How to Poop in the Woods: A Guide to Answering Nature’s Call

Wondering how to poop in the woods in a safe, clean, and ethical manner? Our guide gives you the complete lowdown on how it’s done, covering everything from pre-poop planning to post-poop cleanups and waste disposal.

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How to Poop in the Woods: A 101 Guide

Wondering how to take care of business in the wilds?

You’re in the right place! In this guide, we will be covering the following:

    • Step-by-step instructions on pooping in the woods and wilds
    • Why interring your turds is necessary
    • Tips on good form and technique
    • How to dig a proper cathole
    • How to leave no trace after answering nature’s calls
    • Advice on pooping policies in wilderness areas and regional or national parks

Human waste is one of the main causes of pollution in popular hiking areas the world over.

For obvious reasons, few of us are enthused by the idea of schlepping our scat back to the trailhead to dispose of it in a safe and suitable manner.

For less obvious reasons, most of us have mastered such things as navigating with a map and compass, scaling tall peaks, traveled myriad miles in rugged terrain, but are less proficient in the art of pooping per the rules of Leave No Trace.

In this guide, we aim to help remedy this inconsistency by teaching you how to poop in the woods or any other wilderness area like a pro.

How to Poo in the Woods: The Logistics

Ethics and Regional Pooping Policies

If bears, foxes, snakes, and moose can all poop in the wilds, why can’t we? 

On the face of it, human feces don’t appear entirely different to those of other mammals, but there are several reasons why leaving ours in the outdoors is both unethical and out-of-line – beyond, that is, it being plain gross.

  • Unlike other mammals, humans tend to poop in similar places repeatedly. In poop-rich environments, multiple strains of bacteria such as E. coli can thrive, which could pose a health hazard to animals and other humans
  • A significant amount of human food is processed and contains elements that can harm the environment and wild animals
  • Poo pathogens can be carried into water sources used by humans and animals alike by heavy rain, putting them at risk of water-borne diseases like giardia 
  • Unburied poop and toilet paper are unsightly and stinky and detract from the experience of other hikers 
no pooping sign
Unlike other animals, leaving human feces anywhere in the wild is unethical.

Poop Stations

Where are the prime spots for pooping in the outdoors? 

Your first port of call should always be man-made locations, i.e. campsite toilets, pit toilets, or trail outhouses. If none of these are available, find a spot:

  • At least 200 ft. from any water sources, the trail, and your campsite
  • Unlikely to be passed by other hikers (thick undergrowth or hillsides work) 
  • Exposed to sunlight (this speeds up decomposition)
  • With dark soil
  • Where’s there’s no visible evidence of previous water flow (runnels and washes)
  • Where others haven’t pooped – if you’re camping in the same spot for more than one night, don’t go to the same place twice

Pooping Paraphernalia

To successfully and ethically poop in the outdoors, you’ll need a few “tools of the trade”. 

  • A trowel
  • Biodegradable soap and/or hand sanitizer
  • Toilet paper
  • Wag Bags if burying scat is prohibited – in the Go Anywhere Toilet Kit, each Wag Bag pack contains a waste bag, zip-close storage bag, toilet paper, and a hand wipe)

How to Go Without Toilet Paper

As a result of increased visitor numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a higher volume of poop being left in national parks across the US, the National Park Service has started cracking down on crap. 

While most national parks still allow you to bury poop in catholes, many do not allow the burial of toilet paper. This, of course, poses a problem for hikers who like to pamper their posteriors.

However…

Humans survived without TP for a long time before its invention, so there’s no reason why we can make do without it for a few days or weeks while out in the wilds. 

Nature abounds in natural alternatives to toilet paper. Some of the stand-in natural materials you could use include snow, leaves, grass, a smooth rock, and moss. None of these are less sanitary than TP and, except for rocks, can be disposed of just as easily.

If using any of the above, make sure you bury it in your cat hole and use hand sanitizer once you’ve taken care of business.

leaves
Nature’s natural alternative to toilet paper.

The Techniques

1. The Squat

This freestanding style involves, as the name suggests, squatting over your cathole and delivering the goods. Requires good balance and quad strength. Pull pants forward to avoid your turds tumbling onto or into the fabric.

2. The Log-Over-Log

Find a fallen log or tree, sit on it, scoot back until your butt is hanging over the edge, then let the crimp commence. Decent forearm strength is needed to avoid falling backward.

3. The Throne

Find a tree on a slope. With a wide stance, place your feet roughly one foot from the tree’s uphill side, facing outwards. Lean back into the tree, squat down to a comfortable position, then pull the trigger. Sturdy tree required.

4. The Pole Dance Delivery Method

Find a tree with a thin but sturdy trunk. Grab this with both hands, position your feet near the base, squat back, then let fly. Make sure your butt is facing downhill to avoid your turds rolling onto your feet.

thin tree
A perfect specimen of a tree to practice the pole dance delivery method with!

How to Dig Catholes

If nature calls when you’re far from a man-made toilet, the “cathole” is the most suitable way to dispose of your waste. 

Here’s how to dig a good hole:

  • Find a spot 200 feet from campsites, trails, and waterways
  • Find a patch of loose, rich soil that’s exposed to the sun (this will help the scat decompose more quickly)
  • Using a stick or trowel, dig a hole measuring 6–8 inches deep by…as wide as you need (usually 4–6 inches) 
  • Brush the soil removed from the hole away from the edges of the hole to avoid it being contaminated by off-target turds
Digging a cathole with a trowel
Dig a 6-8 inches deep cathole using your trowel.

The alternative to catholes? 

In arid climates, some hikers use the “smear technique”, which involves spreading your scat in a thin layer across the ground. The theory behind this technique is solid: the feces will dry up quickly in the sun and be blown away by the wind quickly. As you can imagine, however, it would pose a serious (and unsightly) problem in more popular hiking areas. 

Pooping in the Woods: Step-by-Step Instructions

1. Location, Location, Location

Finding a suitable location for pooping in the woods or anywhere else in the great outdoors isn’t tricky. As mentioned above, find a spot that’s at least 200 feet from any campsite, water source, or trail. If you have to walk a little further to find a spot that’s hidden from other hikers, do so.

suitable location for pooping
Find a suitable location in the woods, away from the campsite and from other passing hikers.

2. Dig a Cathole

Digging a cathole directly under where you plan on pooping requires good aim. For this reason, it’s often easier to poop in a comfortable location and then, post-poop, transport your turd to a more suitable burial ground. This is especially true if using the throne method because the roots of the tree will probably preclude digging a hole to the desired depth (around six inches deep).

Because transportation can be tricky, we recommend laying your log alongside your cat hole. From there, it can be tumbled into its tomb with a stick or a trowel. 

3. Squat

Choose your style from the above options. Our preferred pooping position is the Pole Dance, though your choice will ultimately be dictated by the availability of suitable trees.

4. Squeeze

Squeeze.

5. Cover and LNT

Bury your poop and used toilet paper (biodegradable only!) in the hole. Fill in the hole with the original dirt and then place a large rock and other natural materials like dead branches, pine needles, or twigs over the burial area – this will deter animals from “gravedigging” and other hikers from inadvertently disinterring your scat when seeking to inter some of their own.

Leaves and sticks on forest floor
Remember to fill the hole and cover with debris after you’ve done the deed.

6. Wipe and Wash

Wipe your butt clean with the aforementioned toilet paper, leaves, smooth rocks, etc. Dispose of these as per the rules of the land you’re laying your turd in. If poops can be buried, bury them together, so long as your TP is biodegradable. If they can’t, pack them in a sealable plastic bag (or three) and carry them to the nearest waste disposal point. 

After burying or packing your poop away, wash your hands thoroughly to avoid contamination.

What About Peeing?

Peeing in the wild is, thankfully, far less complicated than pooing – but that doesn’t mean we can go doing it willy-nilly and wherever we please.

Here are a few guidelines to follow:

  • As with pooing, make sure you’re 200 ft. from campsites, trails, and waterways that may provide drinking water for wild animals
  • Never pee in sensitive areas with delicate flora – some wild animals are big fans of human pee (or, rather, its salt content) and will dig up and destroy plant life to get to it
  • For the same reason, pee on rocks when in alpine areas where goats might dig up fragile soil to get to your urine
  • Never pee directly into small bodies of water like ponds or streams which may cause water contamination
  • With more sizeable bodies of water, such as a very large river or lake, you can, according to LNT, pee directly into the water (in this case, the sheer volume of water will dilute the pee enough to prevent saturation) 
Ptarmigan Lake, rocky mountain national park
Peeing in a larger body of water will dilute the deposited urine.

Happy Pooping!

Our hiking trails are now experiencing more traffic than at any other time in history. Given this, it’s becoming increasingly important that we take every measure possible to protect the wild areas in which they lie. One of the most crucial of these measures, for the environment, wildlife, and fellow hikers alike, is to poop in accordance with Leave No Trace principles.

By following the above tips, you’ll be doing your part and helping to ensure our cherished wild places remain as pristine as possible for the wildlife that calls them home and future visitors.

If you liked this article or have any questions about pooping when camping or hiking, drop us a line in the box below. And if you’d like to share this post with your friends, please do!

Last update on 2022-10-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Kieran James Cunningham is a climber, mountaineer, and author who divides his time between the Italian Alps, the US, and his native Scotland.

He has climbed a handful of 6000ers in the Himalayas, 4000ers in the Alps, 14ers in the US, and loves nothing more than a good long-distance wander in the wilderness. He climbs when he should be writing, writes when he should be sleeping, has fun always.

Kieran has taught mountaineering, ice climbing, and single-pitch and multi-pitch rock climbing in a variety of contexts over the years and has led trekking and mountaineering expeditions in the Alps, Rockies, and UK. He is currently working towards qualifying as a Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor and International Mountain Leader.

Kieran’s book Climbing the Walls—an exploration of the mental health benefits of climbing, mountaineering, and the great outdoors—is scheduled for release by Simon & Schuster in April 2021.

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