When nature calls and you’re out in nature it’s almost always awkward.
Going for a pee can be bad enough. At some point in our lives we’ve all been standing behind a tree (or crouching, ladies) in a remote forest when an elderly couple and their dog unexpectedly wander into the scene. Oh dear.
The one that really puts the fear into us isn’t number one, though, it’s number two – pooping, shitting, emptying the bowels, call it whatever you like, sugarcoat it or play to the adolescent comedy of it, going for that kind of toilet in the great outdoors is the stuff of nightmares.
There’s nothing like the absence of flushable toilet to make you overwhelmingly grateful to the person who invented the toilet. The sheer luxury of sitting down as you poop will hit you strikingly as you’re crouched, with your pants around your ankles like a schoolboy that’s just been pranked, praying that no-one stumbles upon you.
Then what do you do with the mess? WHAT SHOULD YOU DO!!? How did I use so much toilet paper and WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH THAT?
Fortunately, there’s an answer to these questions – and it’s not “run away.” There is a protocol for pooping in the woods. Knowing how to follow it and having the peace of mind that you can do your business without tarnishing the environment you’ve come to visit will make your daily ablutions far more bearable. Trust me.
So…let’s learn how to dig a cathole and poop in the woods!
What you will need to dig a cathole
You may be asking “why a cathole?” This question is best answered with another question: how many times in your life have you stepped, or nearly stepped, in dog poop and how many times have you had a close encounter with cat poop?
Cats bury their poo and dogs don’t, which is one reason (of many, some would say) that cats are the superior animal. If humans do the same, dig a hole for their poop and bury it afterwards, it keeps the environment clean. This is the essence of pooping in the woods: dig, do, bury.
In order to do this you will need the following:
- A trowel. This is used to dig the hole and refill it. Lightweight campers will probably be reluctant to carry an item to fulfill only one function so may wish to dig their hole with an existing part of their kit – e.g. a tent peg, their multitool – or even sticks or stones they find at the scene. Depending on the type of ground you are digging into these items may work okay, but most people with experience of digging catholes recommend bringing a trowel.
- Biodegradable toilet roll or equivalent biodegradable wipes, hankies, etc. Their use is pretty much self-explanatory!
- A stick. You should be able to find one at the scene. It is used for an unpleasant but environmentally friendly purpose we will get to shortly!
- Antibacterial gel. Used to cleanse your hands afterwards.
6 Steps for pooping in the woods
1: Location Scouting
The location in which you poop is important. It goes without saying that you’re looking for privacy but that isn’t the only priority. It is important to make sure that private spot is at least 200 feet (roughly 70 steps) from any campsites, trails or water sources.
All three of these locations are frequented by humans (and water sources will be visited by animals) so this minimises the chance of your waste contaminating well visited sites.
2: Selecting the Exact Spot
You’ve now found an area that appears to be suitable – 200 feet from camp, trails and water and, presumably, shrouded with enough natural cover like bushes and trees for you to feel that, barring a hugely embarrassing coincidence, you have privacy. Where exactly should you dig your hole?
Avoid the temptation to dig too close to bushes. While they provide cover they also produce roots which can interfere with digging. You are ideally looking for a spot with soft soil that looks like it gets abundant sunlight. Not only will this make for easy digging but the light will help your waste decompose faster!
Your cathole should be between 4-6 inches wide and 6-8 inches deep. That’s a decent sized hole – you can see why you brought your trowel along now! – and will take a bit of time to dig (apologies if you’re bursting to go!). Heap the loose soil neatly to one side so that it can be used to fill in the hole shortly.
4: Do Your Business!
I shouldn’t have to tell you how to do this!
5: Covering Your Tracks
Pick up the stick you sourced at the scene and use it to push any toilet roll to the very bottom of the hole. Toilet roll should go at the bottom to minimise the chance of animals digging it up and littering the area with it. Next, pour back in some of the loose soil and use the stick to mix the soil with your faeces.
This may sound like an unpleasant business but will help your poop decompose faster! Finally, fill in the rest of the hole with the remaining soil. Can you make it look as if nothing ever happened there?
6: Use the Hand Gel
Doing the toilet is a messy business at the best of times; out in the wild your hands are likely to be even messier. Use the antibacterial gel to thoroughly cleanse your hands. Then you can get on with your day!
Disclaimer/Potential Exception to the Above
If you use non-biodegradable toilet roll or hike in an area where local authorities insist that any toilet paper is carried out with you, rather than burying the toilet paper you will want to store it in a sealable ziploc bag.
Before sealing, squeeze all the excess air out. You may wish to purchase a coloured bag to obscure the sight of the used tissues, while treating the inside of the bag with half a teaspoon of powdered bleach or baking soda can help to contain the smell.
Store the ziploc bag with the tissues inside another ziploc bag to further help with this. As soon as you are back in civilisation dispose of the bag and its contents safely.
Hopefully, this article will help you feel a little better about pooping in the woods. Knowing what you are doing and how to protect the environment can relieve some of the anxiety that inhibits so many of us on the trail.
Maybe it will even give you the confidence to go for that three day hike you’ve been postponing since there are no toilets along the way!
If you found the article useful (or otherwise) please feel free to share the article with any friends who exhibit bad toilet practice! Also, if you have any additional tips for pooping in the woods do let us know. We can all learn from each other!