Like real estate, pooping outdoors is all about location, location, location.
Conventional wisdom mostly skips over this aspect, and puts more emphasis on the cathole — you know, the perfect 8-inch pit that, like the perfect bear hang, is much easier to draw than to accomplish in the field. By finding a good pooping location, more liberties can be taken with the cathole and the method of toilet paper (TP) disposal.
Distance from water
To avoid the contamination of water sources, poop at least 200 feet away from water. Over this distance, any harmful contaminants should be filtered out by the soil. Account for perennial and seasonal flows, especially in arid areas and in the wintertime.
Of course, all 200-foot lengths are not created equal. Two-hundred feet of imporous granite or slickrock sandstone will not filter contaminants as well as two-hundred feet of sand or forest duff.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Matt. 7:12).
It’s f’ing gross to find poop and toilet paper left behind by another backcountry user. Break the cycle by pooping in an inconspicuous spot where someone else will not want to:
- Fill up water bottles, or
If you needed another reason to seek out five-star campsites, here it is: the outskirts of high-use camping areas are land-mined with poop. If you would like to find the highest concentrations, follow one of of the “poop trails” that lead conveniently into the woods around camp.
Where possible, select a location with existing biological activity, like the decomposition of evergreen needles, wood, and leaves. Poop and toilet paper will break down faster in such conditions.
In the East and Pacific Northwest, such spots abound. They are more limited in the semi-arid Mountain West and especially the arid Southwest. Do what you can.
Conducive to a hole
Your crap should have an earthen home. Select a site where this is viable.
Smearing, or the technique of “buttering” your poop on a sunny surface like slickrock, is no longer supported by Leave No Trace. Poop does decompose more quickly when it’s exposed to air and sunlight, but those advantages are overshadowed by water contamination and aesthetic concerns. Imagine, for example, if smearing were done regularly by John Muir Trail thru-hikers or boy scouts at Philmont Scout Ranch.