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How to poop in the outdoors || Part 3: Wiping, covering up, & cleaning up

It’s time for action! You have found a good location to poop and you have created a hole. (Refer to Part 1 and Part 2 of this series for details.)

I normally squat over my hole and poop directly into it. If you care to get creative, you can straddle a fork in a downed tree, prop yourself with an assist such as a rock or log, or “orangutan hang” from a tree branch.

Sometimes the terrain around the hole is such that it’s easier to poop nearby and transport it. But this can be risky — it’s difficult to transport loose BM’s that seem to be common when on a backpacking diet.

Wiping

It’s okay to use toilet paper or even wet wipes — if you take appropriate action afterwards.

Personally, I only use one to two squares of TP, at the end of the process to simply “polish the rearview mirror.” For the heavy lifting at the start, I use natural materials, which are in infinite supply and which help reduce my impact. Examples:

  • Smooth rocks,
  • Bark-less sticks,
  • Leaves, and
  • Snowballs, which Mike Clelland rightly describes as, “being kissed by the wings of an angel.”

Going sans-TP is ideal and admirable. YMMV.

Snowballs are the ultimate natural wiping material, and probably more pleasant and more effective than toilet paper. Mike Clelland likes to say that, "It's like being kissed by the wings of an angel."

Snowballs are the ultimate natural wiping material, and probably more pleasant and more effective than toilet paper. Mike Clelland likes to say that, “It’s like being kissed by the wings of an angel.”

TP disposal

Several options exist for the disposal of dirty toilet paper.

1. Pack it out

This is the best option. Put the TP in a discarded sandwich bag, and put that bag inside of another bag. Throw out this TP bag when you reach the trailhead, or burn it in a hot campfire.

2. Burn it.

Due mostly to wildfire concerns, this tactic is rarely an official recommendation. But use your discretion — there would seem to be little risk in burning toilet paper on a winter camping trip in the Colorado Rockies, on an Escalante bench amidst a sea of sand, or on a rainy day in the Appalachians.

Another valid concern about burning TP is that it must be burned thoroughly. Unfold or unroll it with two sticks, and then suspend it in air as it burns. Pack out or bury TP that did not burn completely.

3. Bury it.

This is the worst option, but the most common. It takes weeks for toilet paper to decompose under favorable conditions, and much longer in arid environments. The more toilet paper used, the longer it takes to break down.

Wet wipes

Due to their plastic content, most wet wipes will not fully decompose. They must be packed out. The exception is “biodegradable” wipes, which are made entirely of natural materials like paper or cotton.

Those who use wet wipes claim it’s a better clean. That may be true relative to toilet paper, but it’s not as good as a backcountry bidet. Details soon.

Stir it up

Before covering the hole, mix the poop (and toilet paper, if you’re taking this route) with some dirt. This will accelerate decomposition, and make it more difficult for animals to dig up the poop for any undigested food bits. I’ve heard the end product referred to as “poop soup.”

Mike Clelland demonstrates poop soup in Olympic National Park.

Mike Clelland demonstrates poop soup in Olympic National Park.

Cover-up

Fill in the hole with the soil that was originally removed. Then, cover it more with nearby dirt and organic materials, in order to artificially increase the depth of the waste. If you start with a four-inch cathole and add two inches of new material, you achieve the recommended six-inch depth.

In high-use areas, mark the spot by inserting a stick into the hole, pointing conspicuously into the sky.

Alternatively, roll the rock back on top of the hole, or kick some snow over the platform.

Hygiene

Especially in a group setting, post-poop cleanup is extremely important. Many illnesses can be spread by the fecal-to-oral route, i.e. Person A poops on their hands and later prepares dinner for Person B. In a few days, Person B gets sick.

Soap and water is one option. But I find hand-sanitizer to be more convenient.

My poop kit, less the natural materials like sticks and leaves that I use for the initial heavy lifting. Burning toilet paper is discouraged due to wildfire risk, but it can be responsibly done in certain conditions and environments.

My poop kit, less the natural materials like sticks and leaves that I use for the initial heavy lifting. Burning toilet paper is discouraged due to wildfire risk, but it can be responsibly done in certain conditions and environments.

9 Responses to How to poop in the outdoors || Part 3: Wiping, covering up, & cleaning up

  1. Sam H October 8, 2016 at 10:33 pm #

    Toilet paper. LOL.

  2. Ric Rini October 9, 2016 at 5:27 am #

    I’m a soap & water guy hands down as well as hand sanitizer adjunct – And actually Andrew, I heard that hand sanitizer may not provide the sanitizing effect as thought (I’ need to look into that to provide the site information). I’m an advocate of the backcountry “bidet” and if done properly I can’t image how anybody would get fecal matter crusted under their nails, obviously technique is everything in this situation. One needs to use the pads of their fingers. Like you stated – you are not digging you are rubbing.

    I went on a BPL backcountry course with Mike Cleveland several years ago and he did a great job of explaining and “illustrating” on technique similar to your series. Nevertheless I’m still paranoid using the bidet technique. I use soap and hand sanitezer, it may be overkill (no pun intended) but I feel more confident I’m not going to cause myself or others some backcountry health issues after rubbing my bum.

    QUESTION:

    1.) Are all sanitizers equally effective? (do you look for alcohol content?)
    2.) Is there a particular brand you purchase (if so why)? and;
    3.) Is there an ingredient (other than alcohol) that must be present for you to purchase the product?

  3. Dick Burner October 9, 2016 at 10:04 am #

    Most wildlife agencies in the High Sierra prohibit the burial of TP in the back country. It is clearly highlighted on the back of your wilderness permit that you must pack it out. Being that a large percentage of your readers frequent that area, this should be noted. Not wise to advocate a method that clearly is prohibited by their managing agencies.

  4. Sideliner 1950 October 9, 2016 at 1:43 pm #

    Never considered including a BIC lighter in my TP Kits. Great idea…thanks!

    You might like to consider adding these items to your TP Kits:

    -Several pairs of Nitrile Gloves (from Costco Pharmacy Dept and elsewhere)

    -Small tube/container of petroleum jelly.

    • Andrew Skurka October 9, 2016 at 2:40 pm #

      Why gloves and PJ?

      • Sideliner 1950 October 10, 2016 at 9:38 pm #

        SHORT ANSWER:

        -Gloves: donning gloves before starting the process protects your hands from fecal contamination.

        -Petroleum Jelly: applying to the perianal region before going facilitates the clean-up process. Don gloves first, of course.

        LONG ANSWER:

        Kudos and thanks for writing about this incredibly important if somewhat distasteful subject. I will try to respond to your question with candor an respect.

        Illness resulting from fecal contamination could affect any of us at any time, but it becomes even more likely under the non-normal, difficult, possibly dangerous circumstances of a SHTF (no pun intended) event.

        You correctly write, “Especially in a group setting, post-poop cleanup is extremely important. Many illnesses can be spread by the fecal-to-oral route, i.e. Person A poops on their hands and later prepares dinner for Person B. In a few days, Person B gets sick.”

        So with our goals being to maintain the highest possible level of personal hygiene for as long as possible (whether in an individual or group setting), and the prevention of the spread of disease, the judicious use of Gloves and Petroleum Jelly can help when employed in the following ways:

        -Donning nitrile (or latex or similar) gloves prior to “going” can help protect your hands from becoming fecally contaminated. (Note: You might want to read the next step now and follow that procedure first.) The gloves can help protect your hands from contamination as they contact the perianal region. Once you are satisfied that your clean-up is complete, carefully remove the gloves, and place them in a Ziploc bag to be packed out. Then wash your hands and/or use your hand-sanitizer. Can’t be too careful…no one wants to make oneself sick. Ever again.

        -Even before getting started “going”, know that Petroleum Jelly applied to the perianal region prior to the bowel movement event can facilitate post-poop clean up, especially for unfortunates like myself afflicted with a hemorrhoid or two.

        COMMON SENSE WARNING: To avoid contaminating the PJ tube or container, the PJ tube/container should never be brought into proximity or contact with the perianal region of any user; instead, AFTER DONNING YOUR NITRILE GLOVES, apply PJ from the tube or container to an “applicator pad” (e.g., a folded sheet of TP or the like), apply to perianal region, and either dispose of the applicator pad in your Ziploc bag, or I suppose you could keep it handy for use during post-poop clean-up.

        Granted, adding these items to your TP Kits will add a little weight to your gear, but not much. Using them as described here will also add to the time required to complete the process. But it has been my experience that “in the end” (pun intended this time, sorry) I am cleaner and less likely to acquire and/or pass on fecal contamination to others; so the extra weight and time involved are worthwhile to me and I hope appreciated by others in my group.

        Thanks for the opportunity to clean up that matter for you.

  5. Mike Clelland! October 9, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

    Here is a similar essay, but with cartoons!

    http://ultralightbackpackintips.blogspot.com/2012/09/liberate-yourself-from-toilet-paper.html

    Also – Pay attention to what Andrew sez – because I hate finding used toilet paper out in the mountains!

    peace out,
    Mike C

  6. Katherine October 11, 2016 at 4:34 pm #

    Tip: Put all your wiping material in easy reach from your squat position so you can get the wiping done *before* you stand up!

  7. David Terrie January 29, 2017 at 11:20 pm #

    Likely a lot of TP gets buried instead of packed out because people don’t want too pick it up. I walk two large Huskies every day, and have literally picked up a ton and of poop using doggie bags. Open, pull over hand inside out, grab, pull back over hand, and tie off. I do the same with TP on the trail. Fold the bags in half three times to pack. They weigh nothing and take up no space.

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