If nature calls while you’re out in nature, what are you supposed to do?
The issue of pooping and peeing outside has always been important for hikers and backpackers in the Pacific Northwest, but it’s been raised anew this summer amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
With land management agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon Parks and Recreation Department reducing services after layoffs, restrooms and vault toilets at trailheads may be closed or unmaintained, potentially leaving hikers on their own when it comes to relieving themselves outdoors.
In recent years, closed restrooms at outdoor spaces have led to public health problems, due to visitors who leave feces and used toilet paper scattered on the ground. With a little preparation and minimal effort, however, it’s easy to relieve yourself responsibly in nature.
Following some helpful guidance from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, we’ve put together a guide to pooping and peeing outside.
An outdoor toilet kit is necessary to relieve yourself responsibly in nature. A kit should contain a small trowel, toilet paper, hand sanitizer and a resealable plastic bag.
Hikers should never assume that a restroom will be available, and should never assume that they won’t need to poop outside. To avoid putting yourself in an awkward and uncomfortable situation, a little preparation is necessary. Before you go out, assemble a small outdoor bathroom kit with the following items:
Resealable plastic bag
I recommend buying a lightweight or collapsible trowel (available at most outdoor retailers) and making a small kit that you can easily throw into a daypack or a backpack.
When nature calls, the first step is finding a good place to go. Step off the trail or leave your campsite (being mindful of the way back), and find a private, inconspicuous place that is at least 200 feet or 70 big steps away from any trails, campsites or the nearest water source. Find an area with soft ground where you can easily dig a hole.
Dig a hole that is six to eight inches deep, squat down and poop into the hole. Many areas allow people to bury used toilet paper, but in some places (like desert environments and some wilderness areas), you’ll need to pack out the toilet paper with you – that’s where the resealable plastic bag comes in handy. Wrap used toilet paper in a fresh sheet before stowing it away to pack out. Once you’re done, fill the hole with dirt and go about your day.
In some cases, digging a hole isn’t possible. If you’re rock climbing, mountain climbing or hiking in rocky mountainous or desert environments where you can’t feasibly dig a hole (or if you just want to be extra environmentally conscious), you can carry a portable waste management system with you.
One of the best options is the disposable toilet bag, which contains chemical compounds to neutralize odor and help break down feces, and can simply go in a trash can when you get off the trail. If you’re on a multi-day trip, store the sealed bag at the bottom of your backpack, away from your food.
Popular brands include the WAG Bag and Biffy Bag, which are available at some outdoor retailers, including REI.
Peeing outside is considerably simpler than pooping outside, but there are still several environmental considerations to keep in mind.
Just like with pooping, it’s good to walk at least 200 feet from the nearest water source, as contaminants in urine can leak into waterways. When possible, Leave No Trace recommends people urinate on surfaces like rocks, rather than in vegetation, since some animals dig at pee spots to get at salts in the urine.
Used toilet paper should be packed out, so make sure you have that resealable plastic bag in your toilet kit. You can also carry a cloth pee rag that can be washed after use. In some areas, like climbing walls, you’ll need to use a toilet bag for urine as well as poop. Be sure to check local regulations for the area before you leave home.