Toilet Essentials for Hikers

How to Answer Nature's Call Gracefully

Hands digging with garden fork
Stephen Swain Photography/Photodisc/Getty Images

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.

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Basic Poop Etiquette

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 more detailed discussion of how best to pack out poo, check out the delightful volume "How to Sh*t in the Woods" by Kathleen Meyer. 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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All About Urine

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! You can also try peeing in a bottle.​

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Menstruating Outdoors: Not a Big Deal

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.