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Backcountry etiquette: How to poop in the woods

How to poop in the woods
It's camping season in Canada, which means a lot of people are "answering the call of nature" outdoors. Here's a quick tutorial on how to poop in the woods. Douglas Williams/For The Canadian Press

TORONTO – If you’re an avid camper or hiker you likely have spent some time answering the call of nature in nature’s splendour.

Canada is rich in parks and trails – but not all of them are equipped with washroom facilities.

Of the 24 provincial nature reserves managed by Ontario Nature, for example, only two have outhouses. A third has a port-a-potty, but only in the summer months. “Otherwise you’re using the backwoods,” said Megan Anevich, nature reserves coordinator at Ontario Nature.

And while you may know how to string up a food pack or make killer s’mores, there’s a good chance you never received the scouts’ tutorial in the proper way to relieve yourself in the wilderness.

So guess what? We’re talking about poop today.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to poop in the woods

Leave No Trace Canada, a non-profit organization that promotes outdoor ethics, encourages campers and hikers to travel the backcountry in a responsible manner. One of their seven principles details how to properly dispose of waste – human waste – when camping.

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Improper waste disposal can lead to the pollution of water sources and spreading of bacteria and disease.

Beyond the environmental and health concerns, hiking past bits of toilet paper isn’t the picture of nature most are hoping to Instagram. Family dogs accompanying you on the camping trip can also get into improperly disposed of waste.

One of the best bets for disposing of human waste properly is to bury it in a “cathole.”

With a small shovel or garden trowel, dig a hole at least 200 feet away (or around 70 adult paces) away from water, trails and campsites. Dig the hole six to eight inches deep and four to six inches wide. Once you’ve finished your business, cover the hole with soil, leaves and sticks so animals don’t get in there.

In some places you may be required to “pack out” your poop. In these cases you may want to employ the “poop burrito” method of packing out, which involves wrapping your feces in toilet paper, placing that in a ziplock bag, and packing it out in a Tupperware container.

If you find yourself without toilet paper, fear not, “natural” toilet paper is abundant in the woods.

Options for natural toilet paper include certain types of leaves, smooth rocks, sand or snow.

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The soft leaves of a Lamb’s Ear plant make for a comfortable wipe. “Conifer branches, like hemlock, are good,” said Anevich, “but only if you go with the grain.”

Lamb’s ear plants (pictured here) are a good choice for natural toilet paper in the woods – so soft!
Lamb’s ear plants (pictured here) are a good choice for natural toilet paper in the woods – so soft! AP Photo/Gerry Broome
The branch of a coniferous evergreen, like hemlock or spruce (pictured here), can be used as natural toilet paper, as long as you go WITH the grain. Otherwise, ouch.
The branch of a coniferous evergreen, like hemlock or spruce (pictured here), can be used as natural toilet paper, as long as you go WITH the grain. Otherwise, ouch. ARNO BURGI/AFP/Getty Images
Poison Ivy
Leaves of three, let it be! Poison ivy (pictured here) is a very bad choice for natural toilet paper. Don’t do it. The Canadian Press Images-Mario Beauregard

10 points for style

When it comes to how to actually poop in the woods, there are various styles.

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Many opt for the koala-style, where you hold on to a tree and lean back. Others look for a larger rock to sit against.

Anevich said some hardcore nature-lovers opt for the buddy system – find a friend (that you’re very comfortable with), hold hands and lean back in unison.

One Global News employee recommended climbing a tree (“it’s cleaner”).

Tips for proper waste disposal

  • Use an outhouse or “thunderbox” if available
  • No toilet? Dig a cathole
  • With a small shovel or garden trowel, dig your cathole at least 200 feet (or 70 adult paces) away from water, trails and your campsite
  • Dig the hole six to eight inches deep and four to six inches wide
  • Cover the cathole with leaves and sticks when finished
  • If camping in a large group, widely disperse your catholes
  • In some places you may be required to pack out your poop
  • Pack out using the “poop burrito” method: wrap feces in toilet paper, place that in a ziplock bag and place that in a Tupperware container
  • Use toilet paper sparingly and only use the white, non-perfumed brands
  • Toilet paper should be either buried in your cathole or packed out in plastic bags
  • If you don’t have toilet paper, use the natural kind (i.e. leaves, rocks, sand or snow)

And with that, you can now brag to your city friends of your new-found expertise.