How to Dispose of Human Waste Properly

Camping and hiking appeals to so many people because it’s relaxing yet challenging, peaceful yet liberating, and we get out of it what we put into it. However, one important aspect of enjoying the outdoors is doing your part to ensure that the next individual that comes along en joys them just as much, if not more, than you. This means taking measures to ensure that you don’t damage the environment or leave any waste behind, human or otherwise. Yes, this article is about that. Poop. I’m not trying to gross anyone out or act funny for sake of doing so. Quite the contrary, actually, as the proper disposal of human waste in the wild is a commonly overlooked element, and many go about it the wrong way. Keep reading to find out the best ways to do this so you can leave only footprints the next time you head out.

First and foremost, if there’s a public bathroom, such as an outhouse or latrine, always use it when you can on the trail, even if you don’t think you have to go. What if you’re in the backcountry without access to such a facility? Well, that’s where it can get a little tricky, since many people just don’t know what to do in that situation. If you find yourself far from anything resembling a bathroom, the best thing to do is dig what’s called a cat hole. This is a hole around eight inches deep that should be dug at least 200 feet from any water source, campsites, trails, or any other potential drainage sites. Basically, you dig the hole, do your business, and then cover the hole with the dirt you initially dug out. Sounds simple enough, right? Also, if you’re planning on remaining in a given backcountry area for a while, it’s best to dig separate holes each time you relieve yourself, and if you’re with a group of people, it’s a good idea to designate each person their own area, in order to reduce the risk of, well, you get it.

If there are numerous members of your group who are unfamiliar with digging cat holes, or if you’re camping with a lot of children in the backcountry (a brave act in itself), then a latrine might be a better route to take. A latrine is simply a long, narrow version of a cat hole that acts as a designated site for the group. Why dig a hole at all? Soil actually does a great job of breaking down waste and the potentially harmful pathogens that waste contains.

Sometimes we find ourselves in an area where the terrain doesn’t allow us to dig a proper cat hole, let alone find a location for one. Sometimes there just isn’t a good area for a cat hole, or the area is too rich with water sources to safely dig one. When this occurs—and this is when most people get grossed out—it’s best to pack out your waste in sealable bags or use devices designed for this purpose. Toilet paper is another issue. I suggest using TP designed for camping, which tends to be biodegradable or dissolving. This type of TP can be buried in the cat hole. Normal TP should be carried out in bags if no trash bins are around. Refrain from burning TP, as this can cause wild fires, and also try not to use scented types when you camp, as this can attract bugs or other animals.

Whew. We made it through that article pretty smoothly, I’d say. This topic is one that’s always difficult to bring up, but it’s one of the most important ones to tackle. Really, the key is being mindful of your environment and the fact that there are others who want to enjoy it without worrying about stepping in anything. Knowing how to properly dispose of waste can help reduce this risk and also will help you avoid any potential fines for failing to do so. I’m sure we can all agree that this is a good goal to have.