How to Relieve Yourself in the Woods

Sooner or later every backpacker must learn how to go to the bathroom in the wilderness without leaving behind an unsightly mess for the next visitor. It’s important to follow a few basic rules in order to maintain a clean environment, and to prevent the transmission of any infectious diseases that may be passed on to the next backpacker. Remember: you’re only visiting the wilderness. You need to be a respectful guest.

The best way to accomplish this is to find a secluded spot for your personal “toilet” that is reasonably far off the trail to offer privacy, and on a slight slope to ensure it won’t be a likely campsite for future travelers. Stay at least 100 yards away from any streams or rivers.

relieving yourself How to Relieve Yourself in the Woods

The basic equipment to take with you for a wilderness toilet includes:
- a small plastic trowel
. two or three heavy-duty plastic bags
- a partial roll of toilet paper (leave the full roll at home)
- a small nylon sack to carry these items.
- book of matches (optional)
- several packs of individual pre-moistened cleansing towelettes

Carry a small roll of toilet paper inside one of the plastic bags, and use the doubled baggy to transport the used paper out of the wilderness for disposal at the bathroom nearest the trailhead. Some people prefer to burn their used toilet paper, and leave the ashes behind. But depending on the terrain, fire hazard, etc., this may not be an option. To be safe, be prepared to carry your used paper out with you.

Once you’ve found a spot for your bathroom, the next step is to dig a small hole to use as your personal toilet. If you’ve ever watched a cat scratch away dirt in their catbox, you get the idea. If the top layer of soil is covered with leaves and decomposing matter, gently move that aside to replace later and “camouflage” the dirt disturbed by your toilet.

To defecate, dig a hole at least six inches deep. You will need to squat down over this hole. Some people prefer to locate it near a boulder or log or something else they can use to lean against or onto for support. It may take some practice before you can comforta squat down and balance yourself over your “toilet” for the time it fakes you to finish.

“Remember:you ‘re only visiting the wilderness. You need to be a respectful guest.”

If you only need to urinate, you do not need to dig a hole. However, be sure to stay well away from any bodies of water to prevent contamination, and stay away from campgrounds to avoiding unpleasant “kitty-litter” odors.

After defecating, once you’ve wiped yourself off, do not throw the paper into the hole. It may become uncovered and wind up as trash near someone’s campsite, or get carried off by the wind and turn into an unsightly “daisy” stuck to a nearby bush. Instead, use some clean paper to wrap around the used paper, and stash this inside the doubled-up baggy in your nylon “toilet kit.”

Finally, use one of the premoistened towelettes to clean your hands.

As with all new and unfamiliar skills, this may seem awkward at first. But with practice it will become as routine as using your toilet at home.
If you are traveling with a large group, you may want to coordinate a variety of “bathroom areas” to avoid concentrating a large amount of waste in one area.

If you are traveling with children, depending on their age, you may need to supervise their bathroom activities. Obviously, if they are still in diapers, or new to being “potty trained,” it will be normal for you to be responsible for changing and packing out diapers or helping them with their bathroom. Even grade school kids will need some help with these skills, at least at first.

Explain to them how to make a “wilderness toilet,” and why it’s so important to keep the wilderness clean. (Children are getting more environmentally conscious all the timeˇŞthey will want to protect the local ecology.) Hike with them to a suitable location, help prepare the bathroom area, and then give them enough privacy so you both feel comfortable while they’re using the toilet. After they are done, make sure they carry out the used paper, and leave the area cleaned up for the next hiker.

If you are traveling with children who still wet the bed, employ all your usual safeguards (no fluids after dinner, have them go to the bathroom right before bedtime, etc.) and make sure they are using synthetic, not down, sleeping bags. Use a lightweight sleeping bag liner which is much easier to rinse and dry on the trail than the whole sleeping bag.


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