Toilet Essentials for Hikers

How to answer nature's call gracefully

Some people say that while you're hiking, the whole world's a toilet. To a certain degree that's true for urine, but feces is a dicier subject. Careless poop habits can contribute to the spread of diseases like giardiasis, and the leftover visual evidence is pretty ugly too.

So, how do you transition gracefully from a sit-down toilet to answering nature's call in the woods? Here's a summary of the rules; the rest is pretty common sense. Click any of the section headers for more detail.

Hands digging with garden fork
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Defecating outdoors is "the big one" most of us might try to avoid, but the rules of engagement are really pretty simple. Depending on the local ecosystem and land-stewardship guidelines, you either bury your poo or pack it out.

For a detailed discussion of how best to pack out poo, I refer you to the delightful volume "How to Sh*t in the Woods" by Kathleen Meyer. (Or click the header, above, for my online guide.) If you're going to bury your feces, the basic procedure is as follows:

  1. Walk at least 200 feet away from camp, the cook area, trails and water sources.
  2. Dig a hole that's 6 to 8 inches deep. (A hand shovel comes in handy, but lightweight-minded folks often use a tent stake or improvise with local materials.)
  3. Take care of business.
  4. Wipe off with local vegetation (put it in the hole) or with toilet paper (pack it out with you in a zip-close plastic bag).
  5. If possible, use a stick to stir your deposit into the dirt -- it'll speed decomposition.
  6. Fill in the hole and disguise it to look like the rest of the surroundings.
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Urine is usually sterile, so where you put it isn't as big a deal as where you put your feces. That said, confining it to toilet areas is usually a good idea -- it reduces the risk of chewing critters being attracted to your living area by the salt content... and it cuts down on the stink!

Here's everything you need to know about peeing in the woods.

Other FAQs about urinating outdoors:

  1. What's the best urine director?
  2. Can women pee in a bottle while backpacking?
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Once you get the hang of going without running water, menstruating outdoors is truly not that big a deal. That said, do leave the scented wet wipes at home (if you want wet wipes, go for the unscented variety) and do pack out used tampons and pads. Have other questions? They may already be answered in my FAQ about menstruating outdoors. More »

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Maloney, Lisa. "Toilet Essentials for Hikers." ThoughtCo, Nov. 22, 2014, thoughtco.com/toilet-essentials-for-hikers-1766208. Maloney, Lisa. (2014, November 22). Toilet Essentials for Hikers. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/toilet-essentials-for-hikers-1766208 Maloney, Lisa. "Toilet Essentials for Hikers." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/toilet-essentials-for-hikers-1766208 (accessed November 19, 2017).