We all know the trail song, “you’re hiking down the trail, and you think you need a pail ... “ 💩
But in all seriousness, there are some important things to know about what to do when nature calls, in nature.
It may seem odd that wildlife uses the outdoors as their outhouse and that humans should behave differently with their own waste, but there are a couple good explanations for this.
First, coming across human waste and toilet paper on a trail is not the way most folks want to spend a day in the wild. Human waste in popular destinations has become more of an issue in the past couple decades as folks were able to access more remote destinations! Human waste can contain bacteria and viruses and so ensuring that it doesn’t get into any waterways is extremely important (*you wouldn’t want your waste to end up in your drinking water). Also, because human diets are different than animal diets, the waste can attract wildlife. This is certainly something you’d like to avoid especially near your overnight locations. Last, all of us should strive to have the least impact on the natural spaces we enjoy – Principle 3 of the Leave No Trace philosophy is to dispose of waste properly and this includes human waste.
There are a couple practical tips and tricks to be aware of if you need to dispose of human waste in the wild. In most circumstances, burying your waste is an adequate and appropriate method, but in some circumstances, it is recommended that you pack your waste out. Where burying your waste is okay, the primary method is what is called a “cat hole” … yep, you read that correctly, you are trying to imitate what a cat may do in its litter box.
Cat Hole Step by Step:
- Walk a minimum of 70 adult paces from your campsite and maintain at least 70 adult paces from any waterways.
- Dig a hole approximately 15-20 cm deep and 10-15 cm wide.
- Do your business.
- Use a biodegradable toilet paper or natural toilet paper (think large leaves, rocks, etc.)
- Bury the toilet paper and waste with the original soil and cover with twigs, etc.
- Make sure to use a different location next time.
A wag bag which is used to carry out human waste is recommended in locations where it is difficult to get far enough from waterways to prevent the contamination of the water, in very busy areas, or in specifically sensitive areas. Wag bags can be found at your local camping or adventure store.
Supplies you should have handy when you head out on an adventure and won’t have access to bathroom facilities:
- something to dig a 6” hole OR a wag bag
- some biodegradable toilet paper
- hand sanitizer
- a Ziploc bag or similar to store all these materials apart from your other gear
If you’d like more details, check out these articles: