How to go to the bathroom in the woods

If you have never been camping or hiking before then one of the biggest concerns you may face is where to go to the bathroom when nature calls. It is a serious concern that not everyone may know the answer to. Use these tips in order to navigate how to go to the bathroom in the woods like a pro.

How to Pee in the Woods

How to go to the bathroom in the woods

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If you go camping with a group of people, it may be wise to pick out different spots where you can all go when the time comes to use the bathroom. When you are selecting the spot where you wish to relieve yourself you should take certain things into consideration:

  • You should choose a spot that is away from your campsite and any small water source. The recommended distance is about 200 feet, in an effort to be mindful of others as well as keeping small water sources clean.
  • Urinate on flat rocks, gravel, or pine needles if possible since it can protect vegetation from animals that are attracted to salt.
  • If you are in a large body of water such as a river that has a high volume of water then you can pee directly in it since your urine would get diluted. It is also advised to dilute your own urine with a bottle of water if you were to urinate in the woods.

Picking a Position

When you need to use the bathroom in the woods there are many options on how to do so. Here are a few that you may take into consideration:

  • The Squat: When you are squatting the main concern is to have a good balance. To achieve a good balance you will want to have a wide stance. You will need to pull your pants down to your knees to get them out of the line of fire and make sure your shoes are out of the way as well.
  • The Throne: You will need to find a tree that is on a slight hill and make sure you are facing uphill to avoid any of your urine getting on you. Once you are ready you plant your feet firmly on the ground, press back against the tree making sure your thighs are parallel to the ground and you are all good to go!
  • The Tripod: You will need to find a slender tree that is sturdy enough to sustain your weight. Once you have located an adequate tree you will grab it tightly and lean back into a squat with your feet near the base of the tree.
  • The Assist: You will need to look for a fallen log or even a tree stump if possible and take a seat on it. Once you sit you will scoot all the way back and make sure your rear is hanging off as far as possible without falling and you can go ahead and urinate!

How to Poop in the Woods

When you are preparing to go camping, one of the questions that may arise is how you will use the bathroom when you have to poop. Although to many it may seem an unpleasant experience there are some things you will need to make it more bearable.

One of the things you will need to bring aside from toilet paper and hand sanitizer is sealable plastic bags. These bags can be used to store your toilet paper once you have cleaned yourself to reduce littering. If you do not want others to see into these bags some suggest that you may line them with aluminum foil. Another important tool you will need is a camp trowel. Camp trowels are small hand-held tools used for digging the perfect spot to make your deposit.

Picking the Perfect Spot

When choosing a spot to make your deposit it is good to keep a few things in mind. It is suggested that you find a location that is approximately 200 feet from your campsite or any small water source. If you are looking for some privacy it is also suggested that you pick a location with some underbrush to help cover you up. You want to make sure the location you pick has loose, rich soil and plenty of sunlight. If the location has these things it will help decompose your waste more quickly. Remember to dig your hole approximately 4 inches wide and 6-8 inches deep. But if you cannot find an area with loose soil and the ground is too hard or rocky to dig, lift a rock from the ground and use that spot.

The Cover-Up

When you are all finished with your needs, it is time to cover up and get on with your day. You will need to cover up the cathole with the original dirt you have dug up. You will need to make sure the hole is filled completely and if you so wish you can cover it with a rock or branches to discourage any animals from digging it up. If you want to mark the spot and discourage anyone else from using it as their pooping location you may consider placing an upright stick at the site.

Just remember when you are going camping to do your research and find the best camping toilet for you!

If you’re in nature & nature calls, whip out toilet paper, a trowel and start digging! Seriously.

When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. That’s true wherever you are. Whether out for just a day or on a multi-day hike covering miles and miles of mountainside or forested trail, you’ve got to know how to go the bathroom in the woods. It’s the right ethics when in nature.

Just like our bed, stove, food and everything else we need, we bring the facilities with us when we’re out in nature. And just like in “civilization”, there are rules for using them outdoors. The Leave No Trace principles regarding the outdoors applies here, too, although we know we have to leave something behind. There’s just a right way (and a wrong way) to do it.

I remember being out for an overnight hike in Yellowstone National Park when nature called. Traipsing off to find a little privacy, I thought I had all the bases covered, but it turns out I committed several cardinal sins of outdoor bathroom use: being too close to water, too close to camp and too close to the trail.

Best Lessons for Going the Bathroom In Nature

First and foremost, make sure you’re at least 200 feet from any stream, lake or river. It’s important to be far from water because human waste is filled with germs that can cause waterborne parasites to fester and get others (perhaps not you) sick.

Make sure you’re the same distance from your campsite and the trail, too. Human waste will attract critters, so do what you can to not call attention to your whereabouts. There are also aesthetic reasons to do it right. A lot of other people are likely using or will use the same trail, and it’s doubtful that anybody else wants to see or smell our intestinal jetsam.

So we’re clear on that. When picking a spot, give water, the trail and the campsite a WIDE berth. This is vital stuff.

Procedure for Going Potty in Nature

How to go to the bathroom in the woods

Trowel for Digging Poop Holes

Then there is the matter of procedure. While we’re all well-equipped and well-trained to do our business at home, there can be a learning curve when doing it in the woods.

First, find an appropriate spot, preferably in an area other hikers aren’t liable to wander into. For individuals, the Leave No Trace method instructs us to dig what’s called a cathole— a six- to eight-inch deep hole. Underbrush doesn’t count. It’s got to be in the soil. It helps to pack a small trowel for just this purpose.

After taking care of the business, bury the waste thoroughly and cover the upturned earth with ground cover. Remember, no one else wants to find your spot. Human waste remains a biohazard for as long as a year after it’s deposited, so burying and disguising it properly is imperative for aesthetic and health reasons.

TP or No TP

Hikers generally bring TP along for bathroom breaks, and there are a couple of different schools of thought regarding its disposal. Provided it’s unscented, white paper, some say it’s alright to bury it along with the waste. It will, in time, break down, but it can still prove to be a blight on the landscape.

When we’re out in nature, we pack the paper back out. Stuffing it into a sealable, plastic bag is easy and a good way to leave no trace. You might also consider a WAG bag, basically a single-use fill-up station that you tote out. These bags contain a powder that deodorizes the waste and compacts it for easier carrying. The bags themselves are also approved for the landfill. This is the very best way to leave no trace.

However, I would never use one of these in bear country. Instead, I’d recommend:

How to go to the bathroom in the woods

An Odor Proof Bag – Ideal for Dirty TP or Toiletries

The bag we use is above. It’s called an OPSAK. It uses a Leakproof, Airtight Seal that makes it ideal for packing out toilet paper, as well as packing in toiletries if you’re camping in bear country.

An alternative to TP is to user one of Mother Nature’s wipes. Find a few soft leaves (not waxy leaves!) to clean up with, burying them along with the waste. Make sure you test the leaves out first by rubbing them against a less-sensitive part of your body FIRST to ensure no allergic reaction. That would be a real pain in the…

We personally have never experimented with that strategy, but to each their own.

But What About Snow?

Depending on the time of year, the procedure can differ a little. If you’re hiking through snow, the ground might be harder to dig, but dig you must (and don’t just bury it under the snow). Six to eight inches under ground is always the rule.

There are definitely a few rules to adhere to, but doing so helps to ensure a cleaner conscience and a cleaner, unspoiled experience for others. Moreover, it’s better for the land itself.

We have to remember — nature is ours, but it’s not ours to spoil. It’s as much about self-respect as it is about respecting the world around us.

Going to the bathroom in the woods is a bit more involved than at home, but that’s part of the fun. Make it part of your total backpacking experience while leaving the beauty of the outdoors as beautiful as you found them.

Dealing With Wildlife

Personally, I’m petrified of going to the bathroom in the middle of the night while camping in Grizzly Bear habitat.

But fear isn’t the issue of dealing with wildlife — it’s actually SALT.

Mountain goats love their salt. They spend their days searching for it. And they’ll do anything for it:

How to go to the bathroom in the woods

And when you urinate, your urine leaves salt. The amount of salt left depends on where you’re urinating: If you go on the ground and in the dirt, more salt remains. However, by urinating on rocks, you reduce the amount of salt left behind, thereby reducing your impact on nature and further exemplifying Leave No Trace.

So next time you urinate in the Rockies, be sure to urinate on a rock.

What about you? Any poop in the woods tips we’ve left out?

While it might not be a topic you are used to discussing, it’s important to learn how to go to the bathroom while hiking. I’m sure you’ve seen used toilet paper or even poop on the trails. So gross! But more importantly, it pollutes water and can make animals sick.

I’m a Leave No Trace Master Educator and believe it or not, I volunteer to teach people how to go to the bathroom in the woods while reducing their impact on the environment. In this post, I’ll teach you the basics of peeing and pooping while hiking.

Why it’s Important to Go to the Bathroom the Leave No Trace Way

Let’s start with why this is important. Human waste contains all kinds of pathogens that aren’t normally found in nature. If those pathogens get into a water source, they can make people and animals sick. Burying poop gives it time to decompose and the soil filters out the pathogens.

Burying poop also hides it from view, which is great since poop looks gross. But what is even grosser is that many animals like to eat human poop or roll in it. This can attract wildlife to your camp. It also can make animals sick. And no dog owner wants their dog to eat or roll in poop!

Use a Toilet When Possible

How to go to the bathroom in the woods

The outhouse at Whyte Lake

The best way to go to the bathroom in the woods is to use a toilet or outhouse. Do some research ahead of time to find out if there are toilets at the trailhead or anywhere on the trail you are going to hike. While some outhouses can be a bit smelly, it’s better to plug your nose and use the toilet than distribute human waste in the nearby forest.

How to Pee While Hiking

Peeing on the trail is pretty straightforward: head away from water sources, the trail and campsites and find a private spot to go. Urine doesn’t have much effect on animals, plants or soil the way poop does. If possible, try to pee on rocks or gravel rather than plants. Some wildlife, like goats and deer, may be attracted to the salt in pee and will defoliate plants and dig up soil to get to it.

If you use toilet paper to wipe after peeing, pack it out with you in a plastic bag. Toilet paper takes weeks or months to break down and in the meantime, it looks disgusting. Like some female hikers, I swear by a pee cloth. Basically, it’s just a bandana or other cloth you can use as reusable TP, then wash out at home.

How to Poop While Hiking

If you have to poop and can’t make it an outhouse, head 200 feet (70 big steps) away from trails, campsites and water sources. Use a trowel, stick, tent peg, or rock to dig a hole 6” (15cm) deep. Poop in the cat hole, then cover it up with dirt.

How to go to the bathroom in the woods

A Cat Hole for pooping in while hiking

Don’t wait until it’s an emergency to find a place to go. It’s stressful and you’ll likely end up not being able to get far enough off-trail or away from water. If you do find yourself tight for time, find a good spot, poop, then dig a cat hole next to your poop and use sticks to move it into the hole.

Pack out your toilet paper in a plastic bag. You can wrap your used TP in clean TP for modesty. Some people like to bring a bag covered in duct tape to pack out their toilet paper so you can’t see inside. Even when buried, toilet paper takes a few weeks or months to break down. In the meantime, dogs and wildlife like to dig it up. Gross! And please don’t burn your TP – many hikers have accidentally started forest fires that way.

If you don’t have any toilet paper, you can use natural TP like moss, leaves, rocks, or snow. Bury your natural toilet paper in your cat hole.

After you poop, use hand sanitizer to clean your hands well. When hikers get sick, they often think the root of their problem is unclean water. Unfortunately, it’s usually just poor hygiene.

While it isn’t common near Vancouver, in some environmentally sensitive areas like deserts, river canyons, and high mountains, it is best to pack your poop out with you. It’s even required in sensitive high use areas like the mountaineering routes up Washington’s Mount Baker. You can buy commercially available poop bags that even come with material that turns liquid into a gel and neutralizes odors.

Bring a Backcountry Bathroom Kit

I keep a plastic bag with my backcountry bathroom kit in my backpack at all times. That way I’m always prepared to go to the bathroom the Leave No Trace way.

Here’s what’s in my kit:

  • Lightweight hiking trowel
  • Toilet paper
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Extra Ziploc bag to pack out toilet paper
  • Reusable pee cloth

Pack Out Your Dog’s Poop

Just like human poop, dog poop contains all kinds of bacteria that aren’t normally found in nature. Your dog’s poop can make wild animals sick. And it can also attract other dogs who might eat it or roll in it. Gross! Bring poo bags and pack out your dog’s feces. If the smell bothers you, bring a sealed container to put the poo bags in.