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When Nature Calls and You're in Nature 

Note: Adapted and excerpted from 'Soft Paths' (1995)
 by Bruce Hampton and David Cole 

This can be a touchy subject for some people. 
I will take it very seriously, because going poo-poo and wee-wee in the wilderness is a serious subject.

It really is a subject worth discussing. How we handle human waste in the back country has a major impact on the environment and our health.

There are six methods of handling it: 

1. Outhouses or Bathrooms

2. Pack it out 

3. Cat Holes 

4. Surface Disposal 

5. Latrine 

6. Go wherever you feel like it - Who cares?


Number one in the list is the most preferable since the outhouses and bathrooms have been provided for you in appropriate locations. For many family campers and car campers this is the obvious choice.

The  information following this icon pertains to Backcountry Camping. (Extreme camping, deep woods, no modern facilities, etc.)

For locations where outhouses/bathrooms are unavailable Packing it Out is the best choice. It may not be the most practical or the favorite choice, but in terms of environmental impact it is the best. Usually, this is done by boaters or horse packers since they can carry portable toilets. Backpackers and campers however can pack it out if they choose to do so. Use a brown paper back inside of a heavy duty ziplock bag that has been covered in duct tape. Be sure to mark the bag well so there are no unpleasant surprises.

The  information following this icon pertains to Backcountry Camping. (Extreme camping, deep woods, no modern facilities, etc.)

For those that can't or decide not to pack it out, the most common choice for backpackers and campers when bathrooms are not around is number three - Cat Holes. The best site for a cat hole is at least 200 feet from any water source, trail, or campsite. Using a garden trowel (often called a "woogie shovel") dig a hole 6 to 8" deep and 6" wide. Take care of business in the hole, and when you are finished just stir in some dirt with a stick and cover with 2 to 4" of topsoil. Make sure you cover the area with leaves, sticks, and duff to make the site camouflaged.

The  information following this icon pertains to Backcountry Camping. (Extreme camping, deep woods, no modern facilities, etc.)

Next up is Surface Disposal. This is done by smearing the feces with a rock or a stick so that it is completely exposed to the sun and air. This increases the rate of decomposition. Surface disposal is not legal in some places so be sure to check before you do this. It should also only be done where there is little soil in remote areas that people are unlikely to visit. Also, make sure that it is at least 200 feet away from water.

The  information following this icon pertains to Backcountry Camping. (Extreme camping, deep woods, no modern facilities, etc.)

A Latrine is sort of like a cat hole, only it is bigger and used by more than one person. It is a pit that is at least 12" deep and 16" wide. After someone is done, they should cover it up with soil and compress it. When the latrine gets to within 4" of the top it should be completely filled in and camouflaged. Once again, make sure the latrine is at least 200 feet away from water. Latrines have become less favorable because they create a much larger impact than scattered cat holes.

Finally, we've come to option number six - 
Go Wherever-Who Cares.
Unfortunately, some people choose this method more frequently than you might think. It leads to contaminated water which leads to health hazards, and it can be quite a disgusting discovery if you are the next person to come along. This is the worst method of handling human waste, and it should never be done. Enough said about that.

There is one last thing that needs covering, and that's the use of toilet paper. If you use methods one or two (bathrooms and outhouses or packing it out), then toilet paper is fine. If you use the other methods and choose to use toilet paper you should at least pack it with you until you can burn it in a very hot camp fire. A better option is to use Mother Nature's TP. This can be sticks (avoid bumpy ones), leaves (avoid poison ivy), rocks (avoid sharp ones), and my personal favorite - snow (avoid yellow snow). You might be surprised how comfortable it can be, and the snow can be invigorating and refreshing as well!

So the next time nature calls when you're in nature, you will know what to do and how to do it. For more detailed information on handling human waste in the wilderness as well as Leave No Trace outdoor ethics, just pick up a copy of Soft Paths (1995) by Bruce Hampton and David Cole. You should also check out the Leave No Trace web site at:


Article by Lukas Lamb - Owner, www.BetterCamper.Com

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