Tips for Better Outdoor Bathrooming
Ask any outdoor lover about their latest adventure and you’ll get tales of mountaintop views, rejuvenated spirits, and perhaps even a surprise bear sighting. Getting closer to nature is the reason we spend time outside. But there comes a time in any extended outdoor adventure when you’re going to need to answer the call of nature.
Yeah, that’s right, we’re talking about pooping and peeing in the woods.
Some may cringe at the thought. Others may just shrug. Regardless of where you stand on the topic, there are some standard protocols that help make the experience better for you, better for the environment, and better for the next person who might happen across the same slice of nature.
The overarching theme to any outdoor adventure is simple: leave no trace. And this principle is at the heart of any outdoor bathroom experience. The end goal is to leave the natural world pristine and to avoid contamination of watersheds and popular sites. Here are our tips for successful outdoor bathrooming:
1. Plan ahead
A few essential items will help make any outdoor bathroom experience better. For extended trips, it’s best to put together a personal bathroom kit. It should contain:
a. Trowel: A small plastic trowel for digging a hole (see tip 2b).
b. Toilet paper: There are natural alternatives to toilet paper, like leaves, rocks, or snow. But if you’re not ready to go au natural, you’ll need a small supply of toilet paper or wet wipes. If you go this route, be prepared to pack it out.
c. Plastic bags: To pack out any toilet paper, wipes, tampons/pads, or other trash. Wrap ‘em up and pack ‘em out!
d. Hand sanitizer: Clean hands are always a priority. Hand sanitizer or soap should be part of your kit.
2. Location, location, location
Finding the right spot sounds simple enough, but it’s actually the most important aspect of going to the bathroom outdoors. Consider these four aspects of location:
a. Proximity (to people and water): Choose a location that is unlikely to be stumbled upon by other outdoor users. The ideal location is away from trails and campsites, and also away from water (to protect watersheds). Try to choose a spot that is a minimum of 200 feet (about 70 strides) from any of the above.
b. Type of ground: Find ground that is soft enough to allow you to dig a small (6- to 8-inch deep) hole, so you can properly bury your waste. If you can’t bury it, you have to pack it out. (A side tip about peeing: for pee, the type of ground is less important. But if you find yourself in the alpine (above treeline), it is best to pee on hard ground, like rocks or gravel, and to avoid vegetation. Peeing on vegetation in the alpine leaves minerals that can attract wildlife, which may damage sensitive alpine plants. Now you know!)
c. Wind: At the risk of stating the obvious, keep your back to the wind.
d. View: A scenic view is a nice bonus. You are outdoors, after all!
3. When in doubt, pack it out
Sometimes packing it out is your best bet. Think narrow river canyons and high alpine glacier locations. Be prepared; most outdoor stores sell waste bags that make this easy. Check your favorite outdoor retailer for options.
4. Share the knowledge
It doesn’t take long to develop a good outdoor bathroom routine. Don’t be shy. Once you’ve mastered your kit and location scouting, spread the word to help others develop good habits and keep our natural world looking good.
5. Go beyond poop
Lastly, before you head outdoors, make sure you know the Seven Principles behind the Leave No Trace ethic. Our longtime partner, Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, offers an easy to follow framework of seven principles to guide anyone visiting or recreating outdoors (not just for pooping, but for doing almost everything). The framework outlines best practices for minimum impact in the backcountry, but they apply to any outdoor space, be it remote wilderness or your own backyard.