Now that you have Peeing in the Woods down to a science, let’s talk more about Pooping in the Woods. Intimidating? Yes. Does it have to be? No.
Best Practices- the most common way to dispose of your waste properly is the cat hole. Backpacking Lore traces the naming of the “cat hole” back to your common house cat, who although doesn’t dig a hole to poop in, will cover up their poop after using the bathroom. Now days though the common cat may be more likely to use your toilet and flush afterwards.
Knowing where to Poop:
*200 feet (think 70 adult steps) from all water sources, trails, and camp sites
*avoid areas where there is obvious water run off (drainages and such) – this will drain back into your valuable water sources
*look for a nice flat spot preferably or a GENTLE hillside, (pooping on an incline is no fun but sometimes you don’t have a choice)
*look for easy digging (avoid rocky and rooty areas if possible- this is where a true trowel will come in handy)
*look for an out of the way location where others are less likely to wander
So now that you found your view for your poo. You should have on hand toilet paper or some kind of natural wiping material. You should also have a trowel or a digging apparatus of some kind.
*You want your cat hole between 6 to 8 inches deep, roughly the depth of a Nalgene Water Bottle and 4 to 6 inches in diameter.
Technique: When digging your cat hole, mound the dirt up on one side of your respective hole. This will allow for an easier fill in of the cat. It is common to get excited while digging the cat and start throwing your precious soil behind you.
Natural Toilet Paper Options: Everyone is different but some people swear by the natural toilet paper method, here are some options: Snow (this one is especially refreshing), leaves- your going to have to know your poison ivies/oaks/sumacs on this one (from experience big tulip poplar and mullen leaves work well and juniper tree sprigs out west), smooth river rocks, grasses and rounded, smooth bark less sticks. Some people even use water when it is plentiful. (Remember this is water from your water bottle and nowhere near your water source!)
What to do with your used natural t.p.? The best practice is burying it in the cat hole as well, if it won’t fit make sure it is placed somewhere inconspicous.
Digging Apparatus: Once again a personal preference- the most important thing is that you can dig down deep enough. Factor in both how long it will take to dig a good cat hole and the durability of the digging apparatus. Some options: heavier duty snow stakes (takes longer to dig your hole, but is lighter then the typical trowel), the heel of your shoe (in my experience near impossible except in very, very soft soil), a good old stick (just make sure it’s not rotted- works great in sandy areas but not many other places, when I worked in Utah we utilized fire hardened digging sticks for all our digging needs), the tip of a trekking pole (once again will take longer, won’t work really well in rocky or rooty soil) or a trowel. Remember not all trowels are created equally. Plastic trowels will work great in easy soil but you may want to invest in an aluminum or stainless steel if you are encountering variable terrain.
Montbell Handy Scoop (1.4 oz)
Sea to Summit I-Pood Trowel (3.5 oz)
Snow Stake (1 oz)
Just remember your cat hole depth should be 6 to 8 inches deep.
The Pooping Stance: Definitely a personal preference type of thing, but in life we like to have options. Here are a few but not all:
*The Free Style Squat- yes this works great as long as those good knees are still around.
*The Supported Squat- find a nice tree or downed log that will provide a supportive back rest and maybe a hand hold to help yourself back up.
*The Overhanging Squat- if you can find a nice down log you can potentially sit on the log as your seat and do your business- nice to have one if not two hand holds for this stance. (Check for snakes who like to curl up under things just so you won’t have any nasty surprises.)
Most importantly find the stance that is most comfortable for you. This might take a little bit of practice to find out what is comfortable- but don’t worry you will get it. Remember to fully get your clothes out of the way. A hiking partner of mine, I won’t reveal his true name, is deathly afraid that he will poop in his pants while utilizing a cat hole which is one reasons why he wears a skirt in the woods. Skirts do come in handy for dispelling the option to ever poop in your pants while using a cat.
Set the Mood:
Settle in and enjoy the view. Bring what you need to make yourself comfortable. If you have never dug a cat, it can be handy to dig a cat the evening before. This way you can choose a proper spot, dig a great cat, and know you will not be running to go in the morning. Just remember where you dug it.
Use your toilet paper of choice to cleanse yourself. The best practice is to carry out your used toilet paper if it is not the natural kind- double bagging in freezer Ziplocs usually does the trick to keep down the smell and gross factor. Some people like using wet ones or a baby wipes (go for unscented) of some kind to use alongside toilet paper, this allows for use of less toilet paper and you will feel cleaner.
*Per Leave No Trace you can also bury your toilet paper- a less acceptable practice, use toilet paper sparingly and bury it thoroughly in your cat. One of the problems that have occurred is lovingly referred to as Charmin Lilies, which really aren’t loveable at all. This is where after rain storms and over time, the used toilet paper in popular and not so popular campsites start poking it’s head out, that is enough to take away a breathtaking moment with nature. So make sure you are digging your cat to an appropriate depth. So whatever option you choose use your common sense and be responsible with your toilet paper. Do not burn your toilet paper.
*Chances are the longer you spend time in the woods, the more important packing out your t.p. will be to you.
Now that you’ve pooped and have disposed of your toilet paper in a responsible fashion your going to need to cover up your hole. Fill it in with the dirt that you’ve set aside. In general, if you feel comfortable walking over your spot after filling your cat hole in, you’ve done a good job of achieving the correct depth and have covered your cat hole appropriately. Naturalize the area so it will look like you haven’t been there. Everyone’s stance is a little different on this- some will leave an x made out of twigs to mark their spot or some other reminder- just in case someone wanders into the same area.
Wash those hands of yours in some fashion- hand sanitizer works well. Others like carrying a small bottle of Dr. Bronner’s super concentrated natural soap- if you use this option make sure you are far from your water sources.
Now that you are feeling more comfortable with pooping in the woods- remember to check local land regulations to make sure that cat holes are in fact the best practice where you are going. In some alpine regions you have to pack out not only your toilet paper but your poop. One such place is Mt.Whitney in the Sierra Nevada range of California, the highest peak in the lower 48, which requires your poop to be packed out due to the high traffic and the impossibility of digging a good cat hole in this terrain. Most of the time areas such as this will provide “blue bags” or “wag bags” to pack out your poop. You can also create your own poop tube which is commonly used by climbers, mountaineers, and kayakers. The moral of the story is be prepared, so you don’t end up with any unexpected surprises or leave any unexpected surprises for others!
A brief note on privies- every once in awhile you will come across a coveted (and not so coveted) privy. These are routine on the Appalachian Trail due to the shelter system it houses. On this trail it is a good system due to the high volume of traffic and it limits waste to one spot instead of a multitude (upon multitude) of cat holes. This also allows novice wilderness users to practice a method of waste disposal that is effective. You will not always be close to a privy and often times later in the season or peak season privies can be overflowing so it is still necessary to know how to dig a cat hole. Tips on privy use- do not throw trash in the privy, utilize any composting material that the privy caretakers have left (i.e. duff, wood chips, mulch), and try not to pee in the privy (pee before you go to the privy, the urine makes it hard for the privy to compost effectively.)
Leave No Trace Side Note: In arid environments it is better to dig a shallow cat hole, think 4 to 6 inches. Pick a site that will maximize your cat hole’s exposure to the sun. In heavily traveled areas it is a good idea to try to poop away from your campsites, this allows for cat holes to be dispersed far away from each other.
Hardcore Composting Tip: Mix your poop (once it is deposited in the cat) with a stick and a little bit of organic soil to help your poop break down faster. Just bury your stirrer as well.
Not so Hardcore but a Helpful Tip: Storing all your hygiene supplies together makes life easier. If your in camp all you have to do is grab and go. In a gallon size zip, I keep some wet wipes, some toilet paper, hand sanitizer, my trowel, some femine hygiene products, and a couple extra zips for double bagging. Starting out you might even throw some lightweight reading material in your zip to make yourself comfortable.
Putting it into Practice: Realistically you are going to encounter a few situations where your cat hole does not fall into perfect pooping parameters. There will be times when your going to have to poop, and by that I mean, there is no time to dig a cat. If that happens get as close to an appropriate spot as possible and you can dig your cat after the fact, not optimal, but at some point this is likely to happen. (You can use a stick to move your waste into the cat hole, never use your trowel.) You will encounter terrain where you won’t be able to achieve the desired depth for your cat. ( To clarify I always carry a lightweight trowel because I know I can get the appropriate depth for a cat hole, so I rarely come across a situation where I can’t dig a cat. By no means am I saying bring nothing and just leave a shallow cat. If this situation occurs often you may need a different digging mechanism.) In these situations you do the best you can, sometimes wide and shallow, other times you might be able to find a rock to unearth that will help you get a decent depth. Just do what you can to be considerate of others and follow the disposing of waste guidelines to the best of your ability.
Check out the 3 P’s Board on Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/roamthewoods and stay tuned for our final P.