Yeah, not the loveliest topic to dig into – but as the popular children’s book proclaims “Everyone Poops”. Regardless of age, gender identity or reproductive phase, nature calls us all. If you’ve been wandering trails and bagging peaks your whole life, you’ll likely already have your own strategies and systems for this oh-so-natural part of being in the wild (and please, chime in!). But if adventuring out of range of flush toilets is new to you, read on!
This is a little talked about subject that actually requires some skill, information and practice. Improperly disposed of human feces run the risk of contaminating water sources, attracting wildlife and generally dirtying an area for future visitors. There’s truly nothing worse than thinking that you’ve found the perfect rock or tree to enjoy your lunch only to discover a pile of poop and used toilet paper.
Let’s start simple. Here are a few things to consider with peeing in the wild.
- Pee away from trails and water sources (100 feet is generally acceptable).
- If your anatomy is of the type that prefers a wiping, never leave any toilet paper behind. Burying it doesn’t make it go away! A simple system for packing out your TP is a small ziplock bag.
- If you are on a longer adventure, packing out that much TP can add up. Here are a couple of other strategies: the “shake dry”, the nearby leaf or rock wipe, or my personal favorite the pee rag. Yup, a pee rag. It’s essentially reusable TP. I quarter an old handkerchief (but any fabric will do) and sew up the edges. Use it like TP, stash it and rinse it out periodically throughout the day.
- Ladies, there are times when you might need to be more discreet or stay protected from the elements (blizzards, mosquitoes or poison oak, for example). For this, there are urinary directors. They are as weird as they sound. It’s kinda like giving yourself male parts for a brief moment. I first used one of these while big wall climbing in Yosemite and needed to have a way of peeing off our portaledge (hanging tent platform). These devices are clever and effective – but it takes some practice to pee clothed and standing up if you’ve never done this before. It’s strange, for sure, but it’s a tool that you might need at some point. If you aren’t interested in spending $20 on this funnel like device, I’m sure that you could craft your own from a plastic water bottle or even use an old kitchen funnel.
- Most kids find it so natural to pee outside and will have no trouble with this.
Yup, EVERYBODY POOPS. This one can be harder for some folks so let’s dig a little deeper!
- Be prepared with a poop-kit that includes a trowel, TP or wipes, a bag for carrying out soiled paper and some hand sanitizer.
- Pick a location that isn’t going to contaminate a water source (again, 100 feet away). Move away from trails and other places where people might later want to hang out. Find a spot that is suitable for digging. Dig a cat hole, at least 6 inches deep. (NOTE: There are some locations that have different requirements, particularly locations that see a lot of visitors or canyons that are hard to get further from 100 feet from water. Be sure to check with local recommendations.)
- Take care of business, pack up all of your used paper and refill your cat hole being mindful not to directly make contact between your trowel and your poop. Often times people will top off the cat hole with a small rock as a sign to the next hiker to find another location to dig their hole. Use a squirt of sanitizer and you’re done!
A couple of thoughts specifically on kids and pooping in the wild. Here are some tricks to lessen the challenge.
- Travel with a kids potty! True, it’s another piece of gear that you’ll need to haul but there are times when this is the best option. We started potty training one of our sons just prior to leaving on a backpacking trip in Zion. Naturally we didn’t want to undo all of the progress that we had made on this front so we strapped a potty to our pack and hit the trails. There are some great travel potties that are designed to be used with a disposable bag. Ditch the bags and plop one of these over your cat hole. It’ll almost feel like pooping at home – except you’ll likely have a better view!
- Model your pooping system in the woods to your kid. It sounds weird, I know. But seriously, it’s one thing to verbally tell your toddler that it’s okay to squat and poop in a hole. It’s an entirely different thing for them to witness their adult actually doing this. Our backpacking toddler was really struggling with this one but after one session helping dig the hole and watching dad take care of business, he got on board!
And for the kids that are still sporting diapers…
- If you plan to get outside early in your child’s life (and you don’t practice the diaper-free elimination communication, or EC for short), you’ll likely come up against the diaper dilemma. Don’t let the diaper challenge prevent you from getting outside. There are plenty of creative solutions that just require a little bit of though beforehand.
- Let’s start fairly simple. If you are just out for the day or are camping in an established campground, I would recommend using your normal disposable or cloth diaper system and plan to bring a bag to carry out any dirtied diapers. Some families that typically use cloth diapers choose to use disposable diapers for outings and adventures (they last longer and you can dispose of it whenever you hit your first trashcan).
- Things are a bit trickier if are planning a longer excursion that takes you away from bathrooms, washing sinks and trash cans for multiple days. I’ve heard of some people sticking with disposable diapers and just carrying them out. Another solution that we’ve used extensively is investing in flat cotton diapers ($3 each) with washable diaper covers ($15/each). Flat diapers are much larger than the typical cloth prefold diaper, have the added challenge of learning some cool origami folding techniques to effectively wrapping them around your child and are much thinner making them easier to wash and dry outdoors.
- If you are disposing of kid’s poop from their potty or diaper, it is essential to use the same “Leave No Trace” techniques as you would for any other feces.
- If you are washing cloth diapers, bring a collapsible camp bucket to fill with water and wash the diaper well away from any water source, again burying any feces in a cat hole.