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For people looking to go backpacking in the woods and backcountry camping, it is important to know how to properly manage human waste. This includes both poop and toilet paper, so is it legal to poop in the woods?
While not illegal in most backcountry areas there are rules to responsibly doing your business in the woods, leave no trace was established to help respect nature and to keep the woods pristine for the next visitor.
Since you are looking at taking a thru-hike you really need to start building a better understanding of being at one with nature. You need to know the signals of when you need to go along with the best ways to manage human waste and toilet paper.
Why Do You Need to Be So Responsible?
With hundreds to thousands hiking on trails each year if proper management of waste isn’t done it could lead to an unsightly and unhealthy situation, things like toilet paper blooms are gross.
Managing your waste while on the trail comes down to having the proper supplies such as a trowel, packing out your poop in a WAG bag or cat hole digger, and lastly how much toilet paper you should bring.
How Much Toilet Paper Do Hikers Carry Between Towns?
A common question when it comes to backpacking is how much toilet paper should I pack? The answer is there really is no “correct” answer on how much toilet paper to pack.
In general, though most need at least 4-5 squares per bathroom trip, if you should have stomach issues and need more you may want to over-estimate as at least toilet paper isn’t heavy.
It really comes down to preference, but consider how often you’ll need to go and how much you’ll need per visit.
How to Poop in the Woods
Now depending on the trail, you are on there will probably be only two solid options which will be either pre-built pit toilets which shelters along the Appalachian Trail tend to have or you will need to dig your own cat hole.
For those who are happy to have a similar-to-home bathroom a pit toilet is as close as you will find out on the trail. They are generally pretty clean, while typically quite smelly, and frequently have toilet paper.
They should have wood shavings or similar that you need to spread over your business, this will help with the smell but also helps the biodegrading occur in the backcountry privy.
For those who want to be a little more rustic, you will probably find yourself digging a cat hole. Any time you need to dig you must make sure to plan ahead, don’t wait until the last minute as you don’t want any accidents.
For a cat hole, you must dig a small hole with your trowel around 4-6 inches in diameter and 6-8 inches deep and you will want to do your business directly into this hole, make sure you have your poop kit with all your supplies!
After you are finished your business, you should then cover the hole with the soil you dug out and then spread leaves or other natural materials over the top to help it decompose and mask any scent.
Make sure to have a sealable plastic bag to hold your waste toilet paper for disposal so you can pack out the used TP with ease.
Or make use of WAG, or waste alleviation and gelling bags which were developed as massively absorbent material that can change your poop into an inert and odorless gel making it easy to hike out.
Toilet Paper Alternates
If you are interested in more natural or eco-efficient ways to clean up after yourself there are some pretty neat eco-friendly options as well, these can help you save on weight and also help the environment.
Bidets have long been used in many places outside the US but now there are these fancy backcountry bidet options, like the Culoclean, that are able to be added to a water bottle for transportation and use on the go.
There are different models but essentially they all attach to a water bottle and have a small tube with a nozzle that you can use to give yourself a quick wash after using the restroom, no more wiping at most you just quick wipe and dry with less sheets.
If you are really into ecofriendly you can instead use natural objects like large leaves, small stones or similar objects from the trail.
You can make a little pile of whatever you are using to clean yourself and either use it one at a time to wipe.
There are definitely some pros and cons with using natural objects but if you are really interested in being ecofriendly it is a great way to achieve that.
Backcountry Hygiene Tips
Practicing proper hygiene may seem odd when you are not around public areas but being unclean and unwashed leads to sickness and health problems from fecal matter passing things like Giardia, salmonella, and E. coli to you.
Keeping your hands clean is vital to preventing the spread of disease, especially when you are preparing food.
This also includes your cookware, you should also make sure to properly clean any dishes and cookware after use.
There are good camp soaps like Dr. Bronners unscented that can be used with very small amounts in the woods to thoroughly clean your body and ensure proper sanitation.
You want to make sure that you are washing and cleaning yourself at least once daily with soap and water, more if you can manage it.
Carry Hand Sanitizer
Hand sanitizer is a perfect way to handle those times when you can’t immediately wash your hands with water and soap.
Make sure to use a good quality hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol for it to be effective.
You want to make sure you are using hand sanitizer at a minimum after any bowel movements, urination, and before food preparation and consumption.
Issues With Poor Bathroom Management
Human waste disposal is important and it is one of the worst performed duties in the backcountry.
This is partly because people underestimate how much waste they create and how difficult it is to properly dispose of human waste.
People also often do not realize how their improper waste disposal can negatively affect others, both now and in the future.
Most also don’t know the fact that it takes nearly a year for human poop to biodegrade, and since people tend to have a bowel movement a day this leads to thousands of holes of poop left in the woods each year.
This is not only unsightly but can lead to disease and sickness, please properly dispose of your waste to help keep everyone safe.
Health Risks to Human Feces Exposure
The biggest problem for most is the invisible health problems bad toilet decisions create, like getting into the water source and causing drinking water pollution.
This is how things like Giardia and other waterborne diseases are spread, by people not washing their hands and/or properly disposing of their waste.
Feces can also contain harmful bacteria like E. coli which can cause severe sickness in people, it is important to always practice proper hygiene to help prevent the spread of these diseases.
Dangerous to Trail Maintenance Crews
Trail crews will frequently move about the areas around the trails to maintain them and they. quite commonly will get exposed to poorly executed bathroom trips and the health risks that come with it.
One of the most common dangers to trail crews is coming in contact with rocks that are smeared with human poop which is a dangerous to their health let alone gross.
They manage keeping the trail pristine and ready for your use, please make sure to think about the others who may be impacted by your use and leave it better.
Final Thoughts on Toilet Paper Use on a Thru-Hike
In the end, how you choose to deal with your waste while out on the trail is completely up to you but it is important to have a plan and be prepared.
There are many different ways to manage your poop and TP while hiking, so find what works best for you and stick with it.