If you’re in the woods for more than a day, chances are you’ll need to know the business of doing your business, that is, knowing how to poop in the woods. All crappy jokes aside, knowing how to poop in the woods is an important topic. There are even entire books written on the subject (see How to Shit in the Woods, seriously, it’s a goodie). During winter, however, there are a few some special considerations.
So why is it important to know the right way to poop in the woods? Well, for a couple of reasons. First, feces can contaminate groundwater and contributes to illnesses such as giardiasis, also known as “beaver fever”. It carries a lot of pathogens and it’s not environmentally friendly to contaminate our streams and lakes.
And second, nobody likes to see other people’s poop in the woods when they are out enjoying nature, or anywhere else really. That’s why it’s always a good idea to take care of your human waste properly.
How to Poop in the Snow
Normally in the summer, you can do your business by digging a cathole, then burying the feces. But in the winter, when there’s 4 feet of snow over frozen ground, this method just doesn’t work.
So how do you do you poop in winter? Well, the best answer, no matter the season and location, is to pack it out. In fact, in some areas, packing out human waste is mandatory.
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Packing It Out
Packing out human waste is the preferred and recommended method. Packing it out means using the good old baggy method to carry out your waste. Some areas such as sensitive areas, national parks, and other high use areas even require it.
If everyone in well-traveled areas were able to bury their poop, it would be a bad situation. I’ve personally been sites where there were toilet paper and poop everywhere. Yeah, gross. It’s not respectful to hikers or the environment.
So, how do you pack your poop out?
To pack out human waste, you’ll need a WAG bag. A WAG Bag is a Waste Alleviation and Gelling bag designed specifically discarding human waste. WAG Bags are sometimes called blue bags. The name “blue bag” comes from blue WAG bags handed out to hikers at Mt. Rainier.
Some hikers even carry a “poop tube”. A poop tube is a 4-inch diameter PVC pipe that hikers use to carry their waste. Poop tubes are popular among climbers and hikers who need to pack out their poop over several days.
Using WAG Bags
Carrying out your poo is not something that sounds very appealing. Fortunately, WAG Bags have gotten pretty sophisticated and make going in the woods really easy.
The Go Anywhere Toilet Kits by CleanWaste comes with all the convenience you need, when you need it. These large Go Anywhere bags have a wide opening and come loaded with special pooh-powder to solidify any liquid.
What’s really nice about Go Anywhere bags is that you can really go anywhere. You don’t have to worry about being away from streams or digging catholes, which is a huge convenience.
And to make sure you stay clean, each Go Anywhere bag comes with toilet paper and a hand sanitizer wipe. It’s basically your complete camping poop kit. Bringing your own sanitizer though is never a bad idea.
After you have done your business, just place the waste bag in the sealable transport bag that prevents leaks, punctures, and odors, and then toss it in the trash on your way out. Easy peasy.
So remember, before your next trip, plan on keeping yourself and nature clean and pick up some WAG Bags.
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Knowing how to squat to poop in the woods requires some strength and dexterity. Hanging onto a tree or sitting over a log can help. But for some, just getting a camping poop chair can be really helpful.
These camping toilets come in various style. some attach right to a bucket, while other systems are foldable chairs that have WAG bag attachments.
Leaving It Out
If you really can’t pack it out and can’t dig a cathole, the next best choice is to have mother nature take care of your nature’s business.
Leaving feces out near the snow’s surface will allow the feces to freeze, thaw, and let the sun’s UV rays kill the pathogens. During the spring, the extra snow will help dilute it as well.
When you use this method, you always want to make sure you are at least 200 feet away from drainages and water sources, off the trail, and a sunny, south facing spot.
Once you find a nice spot, make a flat area with a hole, aim, and do your business. It’s important to make a large enough hole that is wide and deep enough to hold the waste. Overflowing poop holes are not fun!
For this method to work best, feces should be kept in areas with maximum sunshine away from the trail. Be sure to cover the waste to keep it out of sight of other hikers.
What about Toilet Paper?
Even if you aren’t packing out your poo, you should still pack out your toilet paper. Bring an extra bag dedicated for used toilet paper and throw it out at the next trash bin.
And if you don’t have any toilet paper, there’s always snow. Snow actually makes a pretty good wiping material. Yes, it’s cold, but it works. Take off your gloves, make a snowball, and wipe away. Having a nice wiping point on the snowball definitely helps.
If you’re wondering how to pack toilet paper for backpacking, one trick is to wrap the toilet paper around an old credit card. If you’re just car camping, you can just bring an extra roll inside a plastic bag to keep it dry.
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Go before You Need to Go
Like your mother always told you when you were younger, go to the bathroom before your trip. Being preemptive and going number two when it’s easiest is not a bad idea.
By taking advantage of restrooms and outhouses on your trip while you can, you’ll minimize the need to go in the backcountry.
Paying attention to your diet before and during your trip. Eating unfamiliar or greasy foods can upset your bowels and make matters worse.
But alas, having to go to the bathroom in the woods cannot always be avoided.
What about Going Pee?
Now that we covered the fun stuff, what about urinating in the woods?
Peeing in the woods is not nearly a problem compared to its counterpart. Generally, it’s not really an issue. Urine in healthy individuals is sterile, so the health and environmental impacts are much lower.
Still, there are some best practices you should follow when peeing in the woods:
- Pee 200 away from water sources – keep the waterways clean.
- Pee off the trail – the stink builds up and nobody wants to smell that.
- Avoid peeing on plants – the salt attracts animals. Pee on the ground if you can.
- Avoid mixing pee and feces together – urine slows down the feces’ decomposition.
If you’re peeing in the snow, no matter how fun it is for guys to show off, peeing in one spot and covering it after with snow will keep the area looking nice for other hikers and campers.
Practicing Good Hygiene When Camping
One thing to know when camping without a bathroom is practicing good hygiene. Germs are spread more easily when in groups and sharing items.
Some campers even have one pair of gloves when going to the bathroom and another pair of gloves when cooking.
Always wash your hands with sanitizer and if all else fails, try rubbing your hands vigorously through the snow.
Never go to the bathroom around kitchen areas and make sure you wash your hands before cooking.
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What You Need to Know
Human waste is a real environmental concern. The best way to deal with the problem is to pack out your waste. WAG bags are the easiest to deal with and in some places, even required. If you need to go poo in the woods, make sure you are off the trail and 200 feet away from any water sources. And as always, practice safe sanitation by keeping hands and kitchen areas clean.
Photo credit: slashvee