Pooping while out hiking. We’ve all got to do it. It’s simply the natural order of things.
Poop is not the most pleasant of subject matters, for sure, but one that has to be addressed. Especially given the all-too-frequent examples of disgusting behavior I’ve witnessed on the trail. I’m tired of looking at hiker poop, smelling it, stepping in it, and cleaning up the unsanitary deposits others have thoughtlessly left behind.
I could cite enough improper poop finds over the years to write a book, but what’s really got my hiking shorts in a twist is my latest discovery on the AT late last summer. I had hiked into a campsite with trail tools to do some routine brush clearing and then clean up around the shelter, which is my turnaround point.
Relaxing with the lean-to register book after lunch, nature’s urge came on and I headed up a side path to the privy. Not a dozen feet away, I stopped cold. At my feet, right there in open sight, was an enormous human turd, complete with streamers of white toilet paper and a swarm of flies. I could hardly believe my eyes.
I grabbed the shovel off the shelter wall and set about digging a proper hole on the spot, buried the whole mess, and covered it over natural-like. I’ve got a weak stomach for such things and my lunch barely stayed down, but I completed the task, albeit with a goodly number of choice words for the perpetrator.
Let me make myself clear right here and now: Any hiker who cannot properly take care of their “business” on the trail has no business being out there. Period, end of story. Poor hygiene practices diminish the hiking experience and degrade the natural environment – and worse, endanger the health and safety of other hikers.
THERE ARE NO EXCUSES FOR LEAVING A TRACE
Let’s review proper pooping protocol so we’re all on the same page.
Your trail toilet kit should include toilet paper in a plastic bag, a backpacker trowel, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, and a freezer bag for packing out used items. Keep it handy.
If there’s a privy (aka an outhouse) at the trailhead, on the trail or in camp, use it. Privies help concentrate human waste in well-used areas. If it’s a simple pit privy or a composting privy, poop inside but pee outside away from the structure, as urine dramatically increases the odor factor. It’s okay to pee in a moldering privy. Trail clubs usually have signage indicating what’s what, but when in doubt, pee somewhere else.
When there’s no privy available, which is a lot of the time, you’ve got to dig a cathole. Grab your kit and walk at least 200 feet away from any trail, water source or campsite. Go further if you can, but not so far that you get lost (it happens). Take note of where you left the trail and your pack and glance back as you go to keep your bearings.
At your chosen spot, use your trowel to dig a hole 6-to-8 inches deep and 4-to-6 inches across. I know a lot of hikers who think you can dig a proper hole without a trowel; you can’t. Buy one, carry it and use it.
Drop your business into the hole. Use a stick to mix some loose dirt into your poop, which hastens the decomposition process and helps discourage critters from digging things up. Fill in the hole and cover it over, leaving the site in as natural a state as possible.
Bury your toilet paper with the mess, or better, place it in a freezer bag to pack out (required now in many areas). Baby wipes and sanitary napkins are not biodegradable, so put them in the bag too. Then use your hand sanitizer to thoroughly cleanse your hands. Grab your toilet kit and you’re done.
In winter, the procedures are slightly different. Select a site as outlined above, do your thing, cover your waste with snow, and pack out the used toilet paper and such.
Proper hygiene practices are essential to your own health and that of others on the trail. Please do it right. And if others less experienced or forgetful need a reminder, gently educate them.
For an overview of the seven principles of Leave No Trace, visit www.lnt.org.