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

by Bobbi Maiers & Alicia MacLeay
April 15, 2021 first published April 2, 2010

Everyone pees and poops—and that includes hikers, backpackers, climbers, trail runners, and paddlers miles away from a trailhead toilet or outhouse.

All that human waste can have serious environmental, health, and aesthetic impacts on the great outdoors though. So it's essential to be prepared to deal with it in different terrain and scenarios—deep in the woods, traversing snow above treeline, paddling down a river.

Whether you're enjoying your first hike or are a longtime Leave No Trace follower, you may wonder what exactly "dispose of waste properly" (Leave No Trace Principle #3) means in various situations. What needs to be packed out and what can be left behind? Where and how deep should that cathole be dug? What about if you have your period? And what is a WAG/waste bag or a poop tube anyway? 

For all of us who head outdoors, and away from indoor plumbing, here are the guidelines for taking care of personal waste responsibly and reducing our impact on the lands and waters we love.

The Importance of Poop Protocol

First, you may be wondering if a little pee or poop in the woods really matters? Yes, particularly number two.

“Human waste and what we do with it can be one of the most significant impacts that faces lands used by the public for recreation,” said Ben Lawhon, director of education and research for the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. “It's a disease impact, water quality impact, social and aesthetic impact—and it's something that a lot of people just have a hard time dealing with.”

And when more people head outdoors, those impacts increase significantly.

According to The Outdoor Foundation's Outdoor Recreation Participation Report, more than 10 million people go backpacking every year and nearly 50 million take a day hike. While many hikers may be a short stroll from a bathroom, some undoubtedly find themselves out of range when nature calls. Plus, those millions of backpackers can be miles or days away from a toilet.

Then there are the millions of individuals annually who climb outside (10 million), canoe (9 million), run trails, ski, snowshoe, and occasionally need to make a pit stop.

In short: that's a lot of people outdoors, and thus a lot of poop.

And it adds up to a big impact.



Disease and Environmental Impacts

Feces contain a cocktail of germs, and no one enjoying the backcountry wants to see it, smell it, come in contact with it, or worse, get sick due to its improper disposal. Poop too close to water and you can pollute the water supply.

“Different water-born illnesses are correlated to human use of a given area,” said Jason Martin, executive director of the American Alpine Institute climbing school and guide service and a Leave No Trace Master Educator Course Provider. “When that stuff gets in the water supply, obviously it becomes a problem.”

Take a casual slurp from a clear, gurgling mountain stream and you're inviting the Giardia lamblia parasite to take up residence in your small intestine. A main culprit in water-born illness, the parasite can live for months in chilly ponds or lakes. It gets there through animal or human feces deposited directly in or too close to water sources.

Giardia symptoms, which usually set in a week or two after infection, include diarrhea and abdominal cramps, gas, nausea, sometimes vomiting, and usually a low-grade fever. Cryptosporidiosis, another parasite that causes severe diarrhea, is also a concern, as is Hepatitis A. (To avoid these issues, check out water treatment options for filters, purifiers, and chemical treatments.)

Aesthetic Impacts

The aesthetic issue is obvious: no one wants to hike, run, or climb amid exposed human feces or tufts of soiled toilet paper floating merrily on the breeze. 

According to Mike Smith, a forest planner with the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado's San Isabel National Forest, backcountry waste disposal is a problem many land managers share. High trail use, hikers' improper disposal methods, no mandatory pack-it-out requirements, and a lack of funds to provide education, oversight, and supplies (like waste bags) make for unappealing encounters on the trail.

Trails in San Isabel's South Colony Lakes Basin, Smith said, see 50 to 100 people every day in the summer season, many of whom spend a night or two, and signs of that heavy use are apparent. “Walk 50 feet from any campsite and you're going to find little white toilet paper muffins scattered around,” Smith said. “There's only so many rocks and trees.”

Proper disposal ensures others don't come across your waste (yuck) and also speeds up the decomposition process.

(US Forest Service photo by Pattiz Brothers)

Land Use Regulations


(Photo credit: Howard Kern)

Places without clear practices may struggle, but those that have implemented rules have seen success. Nick Meyers, U.S. Forest Service Lead Climbing Ranger on Mt. Shasta in California's Shasta-Trinity National Forest, said packing out waste became mandatory there in 1997. With such a well-established program in place, visitors are mostly used to the system in place now.

“We average about two and a half tons of human waste that's carried out by the climbers themselves," said Meyers. "Rangers pick up human feces all season long as sanitation is one of our top priorities in a few high use areas."

Knowing what regulations and methods exist, and which to practice where, can help wild areas, even well-traveled ones, remain as uncontaminated as possible. 

While compliance is never 100 percent, Meyers thinks they do pretty well. "Over time, people have been getting used to our system. With thousands of climbers attempting the mountain each year, the fact that it has to be dealt with in the alpine environment is well-known."

In places where there aren't specific regulations or systems, Lawhon says Leave No Trace's goal is to provide a spectrum of approved options for waste disposal, and it's up to hikers and climbers to determine where on that spectrum they feel comfortable.

“We've tried to make it attainable for people to appropriately deal with waste in the backcountry,” he said. “If you say 'gotta pack it out, every time,' you just turn people off. The closer you get to the frontcountry, the more flexible you have to be. It's a continuum, and on one end you've got toilets at the trailhead, and on the other, you've got people packing out their waste.”

Now that we know why proper human waste disposal matters, here are the options for disposing of it outdoors.



Number One, How to Pee Outdoors

Peeing outdoors is a relatively straightforward process, especially in comparison to solid human waste.

“What we advocate is to pee well away from water sources, trails, and campsites,” said Lawhon. “Based on World Health Organization and CDC [Center for Disease Control] research that has looked at urine, with most healthy people, urine is not a big deal. Unless it's highly concentrated, it's relatively harmless on the environment, so long as it’s kept out of any water source.”

  • Walk 200 feet (that's about 70 steps) away from campsites, trails, and water.
  • Find a secluded and appropriate spot, such as behind a tree, bushes, or large rock.
  • Assume your position of choice—aim, squat, sit, stand.
  • Avoid your boots and pants, and avoid peeing on plants that could be defoliated by animals attracted to the salt in urine.
  • If you're on a slope, orient yourself so any runoff heads away from your feet.
  • If water is plentiful, consider diluting the site with water to cut down on odor.

Do not pee directly into small ponds, lakes, or streams (see River Canyons below for the sole exception). Also, digging a hole or packing out urine isn't necessary, unless you're menstruating (see Menstruation below), in which case you should consider peeing into a cathole.

Pee Positions: Aim, Squat, Stand, Sit

What peeing position works best depends on your anatomy and personal preference. The main methods of urinating outdoors are standing and aiming, squatting down low, and sitting. People who need to squat or sit may want to practice several methods to find the best position for them and to avoid splatters.

Standing and Aiming

If you can naturally aim, follow the steps above and point at an appropriate spot that meets Leave No Trace guidelines.

How to Use a Pee Funnel

If you want to pee standing up without undressing, but can't aim your flow, consider a pee funnel. Referred to by a variety of names—stand to pee device (STP), urinary director, female urination device (FUD), feminine funnel, or pee funnel—a funnel can be useful when hiking, camping, climbing, traveling, for medical or mobility needs, and in areas with little privacy (such as high above treeline or stuck in a tent).

Examples include the GoGirl, pStyle, Freshette, Shewee, Tinkle Belle, and WhizSome funnels also come with a carrying case and an extension tube.

Follow the directions from each brand, but generally to use a stand to pee device:

  • Practice at home, preferably in the shower, before hitting the trail. These devices can take some getting used to and can easily spill or leak if you haven't practiced.
  • Outdoors, find an appropriate spot.
  • Hold the funnel close to your body.
  • Let go, and aim the flow away.
  • Clean your pee funnel off with water (200 feet away from the source).
  • Store the funnel in a sealable plastic bag or carrying case. 


Squatting is a super simple, often-used, and convenient method. It doesn't require any extra gear or much practice, though there is the risk of splattering.

  • Find an appropriate spot. Soft ground will better absorb the flow versus splattering it.
  • Drop your pants or shorts below your knees and out of the way.
  • Squat low. Consider holding onto a tree for balance.
  • Keep any downhill flow away from your feet.


Sitting is a less common option, but Kathleen Meyer, outdoorswoman, former river guide, and author of How to Shit in the Woods: An environmentally sound approach to a lost art, offers this step-by-step guide on peeing while sitting and still keeping your pants clean:

  • Find a secluded spot with two rocks and/or logs, where you can sit on one and prop your feet up on the other.
  • Slide down your pants or shorts.
  • Set yourself on the edge of one surface.
  • Prop your feet on the other surface (you're essentially creating a wilderness potty chair).
  • Eliminate.


How to Use a Pee Cloth

If you don't want to pack out used toilet paper but do want to remove dampness, consider a pee cloth. Also called a pee rag or peedanna, a pee cloth is a reusable piece of cloth to wipe with after urinating (and only after urinating). It can reduce waste and the risk of chafing.

You can make your own pee cloth rag out of a bandana or a small microfiber towel, such as an extra small Packtowl. Or you can buy a ready-made option like the Kula Cloth, which snaps closed, has a waterproof outer layer, and is antimicrobial thanks to a silver treatment. Other options include Animosa P* Off ClothsWander Wipes, and WeeRags

Follow the directions of your product, but generally to use a pee cloth:

  • Wipe with the absorbent side after peeing.
  • Snap closed.
  • Hang outside your pack and/or in the sun to dry.
  • If camping overnight, stow it away with other smellables.
  • On the trail, periodically rinse your rag with water (200 feet away from water sources) and, if needed, a little biodegradable soap.
  • Back at home, wash it with your laundry.

Leave No Trace offers this video on how to use a pee rag:



Number Two, How to Poop Outdoors

If a toilet is available, like this Canadian outhouse, use it. (Photo: Ben Lawhon)

Once you're out of range of that trailhead toilet, your options for dealing with number two are fairly simple: you can dig a hole and bury your solid waste, or you can pack it out. Those are the main methods Leave No Trace advocates, and those most widely used.

Two important things to know before heading out:

First, follow the area land manager's guidelines. If the Forest Service says thou shalt pack out waste, then arm thyself with a waste bag or other receptacle and follow the rules. “Talking to whatever land manager is in a given area is the most important thing of all. Find out what they feel is most appropriate. Don't assume,” said Martin.

Second, know and follow as many of the four objectives Leave No Trace outlines for backcountry waste disposal as possible:

  1. Minimize the chance of water pollution.
  2. Minimize the spread of disease.
  3. Minimize aesthetic impact.
  4. Maximize decomposition rate.


Digging and Burying: Catholes and Latrines

A trowel, like TheTentLab's Deuce of Spades, is essential to dig and bury. (Photo: Mike Mineart)

In places that don't have a specific pack-it-out rule, digging a cathole and burying feces is the most common backcountry waste disposal method. "It's our primary recommendation, if no toilet facilities are provided. We always default to a cathole for most terrestrial environments,” Lawhon said.

A properly sited and dug cathole has many advantages:

  • Catholes are generally easy to dig and easy to disguise afterward.
  • They're private, and it's easy to select a remote site other hikers won't encounter.
  • They also disperse waste, enhancing decomposition.

Key to digging is finding a spot with organic soil and having a small, sturdy trowel. Even if you think you'll be near an actual toilet, there's always the chance you'll need to make an urgent stop on the trail, so make a trowel part of your essential gear. If you know the length of your trowel, you can use it as a measurement tool when digging. (Check out and compare camp trowels and shovels.)

How to dig a cathole:

  • Find a site at least 200 feet (70 big steps) away from water, trails, and campsites, in organic soil to facilitate decomposition, and ideally near thick underbrush, decaying logs, or any places others aren't likely to encounter it.
  • Did a hole six to eight inches deep and four to six inches wide.
  • Squat over the hole and leave your deposit directly in it.
  • Once you're done, fill in and cover the hole, disguising it with ground material.
  • Do not touch the waste with your trowel.
  • Scatter catholes if you're spending more than one night in an area, or if you're camping in a group.
  • Avoid digging catholes in areas where the waste is unable to break down, such as arctic, desert, or alpine environments (see Unique Environments below).

Dig catholes 6-8 inches deep and 200 feet from water, trails, and campsites. (© Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics)

Keep in mind that in shallow catholes, pathogens can remain a health hazard for a year, according to Leave No Trace: A Guide to the New Wilderness Etiquette by Annette McGivney. So, once you've found an appropriate spot, dig the full six to eight inches deep. 

And once you're done, take a moment to make sure your cathole isn't visible. “Just because there's nobody there doesn't mean it's not heavily used,” said Martin. “If I'm going to use the bathroom in the woods, I don't want anyone to find it ever again.”

Leave No Trace offers this video on how to dig a cathole:

What about if you don't have time to dig a cathole?

Sometimes you have to go to the bathroom right now, and don’t have time to dig a cathole. What then? Easy—just poop on the ground, then dig the cathole next to it, use a stick to move the poop into the hole, cover, and disguise. 

When and How to Dig a Latrine

Latrines are not commonly used, but you should opt for a designated latrine site “if you're going to be in a large group in one area for an extended period of time, or if you're going to be in a group of people you aren't certain can properly dig catholes,” Lawhon said, such as “kids or others who might not choose a good cathole site or dig correctly.”

A latrine is not the same as a pit toilet. Leave No Trace recommends a latrine be essentially a long cathole.

  • Dig a trench that is 6 to 8 inches deep, 4 to 6 inches wide, and as long as needed for your group.
  • Start at one end, and cover up as deposits are made.
  • Follow the same requirements for site selection and depth as you do a single cathole site: a minimum of 200 feet away from water, trails, and campsites, in organic soil.

Because they have a greater concentration of waste-to-soil, the waste in latrines can take longer to decompose than in catholes, up to three years, according to Leave No Trace by McGivney. Therefore, latrines should only be used when necessary.

Leave No Trace offers this video on how to dig a latrine if you'll be in a large group:


What about toilet paper and wipes?

Aside from your number two deposit, the only other item allowed in your cathole or latrine is white, non-perfumed toilet paper, according to Leave No Trace. Personal wipes and sanitary products should always be packed out, since their materials decompose much slower.

However, many outdoors people have differing opinions on whether toilet paper is even appropriate to leave behind in the earth. Depending on the habitat and how fast buried waste breaks down, toilet paper can remain long after feces. Even in a proper cathole, it can take up to a year to break down, so leaving it should be a last resort. That said, if you do decide to bury your toilet paper, make sure to bury it deeply in the hole with a stick, which should be buried as well to minimize the potential spread of disease. 

“The issue is that you're leaving something that shouldn't be left behind,” said Martin. “There's no reason not to carry it out. It's one small Ziploc, even for a big trip.”

Natural TP Options

If you don't want to pack out used toilet paper consider wiping with safe natural materials like fallen leaves (identify first!), packed snow, or smooth river rocks. You can bury the natural materials in your cathole with your waste.

  • If you use toilet paper, pack it out whenever possible.
  • If you're only peeing, consider wiping with a reusable pee cloth.
  • If you must bury toilet paper, use as small an amount as possible and be sure to dig deep enough, at least 6 to 8 inches. 
  • Always pack out personal wipes and sanitary products.

"We prefer that all toilet paper be carried out, but we recognize that some people are uncomfortable with that," says Martin. "Toilet paper in a cathole will break down in a year or less depending on the environment...personal wipes, not-so-much. They take significantly more time to break down, and as such, should always be carried out."

Bottom line: no one wants to see a blooming bouquet of butt-wipe near the trail. The most astute hiker will pack out their toilet paper, in the interest of truly leaving as little trace of their presence as possible.

There is one definite toilet paper rule:

  • Never burn toilet paper due to the risk of wildfires. Large fires have been inadvertently set by individuals who burned their toilet paper outdoors.

How to Pack Out Poop: Waste Bags and Poop Tubes

Many popular, high-use areas like Mount Rainier, Mount Shasta, Denali, and Mount Hood require you to pack out your waste. Some hikers pack out their poo even when they don't have to, in the interest of trying to make as little impact on the environment as possible.

Having the proper supplies—mainly a reliable, sanitary receptacle and hand sanitizer—is essential. You have several options, from store-bought waste bags to homemade, rudimentary containers. (Note: even if you plan to dig and bury, it's a good practice to carry pack-it-out supplies anyway, for emergency circumstances.)

Some waste items should always be packed out, no matter where you are, what the climate, is or how small an item it is. Those items include tampons, pads, and other feminine hygiene products (see Menstruation), and diapers and wipes (see Kid Waste). 

What's a Waste or WAG Bag?

Cleanwaste Go Anywhere Toilet Kit Wag Bag (Photo: Mike Mineart)

You may have heard of a WAG (Waste Alleviation and Gelling) bag, but a better term might be "waste bag," since there are numerous commercial options for carrying out solid waste. Pack-it-out bag systems generally utilize one bag you poop directly into and another sturdier, sealable bag in which you deposit and seal the dump. 

These also may be called a "blue bag system," and packing it out referred to as the “blue bag method,” because the bags provided to hikers at Mt. Rainier are blue, and Rainier has had a pack-it-out requirement for many years.

Cleanwaste, the company that coined “WAG Bag,” renamed its product the GO Anywhere Toilet Kit. The kit includes a biodegradable waste pickup bag loaded with Poo Powder, a “transport bag,” toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. The Poo Powder works by gelling more liquid waste, breaking down solids, and controlling odor. "I personally use the Cleanwaste bags whenever I have to pack out," said Lawhon of Leave No Trace.

Other waste bag options are Biffy Bags, which American Alpine Institute uses on its trips, and ReStop, which Leave No Trace offers in its online store.

Note that “blue bags” do not contain the chemicals that WAG bags do, and should only be used where recommended by a specific land manager, such as at Mt. Rainier.

Leave No Trace offers this video on how to use a waste bag: 


How to Make a Homemade Waste Bag

You can create your own waste bag using an interior/pickup bag, pre-packed with kitty litter, which functions similar to Poo Powder, and a larger, sturdy outer bag—think freezer-weight Ziploc. Heavy-duty trash compactor bags work as a waste trash bag. If bags don't seem sturdy enough, some people use a coffee can as their outer container. Tupperware with a snug-fitting lid that you're certain you no longer need in the kitchen would work, too.

Meyers, Lead Climbing Ranger on Mt. Shasta, says their rangers offer all hikers a user-friendly kit, assembled locally, which includes an 11 x 17 sheet of thick paper with a bullseye printed on it. To use—aim for the bullseye, do your duty, then grab the corners for pickup, avoiding all hand contact. Two brown bags with sawdust inside absorb moisture and a final ziplock bag allows for transportation down the mountain. 

Meyers says the waste bags are available for free at all the Shasta trailheads, and hikers can pick up kits there or at area outdoor shops. "I'm approaching 20 years of working and using the waste bags on Mt. Shasta,, and I give them my stamp of approval."

“Wagging” Tips

Powders, like Poo Powder above, or kitty litter solidify waste and control odors.

Best practices for using a waste bag come with, well, practice. Generally, when nature calls, grab your bag kit, toilet paper, bag for used toilet paper, and hand sanitizer and head off to find a secluded area where people are unlikely to encounter your bare bottom. 

Put the bag on the ground, using a few small rocks to hold it in place (no one wants a poorly timed gust of wind to send the bag flying). Poop directly into the bag with the poop powder in it.

Fully enclose the poo and make sure the powder or litter has covered it. In other words, become familiar with touching your warm feces through a layer or two of plastic. Seal that bag inside the thicker, outer bag—getting as much air out of the bag as possible for easier storage—or stash it inside your container of choice. Place your used toilet paper in the bag. Clean your hands with hand sanitizer. Wag complete.  

How to Make a Poop Tube

Poop tubes are more often used by climbers, but paddlers, hikers, and backpackers can use one too. You'll need a length of PVC pipe (around 4 inches in diameter), a cap for one end, and a threaded fitting and plug for the other. (For cleaning, it's helpful to be able to remove both ends.) What length you cut is dependent on the length of your trip and, frankly, how much you poop. Six to 10 inches is standard, though 12 to 25 inches is recommended for longer trips.

Either secure the tube to your pack with pack straps, or use duct tape and cord to make a handle and clip it to your pack for easy access. Pack standard coffee filters, place those on the ground, and aim. Or poop into brown paper bags. Wrap up the waste, send it down the tube, and seal it up.

Dispose of waste in approved containers or toilets only. (Photo: Leave No Trace)

How to Dispose of your WAG Bag

Whether you pack it out in a bag, a tube, or Tupperware, waste should be properly disposed of after reaching the trailhead, often that means into a toilet. Users who make their own Wag Bags should note that homemade versions cannot be tossed into landfills, as can some commercially available bags. Check rules first.



How to Deal with Your Kid's Waste Outdoors

If your child is old enough to control when and where they pee or poop then follow the practices above. If they still wear a diaper or training pants, stick with the Leave No Trace advisement:

  •  Pack out all dirty diapers, as well as baby wipes.

Martin, a father of two, noted that the Australia-based gDiapers company offers diapers with inserts that supposedly biodegrade completely in a compost pile, but cautions that a six- or eight-inch cathole does not offer prime composting conditions.

Regardless of compostable and biodegradable claims, always pack out diapers and wipes.


Don't forget your Pet's Waste

Your dog's pile of poo needs to be dealt with as well.

  • In the frontcountry, pack out all pet waste.
  • In the backcountry, treat it the same as human waste: either bury it or pack it out, depending on local guidelines.

"We encourage folks to consider packing out pet waste, even from the backcountry, but realize the practicalities and challenges of this recommendation," said Lawhon. "Therefore, we feel that catholing pet waste is perfectly acceptable."

Standard catholing guidelines should be followed.

(Forest Service photo: Eric Castro)



Waste Disposal in Unique Environments

In desert, alpine, and arctic environments human waste breaks down very slowly, sometimes not at all. Even when buried the bacteria in feces can survive for years, so alternative disposal methods should be followed in these environments.

Above Tree Line

Alpine environments are far more delicate than the land below tree line. Again, Leave No Trace advocates for the pack-it-out method. Lawhon also recommends not making camp above tree line.

Digging a cathole up there is the last resort. “If you have to do it, move a big rock and dig under that large rock, rather than plunking your trowel down on delicate vegetation,” he said.

If you need to pee above tree line, urinate on rocks or bare ground, not on fragile plants.


Above tree line and in winter, it's best to pack it out. Otherwise, you're leaving behind frozen waste for the next visitors.


Leave No Trace outlines three winter options for solid waste, in order of preference.

  • First, pack it out. This is the preferred option, since poop can remain frozen in winter. It also means you won't have to deal with any odor.
  • Second, attempt to find a snow-free area, like a tree-well, where you can actually dig.
  • Third, dig a snow cathole.

“The key is, you've got to look at your map and make sure you're not dumping near a creek or other water source,” Lawhon said. And keep in mind that if you choose the third option, you're throwing the Leave No Trace human waste objectives three and four (aesthetics and decomposition) out the window. 

Come spring, no one wants to find your semi-frozen waste on the trail. So, if you do choose a snow cathole, do it off travel ways and away from water sources. Choose a spot with sunshine, make a hole, cover your business, and let the snow melt dilute it. Snow works well as a T.P. alternative.

If you're on solid ice, packing it out is best.

As for peeing, cover any spots of yellow snow and pee away from water sources.

 (Forest Service photo: Doug Madison)


“We advocate shallower catholes, in the four- to six-inch range,” Lawhon said of desert terrain. Keeping the waste higher in the soil horizon maximizes decomposition. 

Look for organic soil under trees and avoid living soil crusts (formerly known as “cryptobiotic soil crust”), which are extremely fragile and can take decades to recover if disturbed.

Remember to pack out all toilet paper whenever possible, as the desert environment isn't wet enough to facilitate decomposition.

 Running rivers, like the Colorado through Cataract Canyon, means knowing local land use regulations for human waste. (Photo: BigRed)

River Canyons

In river canyons where you may not be able to get 200 feet away from the water, Leave No Trace advises:

  • Urinate directly in the river for dispersal ("dilution is the solution") where allowed.
  • Not all rivers allow for the disposal of liquid waste into the river, so always check local rules and regulation.
  • Pack out all feces.

“Packing out your poop is part of the river running culture, and I hope that becomes part of the culture in other user groups, too,” Lawhon said.

In many areas with low-volume rivers, it is illegal to urinate in the river, so follow the local guidelines. Generally speaking, flows of 1,000 cubic feet of water per second or greater are necessary to dilute liquid waste. In areas where you can't urinate in the river, it is recommended that liquid waste be dispersed away from camp and well above the high-water line.

Some paddlers and rafters carry a portable, reusable toilet system that they empty out later, or a poop tube. When he has the choice Lawhon prefers the Partner Steel Jonny Partner River Toilet. "I sometimes rent them for long raft trips" as it can handle six people on a 10-day trip. He most often uses the ECO-Safe Toilet System though, "because it’s much cheaper and more commonly used. Lots of our rafting crew have these tanks so it’s easy to round up enough for a trip."

Tent Bound

An old, well-labeled water bottle can serve as a pee bottle or emergency poop tube. A pee funnel, like the GoGirl, can help with aim.

If you find yourself confined to your tent, you're going to need a receptacle, like your homemade poop tube or pack-it-out bag and container. An old water bottle also can serve as last resort (label well). When urinating, aim very carefully, with the bottle's opening as close to your body as possible; a pee funnel you've already practiced with at home can help ease the process.

For number two situations, if you have no poop tube, this is your opportunity to use that extra waste bag/pack-it-out kit you've surely remembered to pack. Since you're in your tent instead of on natural terrain, the method is a little different. You're going to have to slip the plastic bag over your hand and play catch, or use the coffee filter you've brought with your poop tube.

No kit? You can use your spare water bottle, hold it close and aim carefully, adding it to your pee, and then dig and bury when the opportunity presents itself—basically, make your water bottle a makeshift poop tube. An appealing thought? No. Necessary in emergencies? Perhaps.



Menstruation and Period Protocol

If you menstruate, you'll need to deal with tampons, pads, a menstrual cup, or some combination of period products while recreating outdoors. Even if you don't menstruate, if you lead or educate groups, consider carrying some extra period supplies for others. Additionally, address the topic beforehand and educate others on how to manage menstruation and carry out waste, so everyone in your group feels comfortable and prepared.

Tampons and Pads

Leave No Trace's guidelines are simple: Pack out all used tampons, pads, and applicators. Do not try to bury them. They will not readily decompose and animals may be attracted to them and dig them back up. Do not try to burn them. Most products contain some synthetic materials, and it would take a very, hot intense fire to burn them completely, not to mention the potentially toxic chemicals that are given off when burning such materials.

  • Consider tampons with no applicators, for less waste to carry in and out.
  • Pack out all waste in a resealable plastic bag.
  • You can add tea bags to the waste bag to reduce odor.
  • If camping overnight, stow waste away with other smellables.
  • Do not bury.
  • Do not burn.

Menstrual Cups

Menstrual cups are reusable, non-absorbent, pliable cups you insert that collect menstrual fluid. Cups, like DivaCup and The Keeper, are popular with some long-distance hikers and trail runners, and Lawhon says Leave No Trace receives many inquiries about their use. 

“What we came up with was to cathole menstrual fluid, because it's a biohazard,” Lawhon said. “The same principles apply.” 

  • Practice inserting and using a menstrual cup at home during your period.
  • Outdoors, dispose of menstrual fluid in a cathole (200 feet from water sources, campsites, and trails).
  • Clean your menstrual cup with fresh (boiled) water (not in a river or lake and, as always, 200 feet from any water source) before reinserting.

Peeing with your Period

 If you have your period you should pee into a cathole, for the same reasons you'll dispose of menstrual fluid in a cathole.

Period Supplies

There are numerous options for dealing with your period while hiking, backpacking, and recreating outdoors. Ideally you'll want to try any at home, before relying on them on a trip.

Period underwear, like Thinx, which absorbs menstrual fluid can be helpful as a backup and to reduce the amount of tampons, pads, and period product waste you carry. You can pack all of your menstrual supplies—tampons/pads/cup, hand sanitizer, wipes and/or toilet paper, and extra plastic baggies for waste—together for ease of use.

Leave No Trace offers this video on dealing with your period while camping:



Gear Up and Be Prepared

As with most outdoor skills, preparation and practice make it far easier to deal with personal waste, whether you're on a local trail or in the wilderness. That means having the right supplies in your bathroom kit:

  • Trowel—While you can dig with a stick in a pinch, trowels are your best option for digging a catholes. The TentLab's titanium Deuce of Spades is a favorite for its light weight, and Coghlan's Backpackers Trowel is Lawhon's personal favorite. "It’s the right weight, length, and has nice sharp edges for cutting into the soil," he said.
  • Toilet paper and/or personal wipes—pack these out in a separate ziplock.
  • Baggies—several sturdy, resealable bags for supplies and any waste you're packing out 
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Pee funnel—If you want some assistance aiming your urine while standing fully clothed, try a stand to pee device. Practice at home first.
  • Waste bags—for packing out solid waste
  • Trash bag—A sturdy, sealable dry sack, like the Sea to Summit Trash Dry Sack, can securely hold a weekend's worth of waste.

Leave No Trace offers this video on building your own backcountry poop kit:


Finding Your Comfort Level

A toilet in California's Sierra Nevada. (Photo: Howard Kern)

When dealing with waste outdoors, it's important to follow local guidelines and remember Leave No Trace's overarching advice: find someplace along the continuum, in between trailhead toilets and poop tubes, where you feel comfortable.

If you're not willing to pack out your waste, some incredible outdoor spots will be off-limits to you. However, many others are easily within your reach, so long as you can dig an appropriate cathole.

Ultimately, respect the proper practices, check with area land managers before your trip, and do your part to keep the outdoors clean—even if it means having to pack up your own poo once in a while.

For more information


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

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.

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?

<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.

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.

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

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.


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


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

Informative article. Thank you!

Wow, thank you very much for such a well researched article. Should be a "must read" for anyone heading out into the bush!

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?


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.

da real question is what happens to turds at turdytwo degrees? and witch turd of da turd freezes first bottom,middle or top?

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

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.

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!

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.

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.

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...

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.

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...

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):

Thank you Alicia your a Rock Star....

Sorry this is kinda off track but while abroad working we had to eat what the locals ate and use the bathroom as they did as your poo will give you away. Some foreign foods took some adjusting At the time 3-4 days without food wasn't odd so we were good too go and we would always have are go pens too.

Three of us used WAG bags during an excavation in a very pristine location in a nearby national park.  We were a bit conservative, but about two uses per bag right.  It was the first time I had used this system and it worked quite well.

Years ago on Denali, we just threw the bag in a handy, deep crevasse.  It is comforting to know that future archaeologists will have material to study.

hikermor said:

Three of us used WAG bags during an excavation in a very pristine location in a nearby national park.  We were a bit conservative, but about two uses per bag right.  It was the first time I had used this system and it worked quite well.

Did you use Cleanwaste Wag Bags? They're the supplier to the National Park Service.


as my dad used to say what are you little stinkers doing out here in the woods- and our response just playing in the mud daddy

some may find this interesting. While working we had to change are diets to what the locals ate and use the restroom like they did as not to leave a sign so unwanted individuals didn't know we were in the area. Needless to say I sometimes didn't eat I kept alot of go pens and pills that made me feel full and gave me tons of energy (not healthy at all). 

Of the 3 disposable toilet systems approved for use by the US Forest Service The Biffy Bag, in my opinion, is by far the most sanitary and easiest to use. It has 3 layers of odor proof leak protection. The Biffy Bag is the winner of the American Alpine Institutes: Guides Choice Award and considered the best disposable toilet on the market. The Biffy Bag makes it easy to do the right thing and pack it out.

[Note: The poster is the owner of Biffy Bag Disposable Toilets.]

I forgot to mention that there are u tube videos on the Biffy Bag one is called Selling Survival Episode 9 Waste Management.

[Note: The poster is the owner of Biffy Bag Disposable Toilets.]

Great article.

I would like feedback on my concerns: we just returned from a canoe trip. Our state has several remote (boat access only) first-come camping spots along national or state forests. As part of the state parks and forests department oversight, rules are posted for waste disposal--carry out; or, how-tos for proper digging and disposal away from water sources.  At the same time, we have just found, *we* (state parks and recreation management have built) have several "mouldering toilets"--"ours" are privies built about four feet above the ground with wire fencing enclosing the perimeters.  There are no holes, no latrine methods being utilized underneath these toilets--you simply go to the bathroom right on the ground.  They are placed away from the water by 100-150 feet, in closer proximity to some of the tent sites.  I found toilet paper in the ones I checked out--but nothing to put down the toilet to help with decomposition.

Is this safe enough for those of us wishing to continue to tent at these sites? I can't really imagine that open-toileting like this would be sanitary to tent beside.

Romona, what state has these open air decomposition privies?  Seems pretty sketchy to me, but then I am no sanitation engineer.  I'd be more worried about fecal mater making its way the streams, carried there by storm runoff.



Moldering privies are common on the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies but are stocked with mulch / leaf litter with instructions posted to drop one handful of litter after each use. The ATC Ridge Runners and volunteer caretakers typically refill the mulch buckets. The nasty contraptions actually do seem to work but are super gross when a wire "cube" nears capacity. 

I guess if you go to high use camps these options make sense. Even with the privies some high use camps are mine fields to an unbelievable degree. People poop everywhere.... anywhere and everywhere. I don't think anything would surprise me at this point. It's a scourge of our outdoor recreational times in this culture

WOW!  I've read this whole thread...................WOW!  People are all so holier-than-thou, and then...............and then............we have the..........leave no trace ignorance about, not disturbing the environment...................................... leave no trace......LOL.......Cause that what we humans do so well, eh............we try and pretended like we leave no trace, cept our.........sewage, our sewage.  Does not every humanbeing mean to say, "leave not the least amount of trace as possible".  Really?

Dang, us people will go and poop and pee in any given area and pretend like it does not make a difference!! Even if you even bury it deep enough were people just don't have to smell you poop and or, see your toilet paper sticking up put of the ground your are leaving your sewage.  Huh? whooda thunk?  Poopin and peein?

Carry your shit out,..................... literally.........................

So, WOW,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,I don't care what anyone else thinks about that , actually I kinda do, but.................................You all brag about your brilliant backpacks, or many do, not only are they designed to carry shit in, guess what???...............they are designed to carry shit out.  I just love it when people talk about "No Trace Left behind hind", just after the Thread about the very lightest shovel that they can dig a whole to poop in.  Really..............really..............?

Ok, trash in trash out,  Ummmmmm, is your poop not trash?  Really, in this day and age.

Just my two cents,  but I bet there is more than just two cents............

And still, some people will figure out a reason to leave their excrement for the rest of us..................Frekin brilliant.  Leave your poop and toilet paper for me.................Ever see that crap, literally after a giant rainstorm,



I know but poop is nasty...................LOL....................

OK..................ok..................ok............why is this post open when it was from 2010? Sup peeps?!?

...............and what's that saying about "my poop that don't stink"............or sumthin like that?


Forgive me for getting the thread of comments from an old article going again, Apeman!  I was trying to find some sane reason for the open privies I stumbled upon and came across this article.

Thank you, whomeworry and Patman.  It seems entirely disastrous to me!  There are no instructions or coverings for the waste provided at these sites--although there are plenty of leaves and dirt around.  These are NOT high traffic areas yet, which makes it more unbearable.

I know you asked which state, and as horrific as what I see here is,  I don't want to  share where I live.  I am ashamed and appalled.

Ramona, for worries about getting this thread going again. I'm just surprised as most, if not all the threads, that are this old are closed so that no more comments can be added. I was shocked to see this up and had thought at first that some of the people that had left Trailspace had come back,  till I saw the dates on most of the posts.

It's always a good topic as I see more and more sites that are used a human wasted dumping grounds. Usually what I see is that people will each dig a tiny little cat hole for each elimination and then just barely cover it up. The when the wind blows and or it rains the elimination and the toilet paper is exposed for all to see and step in. I'm sad to see how people treat the out of doors, from the garbage and dead humans left at high altitude to all the human waste left in the out of doors.

It seems to me that more people should put as much effort in to waste desposial as they do into purchasing their gear and planning their trips.  I think that if a person does not carry it out then one should bury it deep enough where it can dissipate. compost as it should.  This also means that one should bring a stouter trowel that just the lightest available flimsy thing they can find to save weight. 

I didn't see the dates at first :) in my tear for answers!

I am with you on all.  It seems so weird that we have all been taught to dig deep, don't throw toilet paper, etc. and then our FPR folks build these privies on top of the ground on inclines just above tent sites and water, for the elements to scatter.  Perhaps I have my answer--because of our constant and widespread littering, the national Forests, Parks and Recreation department has deemed it necessary to create these privies everywhere we could happen upon in the wilderness.

I am dismayed to have seen three in two days just above the water on one relatively tiny river-lake area; knowing by looking at a sitemap that there are more in that area gives me pause. It angers me that they want to control where people camp but put these monstrosities at their designated tent spots.  I  don't want to canoe camp these areas now at all, to say nothing of the disgust I feel about anyone camping anywhere near them and in thinking about the future of the water issue.

But maybe that too is part of the plan.  Crazy.

Ramona I with a trail maintaining club in Virginia along the Appalachian trail..Our privies are as Patman described..I have a feeling your state was trying to do the correct thing but just came short of doing more research on the topic...Our privies are over saw by the Appalachian Trail conference as giving us blueprints and advise from The National Park Service  and Forest Service...The club maintains the privies with volunteers to clean them...

Thanks so much, Denis. Our state parks and rec are part of the National Parks and Rec and also the Forest Service.  They look to be built like the national blueprint put out by FPR.  Maybe we didn't get the memo about posting a how-to so that people will be sure to cover each toilet use with something.  The fact that they are there at all is what is bothersome to me. 

Ramona, while it is very good and worthwhile to bring this matter of the improperly situated privies to the attention of this forum, it would be even better, if you have not done so already, to contact the office in charge of this area, bring the situation to their attention,express you concern clearly in measured language, and ask that they correct the situation.  Pictures will be really helpful.  And to move things along, it helps to also contact your elected representatives as well.   As a veteran of the National park Service, i can assure you that nothing gets action like an inquiry from the local congress person- absolutely works every time - and often results in constructive action.

I note that you do not wish to mention your state of residence, but it must be a very unusual state if "Our state parks and rec are part of the National Parks and Rec and also the Forest Service."  That is a very unusual state indeed, since generally the state and national areas are administered by separate entities.  Often different areas will cooperate and even share resources, especially in emergencies, but they are different trains and run on different tracks.

Best wishes in improving this situation...

I'm wondering about the recommendation to walk 200 feet off trail while hiking?   I don't know anyone who goes that far, and I'm skeptical it's a good idea.  So much off trail damage, potential for getting lost or injured, etc.

Second, most  jurisdictions I know of prohibit human waste disposal in the garbage. Is there a legal way to get rid of waste bags one has carried out?

Thanks for comments!

I wonder how much off trail damage would occur? I know a little of that would be preferable to having to smell feces and step over it on trail or summit, which always amazed can someone walk miles to summit or camp and then crap right on it? Even a twenty five foot hike off trail would be highly preferable.

A pig won't crap where it eats or sleeps unless the pigpen is to why do humans do it?

Lynn, as Old Guide notes, there would probably be little off trail damage. 200 feet may be a bit far in some cases, but if by going 200 feet there is potential to get lost, you probably should be out there. As well, larger animals like bears use the trails the same as humans, so cat holes are better way off trail.

Judging from the amount of TP I saw from the trail last week I think there is some truth to that statement Lynn. Lots of folks are squatting right next to the trail and not bothering with holes. Disgusting.

Concentrating waste in a modern moldering or composting privy is far better than poop blossoms everywhere. Design, location and upkeep make the difference between good or bad, but with growing numbers of hikers out there they make sense.

I don't often see poop bombs, trail side, but so see LOTS of TP donations left by females cleaning up after they pee.  Perhaps trailhead signs specifically addressing this issue are in order. 

Usually I don't see Poop bombs near camp sites, either, but venture a nominal distance from a camp and all the promising relief sites are loaded up, such that you can't dig a cat hole without striking a turd truffle.  I have seen where some folks in locations with scarce, suitable, cat hole terrain actually mark their deposit with a ring of small stones.  Dig elsewhere!


If you camp at an Adirondack leanto in the winter DO NOT walk behind it. The amount of waste and tp is both incredible and disgusting.

Yes! A thread about poops that I don't usually see in hiking/camping forums. It is nice to discuss this matter as this is something we should be conscious about. This is the first time I knew that you need to dig at least 6-8 inches deep, usually I go with 4-5. 

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