a cleaner collection of wild places. At least we can hope.

2:31 p.m. on April 5, 2010 (EDT)
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Perry Clark:

"(The archetype here is perhaps Everest base camp, or so I've been told. Too high and cold for stuff to efficiently break down, and few want to carry their own s*** back down the mountain.)"

Mountaineers seem to not want to carry hardly anything off their big mountains, and I'm thinking mostly of fixed ropes and oxygen bottles. And they are known to leave their tents, too. So what's the big deal with a couple hundred turd piles?

4:01 p.m. on April 5, 2010 (EDT)
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<chuckle>. Please note, everyone, that it was Tipi Walter that expanded my critique of mountaineering types so broadly! <grin> Point acknowledged, though, again, based more on what I'm told than on my experience in those places. But reflection on the topic also suggests to me that the mountaineers' low-country brethren aren't much better at picking up after themselves. Witness the trash along highways, the litter in parking lots, and the willingness to leave all sorts of things at a campsite at pretty much any altitude. Thus, the LNT campaign, which in principle I heartily endorse.

6:45 p.m. on April 5, 2010 (EDT)
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I would beg to differ about the accusations aimed at "mountaineering types", particularly when the archetype is stated to be Everest Base Camp. To quote a friend of mine who has climbed and guided on Everest a number of times, "What bothers me is that most of the people on the expeditions and virtually all the trekkers lack the apprenticeship, and even the fundamental skills, for long backpacking, much less climbing the mountain. They just don't have the attitudes that help them survive." In other words, they are not the true "mountaineering types". They are just wannabes, most of whom are undergoing their "midlife crisis".

A couple weeks ago, while I was leading a snowshoe hike for the Sierra Club's Clair Tappaan Lodge at Donner Pass, I was (I thought) enriching the participants experience by identifying trees, discussing the ecology of the area (including LNT principles), and providing little hints on navigation and "staying found." At one point, as I asked which way was north (this was about noon on a clear, sunny day), then explained to the group, all of whom could do no more than guess, how to do this easily, one of the group asked why they should have any interest in these things. I thought she was joking until another member of the group said they were depending on me as the leader to guide them safely on the hike. I asked what they would do if I suddenly keeled over dead of a stroke, heart attack, or a tree branch falling on me. Most of the group just looked baffled, though one allowed as how he would follow our tracks back to the lodge.

It's the same for most people on guided hikes and expeditions, it seems - "the guide/leader will get me through safely, so I don't have to know anything." And someone (a ranger, housemaid, perhaps) will clean up the mess if I just drop my garbage. And "since bears do it in the woods", I can, too, and no one will notice.

Thankfully, all the folks I hike and climb with on a regular basis follow a different ethic. Unfortunately, I have been chewed out by people who do not subscribe to that ethic way too many times in the woods and hills for suggesting that there is a more responsible, better way. There was a thread on this here on Trailspace a few months back.

9:18 p.m. on April 5, 2010 (EDT)
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I'm gonna be nice here. I will simply say that even in high use climbing areas in parks there are "NO FACILITIES" at all. Smith Rock as far as I know, has one John and its on the wrong side of the mountain from the main climbing area. Am I wrong? Yosemite has no outhouses around the Apron, or any other heavy use climbing area. I've been in tuolumne Meadows when all of the outhouses were locked and people left deposits right in front of them to show their unhappiness. I hiked to the top of a major trail in North Cascades national Park and though there was a very long line at the John, it was already overflowing into the John, onto the floor, and out the door.

To be not nice I would say that its those same people Bill S was escorting around in the Sierras. "Oh gee I hafta go, pull over there's a stream bed I can use for a toilet. No one will see me if I squat down there." Besides aren't stream beds self flushing?

Or to bring it more home. People trapped on freeways use bottles and throw them out the window.

Of course none of the people mentioned above ever even heard of LNT any more than they can find North or find their way back to where they came from without a guide, so what exactly is it that we unreasonably expect from them? You know "bears don't dig a hole, why should I dig a hole? and "if a bear ate a candy he'd throw down the wrapper, why shouldn't I? Don't we pay rangers to pick up after me? Doesn't society pick after me?" or "Who cares if anyone picks up after me, its a big woods..."

Jim S

11:34 p.m. on April 5, 2010 (EDT)
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The attitude of those people you were leading, Bill, is something I can barely comprehend. The prevalence of such a "sheep" mentality in our culture terrifies me!

Just a couple days ago I was stopped at a red light in my car when the guy in front of me tossed a wad of trash out the window. I don't know why it bothered me as much as it did, perhaps it was seeing him do it so flippantly. Anyway, I knew how long the light was so I jumped out, picked up his trash and tossed it back to him, saying "I think you lost this, sir." As I got back into my car, he proceeded to throw it back out the window. Then give me one h*ll of a death glare for the next five blocks.

2:26 p.m. on April 6, 2010 (EDT)
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I can't imagine such a thing happening here (dumpin garbage out a car window). No local would do that, and if someone did you would have called the sheriff with the license number and in the "police blotter" in the next week's Nugget (the local newspaper) the top entry would have been about police arresting a litterer and charging him with every litter offense from the last 6 months. No one would follow you giving you dirty looks either, over 18% of eligible adults in this county have concealed handgun permits.

But people litter the national forest above here when they camp, beer cans, broken glass, etc, yet there are rarely "piles of toilet paper". Piles of shotgun shells are a problem, ya know anybody macho enough to shoot a shotgun doesn't embarrass himself in front of his buddies by picking up spent shells. However fishermen here, at least along streams, don't litter. Hunters here don't leave carcasses laying around, but they do drink a lot and we had an unfortunate incident where a guy with blood alcohol over 2.0 was killed when he threatened someone with a handgun that he said was trying to steal his deer. I don't understand the "lets get drunk and go huntin" concept. But those guys do bury their "waste"

Jim S

5:34 p.m. on April 6, 2010 (EDT)
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Sorry if I threw a rock in the wrong direction or at the wrong people. I used the example I did simply because it's been reported a large number of times, in various ways, that there is a big problem with waste management at sites like those described above. If that's not true, I apologize for promulgating false information.

That said, the problem exists (in those areas where it is extant) regardless of whether the defiler is a "true" outdoorsman or a mere "wannabe". The solution to the problem of human waste management must encompass both groups in appropriate fashion.

Sometimes, even the "pros" don't do as well as we'd like to think. I was once in the wilderness with a very experienced outdoors-type pro guide, along with a couple others, hiking through a gorgeous snowscape in the Badger-Two Medicine, when he decided it was time to discharge some solid waste. He did so right in the middle of the trail, no apologies offered, saying it didn't matter 'cause no one else would be coming through there to come across it. I hope he attends the conference.

7:35 p.m. on April 6, 2010 (EDT)
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There is no question that Everest Base Camp and a number of the locations in the Himalaya (and elsewhere) are huge waste dumps. The distinction I was making is between the true mountaineers and the "take me up the mountain, I paid $65,000 for you to get me to the top" crowd. People like the one gonzan encountered who just tossed the garbage back out the window.

I agree that we all sometimes behave differently than our professed ideals. In the LNT Trainer and Master Trainer classes, one exercise is for everyone to stand in a circle, with each person in turn confessing something s/he has done that was not LNT. In some cases, the "sin" is so far from even the basic ideas of LNT that it is shocking from members of that select a group (well, maybe they have now "got religion"). Mark Twain and some of his friends once (1862) built a huge bonfire on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, that got out of hand, so they had to get in a boat to go out on the lake some distance to watch it burn the entire North Shore area.

At least, a large number of the guides and expedition leaders have been organizing cleanup treks to Everest Base Camp and other Himalayan locations. And it was the American Alpine Club, along with the half dozen authorized guide services, who developed the Clean Mountain Can that is now required of all climbers on Denali and elsewhere in Denali National Park. In some sense, this is penance for past sins. But it is also self-interest, knowing that not cleaning up and dumping and abandoning waste, will affect future business.

7:53 p.m. on April 6, 2010 (EDT)
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While I mentioned the AAC's upcoming conference on this topic, geared at land managers, I neglected to mention LNT's many ongoing programs, from short presentations to two-day Trainer Courses to five-day Master Educator certifications. They also have programs, like PEAK, specifically for kids.

LNT Educational and Training Resources:

You can take an online awareness course here:

LNT also produces small plastic ethics cards (to carry along for reference) and short booklets that are geared toward specific areas and activities: fishing, caving, rock climbing, river canyons, Sierra Nevada, etc...

I know some of our members have done LNT training and may have more to share.

9:22 p.m. on April 6, 2010 (EDT)
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I started practicing LNT in the mid-'60s and used to be teased by other BC Forest Service types for my "fanaticism" and being a "g*dam granola cruncher"....this last sometimes required an attitude adjustment out behind the bar and after a few such incidents, I was not harassed further, but, was regarded as some sort of "whacko" because I would not even burn cans and bury them.

Every time I go out, it seems, I have to clean up the trash left by hunters, anglers and, YES, backpackers and it REALLY p*sses me off! I have backpacked junk by the hundredweight out of some of BC's most gorgeous areas and much of it came from people who bloviate at my skilled harvesting of a couple of ungulates and some wild fowl plus some trout for food every year and yet toss plastic water bottles beside the trails as though they expected God to become a janitor.

So, while old, battered, ornery geezers like me tend to chuckle at the various "courses" and "instructors" who have to teach imbeciles what should be obvious, I do see the NEED for this and I agree, many people today are totally helpless when away from "Smokey" or their own little life cocoon.

I used to, when I HAD to, as I disliked it, run large crews in silvicultural work for government and private industry. I had a simple policy, IF, I caught you leaving so much as a tissue in the bush, after ONE warning, you packed your gear and were on the next truck to town. My last site had almost 100 young tree planters from all over the world and, after two weeks, when they left, I found ONE tissue and ONE styrofoam cup.....sometimes, the "Sergeant-Major" technique WORKS!

Here, we have no need to pack out human waste and I am a past master at dealing with it, as I have had to camp alone and stay on one ridge for extended periods and in Grizzly country. It is easy to do and is among the "hallmarks" of a "real" outdoorsman", whereas wearing the latest "cool" shell with the right logo means squat, IMHO, of course.

6:15 p.m. on April 7, 2010 (EDT)
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I'm pretty much right with ya, Dewey, though i can't claim to have had many attitude-adjustment sessions out back of the bar. I consider it a point of duty to come back to the vehicle or trailhead with some trash, junk, etc., found at a campsite or along the trail.

One thing I've noticed is that if I empty a bag full of really old and nasty-looking garbage into a receptacle at a trailhead, etc., often it generates a comment from some observer. Usually quite positive. And it gives me an opportunity to preach the LNT gospel, abridged version, having led off with an example of how we can try to leave the world just a little better than we found it. (But only because we've fouled it so much in the past.)

Glad to hear the bit about cans. Peeves me to no end, finding a campsite with a fire ring littered with rusty can remnants, plastic bags, and broken glass from busted beer bottles. I won't leave a can out there if I can help it, regardless of whose it was.

11:27 a.m. on April 21, 2010 (EDT)
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Informative article. Thank you!

9:11 p.m. on April 21, 2010 (EDT)
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Wow, thank you very much for such a well researched article. Should be a "must read" for anyone heading out into the bush!

9:49 p.m. on April 21, 2010 (EDT)
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I guess we've covered about everything here, except a couple important things:

1 Should the toilet paper come off the right or left side of the roll?

2 In the event of a lost or runaway roll during the Um...process, what should one do?

3 I camp in poison ivy territory, should one pre-pick a site to be on the safe side?

4 Is the amount of toilet paper in MRE's really enough?

5 Has anyone actually verified that bears do it in the woods, or are they big and mean because they hold it?


3:14 a.m. on April 22, 2010 (EDT)
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now dats an artical!!!!!!! 1. for me left side cause im a right hander like we would in da u.p. cut off a pice of our shirt. 3. i always pre pic a spot when hikeing in. 4.not according to my marine buddy 5. of course it a bear silly i never seen one dig a hole to poop.

3:20 a.m. on April 22, 2010 (EDT)
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da real question is what happens to turds at turdytwo degrees? and witch turd of da turd freezes first bottom,middle or top?

9:55 p.m. on March 29, 2015 (EDT)
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Very informative and helpful. My husband and I hike and explore trails a lot

Most trails don't have a restroom so peeing outside is the only choice. When I have to pee outside I use plants that grow just a few inches tall so I can squat over them and pee on them Peeing on plants takes out the splatter. NEVER pee on hard surfaces like rock or cement.

If available I use a creek or other flowing water to pee in. Peeing in water is OK as pee is sterile and is not a health hazzard. When you pee in water you don't have to worry about where your pee is going to go.

To pee in a creek I pull my jeans and panties to my knees then back my rear over the creek and pee

12:21 a.m. on March 30, 2015 (EDT)
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Urine most definitely is not sterile. It is a waste product excreted by the kidneys as a result of blood filtration. The chemical content varies from person to person but generally it can contain bacteria, hormones, nitrogen by products of metabolism and a host of other organic and inorganic substances. And please do not urinate in the water; in high enough concentration this has led to illness and death for thousands of people throughout history.

2:00 p.m. on April 2, 2015 (EDT)
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Just a quick response to many who have already remarked at the absence of manners in dealing with biological functions.  In the Old Testament, the writers of Deuteronomy, see: 23:13, expressed simple methodology to a nomadic people in a mostly arid setting.  Start there; the advice is 3,300 years old. If you look at pictures in a fly-over, of Mexico City, immediately I think of Public Administration, and the adjunct challenges of providing water, disposing of sewage and all manner of wastes including household garbage.  I find that small cats...kittens...display more personal manners than many human users of the backcountry. Density of visitation and of population all are part of the equation.  Leave No Trace is a great concept; please practice it rigidly.

In populated or heavily-visited locations, do use a good water filter/purifier. If in doubt, boil first, then prepare your 4 pm. Earl Grey Tea. Be nice; be clean!

1:37 a.m. on April 3, 2015 (EDT)
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Thank you for the comment North. Besides the things you mention in urine, there are also things like medicines which are excreted. Please don't pee in a water source, KellyGirl. I should also mention that though beavers get blamed for giardia a lot, humans also carry that parasite as well as other, sometimes unknowingly. Peeing away from a water source will often(though not always) filter out many of the excreted undesirables.

1:12 p.m. on April 3, 2015 (EDT)
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Even a few parts per million of a foreign substance in pristine streams can have negative effects on very sensitive organisms like trout, amphibians, & certain aquatic insects. Although that is more of a concern when it is an ongoing process, as opposed to a very minor & single event.

Many animals use the water as a toilet, but that is already part of the equation of that particular streams development to a great extent. Human contribution adds non-endemic substances. Even though it may seem miniscule, it can be avoided, so we try to do so.

I would be lying if I said I have never done it though.

5:02 p.m. on August 3, 2015 (EDT)
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First, let me say I do mostly agree with and try to follow LNT principles.  However, responding to "Alicia's" comments regarding available LNT education, I recall the bitter irony of finding a small, plastic LNT education wallet card discarded next to the trail into a Wilderness area along with soda cans and other miscellaneous food trash.  I hauled out and properly discarded  the trash except the LNT card, which I kept as a reminder that some people cannot be "converted," or maybe they just plain do not care.  I just wish they'd stay home playing with their SmartPhones...

7:41 p.m. on August 14, 2015 (EDT)
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For those who prefer not to grab their poop with the bag (a method which can also leave behind traces on whatever it landed on), the Biffy Bag brand has a system that allows one to tie the inner bag around the waist and position it beneath you, and thus deposit the turd directly into the bag without manual contact. Add the gelling powder and seal it up. Other bags are sheets that can be spread on the ground and you aim for the target, but this increases the chances of a runaway turd rolling downhill before you can bag it.  

In Yosemite, you have to show that you have a bear canister before the ranger will issue a wilderness permit. If the same process were required for carrying a WAG bag or trowel and TP pack-out bags, some more progress could be made. Short of having vending machines with WAG bags and a train station-type turnstile that prevents entry to a trailhead without proof of purchase, there will always be people who claim ignorance, or just don't give a d**n (as someone said above, expecting rangers or God to be the janitor that cleans up after them). Those are the ones who infuriate me the most.  Finding gobs of toilet paper near a trail camp in the Redwoods grossed me out. If every hiker or visitor had that experience, of having to camp surrounded by someone else's garbage and shit, than maybe more would think twice about leaving their own behind for everyone else to find.

2:35 p.m. on August 19, 2015 (EDT)
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I must have missed this when it was featured...Great article..But I have a question ARE Wag bags to be used once or multiple times? Never used one but I would like to know...

2:07 p.m. on August 20, 2015 (EDT)
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denis daly said:

I must have missed this when it was featured...Great article..But I have a question ARE Wag bags to be used once or multiple times? Never used one but I would like to know...

 Hi Denis,

I found this official answer for you from Cleanwaste, makers of Wag Bags, at

2. How many uses per GO anywhere toilet kit®?
There is enough gelling powder to gel 32 ounces (946.35 ml) or 3-4 uses. This is a personal choice/decision; the gel keeps on working until fully saturated, and must be activated by a liquid to properly encapsulate the solid waste. The toilet's lid can be placed on the toilet over used bags to keep out insects.  Extra toilet paper and hand wipes may be needed. You may also want to consider purchasing a canister of Poo Powder® waste treatment and sprinkle a little on top of the waste between uses.

Plus, a video about how to use the Go Anywhere Toilet Kit (aka a Wag Bag):

5:02 a.m. on August 21, 2015 (EDT)
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Thank you Alicia your a Rock Star....

September 1, 2015
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