Well, yes. Bears do.
And so do hikers from time to time.
One nice thing about hiking is that it gives you the opportunity to get away from civilization. Trails lead you out and away – usually a good thing!
But (alas) every hiker knows that, sooner or later, the time will come when…well, when it’s time to (how to put it) poop in the woods.
There. We said it.
At such times, it would be nice to find a nice and shiny porcelain toilet sitting conveniently off the trail. But porcelain toilets are not common in the wilderness.
So, lacking that, how should one poop in the woods?
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources offers some guidance in that area, pointing out that the best course is to use an outhouse if one is available. I think, for example, of facilities such as the one at the parking area near Smith Creek in Unicoi State Park near Helen. Such facilities are common in Georgia parks and are usually conveniently located. They’re great for pre- and post-hike rest stops.
But what about mid-hike, or what about if you’re in the backcountry? In such cases, the goal is always to “leave no trace,” and you might be interested in the generally acknowledged “best” way to do that.
According to GeorgiaStateParks.org, step one in backcountry pooping is to dig a hole. It doesn’t need to be a very big hole; most of the experts I talked with agree that the hole should be 6 to 8 inches deep and 4 or 5 inches across. They further add that it should be at least 200 feet (that’s “70 big steps,” the website says) from the nearest stream or other water.
Jack Rouleau, who works at outdoor outfitter REI in Alpharetta, offers additional thoughts on that aspect of things.
“Pick a spot that’s away from where other people might be going,” he says. That means walking some distance from the campsite or the trail. He adds that you’ll also want to consider privacy; in other words, look for a spot that’s shielded from view by trees or undergrowth.
Look for dark soil, too, which usually means that the digging will be easy and that will also help things to biodegrade.
And how exactly do you dig? The trick, says Jack, is to carry a small backpackable trowel. Inexpensive plastic versions will work, though Jack says he prefers a titanium trowel manufactured specifically for backpacking use. It’s compact and extremely lightweight, he says, and that’s a plus when you’re carrying gear.
Once the hole is prepared, it’s simply a matter of squatting over the hole and taking care of business. To make that easier, experienced hikers often choose a spot near a tree or limb that can be held onto for added stability.
Once you’re through, what then? Use some biodegradable toilet paper and biodegradable wipes. I like the “TP KIT” from On The Go, a company based in Utah. The kit comes in a sealed (and resealable) package that’s lightweight and takes up almost no space in a pack or a pocket. I keep one in my fishing vest, and it’s so inconspicuous that I forget it’s there.
After use, the paper and wipes can be buried in the hole. Alternately, they can be placed in the resealable package and then packed out for even lower impact on the environment.
To finish things up, refill the hole and pack the dirt down with your foot. Then spread some leaves or sticks of the area to restore it to a natural look.
Whenever I talk about this aspect of hiking, someone always asks about going totally natural and using leaves instead of toilet paper. Not a good idea! I know of one confirmed case in which an individual used leaves from a particularly fierce poison-ivy-like plant in lieu of toilet paper. That did not have a good outcome and actually turned into something of a medical emergency. And you thought bears and snakes were the only hazards in the great out-of-doors!
As Jack points out, the final part of the equation here is to think ahead. If you think you’ll need to go.
“Should you go ahead and find a spot now?” he says. “Or should you wait?” Waiting poses the risk that the need might become, well, urgent. Remember that it takes a little while to find a spot and dig a hole, so give yourself all the time you’ll need. As in so many things in life, the key is to plan ahead.
As experienced hikers will tell you, it only takes a little pre-planning to deal with this eventually. That small trowel and a pack of those biodegradables are pretty much all you’ll need.
“Even on day hikes,” says Jack, “I like to be prepared.”
That’s good advice. Because…
Yes, bears do. People do too. And with just a little planning, it really isn’t that big a deal.