In the world of backpacking, the topic that gets comparatively very little attention or discussion is the mechanics of pooping without the aid of a toilet. As with many tasks in life, there isn’t necessarily a ‘right’ way to do it. There are, however, effective and ineffective ways to do it. The technique described here is one that I’ve found to be effective.
Choosing where you are going to poop is the first step and there are several important considerations. Rarely will you ever find the ‘perfect’ place to vacate your bowels, so you’ll likely have to make the best of it.
You’ll want to find a spot that is 50-100 yards from camp or the trail. You can’t always get this kind of distance, but it’s a good idea to keep the stink as far away from where you’ll be sleeping as possible.
Line of Sight
Once you think you’ve found a good spot, be sure to look back towards camp or the trail to see if you can still see it. A small depression or a fallen or standing tree are great options for providing privacy. Also, be sure to look all around to see if you’ve accidentally walked towards another trail by mistake.
Despite your best efforts, there is a good chance that eventually someone is going to see you pooping and that you’ll see someone else pooping. If you’re caught in the act, smile and wave. Don’t try to cover up, you’ll just make a mess. If you see someone else, give them a nod that lets them know that you acknowledge their existence and recognize their humanity, then turn around or back track to give the their privacy.
Soft, flat earth next to a fallen tree is the best for pooping. You need to be able to dig a small hole that is about 6 inches deep and 4 inches in diameter and soft dirt is the easiest to dig in. If you can’t find level ground, it’s best to poop facing uphill. A nearby tree will offer privacy as well as something to hold on to for extra stability.
To get the job done, you really don’t need anything. Humans have been pooping in the woods for thousands of years. However, there are a few things that will make the experience less unpleasant that are well worth the weight in your pack.
Also known as “Mountain Money”, toilet paper is the most basic and helpful item to aid you in your journey to poop in nature. When you go backpacking, you don’t need to bring an entire roll. On the high side, most people poop twice a day. If you figure that you use three squares of TP for each wipe and need four wipes per poop, you’re looking at 24 squares of TP per day as a high average.
Hand Shovel (Trowel)
Your trowel is what you’ll use to dig the hole. This can be anything, but I like to use a small, bright orange plastic trowel. Lighter is better, but the most important characteristic is that it is able to dig a small hole.
While optional, baby wipes provide a sense of luxury that is incredibly revitalizing. You can use these instead of TP, but as they’re moistened, they tend to weigh a lot more. One or two wipes per poop should do the trick.
You’ve selected your site and you’ve got your supplies. Now it’s time to do the deed.
Dig a Hole
Use your trowel to dig a hole about 6 inches deep and 4 inches in diameter. Then plant the trowel nearby with your roll of TP on it so that you can reach it when you squat.
Drop Your Pants
Lower your pants so that the waist is about at your knees. Any lower and you risk impairing your ability to balance. Any higher and you run the risk of soiling the waistline.
Squat down so that your butt cheeks rest on your heels. This will help with balance and by turning your heels out slightly, you can reduce the risk of smearing your cheeks.
Every single time I poop, I first have to pee. Be ready for this by using your hand to aim your pee away from your pants or boots. Down at the ground is a good option and try to reduce the pressure as much as you can to avoid splash-back.
I find that leaning forward slightly and bracing myself with a hand on the ground in front of me helps stabilize me and reduces the risk of falling backwards into my poop.
Having emptied your bowel, it’s time to start cleaning up. Using the TP that is on your trowel, use however many squares you need, but remember that what you’ve got is all you’ve got. After each wipe, drop the used toilet paper into the hole.
If you have baby wipes, now is a good time to use one. Holding it open flat in your hand and with each wipe, fold it in half to use a clean portion of the wipe. You can typically get 2 or 3 good passes with one fresh wipe if you use toilet paper first.
While at first this may seem like a silly thing to have to call out, things can go horribly wrong here. When you stand up, be sure to lean forward so that if you lose your balance you end up on the ground in front of you rather than sitting in your own poop. Once you’re upright, pull up your pants and button up.
If your bombing run missed the target, you’ll need to get a stick or rock to push the poop and toilet paper back into the hole. Cover the hole with the dirt that you dug out to make it. Try to avoid having your trowel come into direct contact with your poop as you’ll need to put it back in your pack.
There’s a good chance that since you found this spot to be a good place for pooping, that someone else will also. Do the next guy a favor and find some way to make it clear that a human pooped there. Placing a stick vertically in the freshly covered hole is a good way to let the next guy know to avoid digging right there. Alternatively, stacking two rocks over the hole can also serve as an effective warning.