As an avid hiker or camper, you are most likely concerned with planning routes/trails and equipping yourself with all the necessary gear. Chances are you never thought about answering nature’s call when you are in the woods or backcountry. But there is a right way and a wrong way to poop outdoors and knowing this is an essential part of your education as an outdoor lover.
In this article, we’ll discuss all you need about pooping in the woods.
Is It Illegal to Pee and Poop in the Woods and in Public Spaces?
It is illegal for anyone to pee or urinate in public spaces. The reason for this is hygiene and the exposure of one’s genitals which is generally considered inappropriate. An excerpt from the laws about public peace and safety in the United States read as follows:
“Except in designated water closets or toilet facilities, it shall be unlawful for any person to urinate or defecate on any public place, sidewalk, street, alleyway or right-of-way, or in any public building, or on private property. Having the permission of the owner or person in lawful possession of the real property shall constitute an affirmative defense to the charge of urinating or defecating on private property. Any person who violates this section shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor and shall be fined not more than $500”
But what about when you are in the woods? Most parks and trails aren’t equipped with toilet facilities. Some have mobile toilets only in the summer months. But in most cases, there isn’t any type of toilet facilities and you have no other option than to do your business in the woods.
In this situation, it’s completely okay to pee or poop in the woods but as I mentioned earlier, there’s a right way of doing this which will be discussed below.
What Is the Perfect Spot to Pee in the Woods?
In most cases, urine doesn’t have a significant effect on vegetation and soil. When you feel like peeing in the woods, move away from the trails or water bodies for some privacy and relieve yourself on a spot free of sharp debris, poison ivy, fire ants, and wasps nests. You can dilute your urine with water to minimize any potential negative effects on the ecosystem.
What Is the Perfect Spot to Poop in the Woods?
Due to the undeniable negative effects poop has on the ecosystem in the form of pollution, there is a need to find the right spot for popping. Any spot you choose for defecation in the woods must meet the following criteria:
- Far from the trails to avoid the negative implications of someone else seeing or coming in contact with the poop.
- Far from water sources to avoid pollution and spread of pathogens and consequently diseases.
- The area should ideally have an underbrush for privacy but this may not be possible in every site.
- You must be able to notice your surroundings from the spot and easily find your way back to the trails or campsite.
- If possible, the spot should have loose, rich soil as this will speed up the decomposition process.
How to Poop in the Woods Responsibly?
In most locations, the best way to poop in the woods is to dig a hole and properly cover it after defecating. Below are steps to properly burying human waste in the woods:
- Dig a hole at the right spot. And I’ve already discussed the criteria for choosing a popping spot in the woods. If possible, the spot should also have maximum exposure to the sun to aid decomposition. Beaches and sandbars should never be used for pooping as they can get covered in water even if they are dry at the moment.
- Use a small trowel or shovel to dig a hole about 6 to 8 inches deep and about 4 to 6 inches wide.
- Stir the poop with a stick (this will fasten degradation), and leave the stick in the hole.
- Fill the hole with the dirt you dug out when you are finished. Then cover the hole with leaves and sticks. Mark the spot with a stick to discourage other hikers from using the spot.
- If you are part of a large group, pooping holes should be dug far away from each other.
- Toilet paper should be used sparingly and it’s recommended you use the white, non-perfumed brand.
- If you are using wipes, make sure they are biodegradable.
- Wash and disinfect your hands after pooping after which you should wipe them well.
Potential Dangers of Pooping In The Woods
There are potential dangers to popping in the woods. Perhaps the most significant danger is coming in contact with toxic trees or plants. Some people may also use leaves of this poisonous flora as wipes.
Wolfsbane and poison ivy are two of the most common toxic plants you may come across in the woods and they may cause serious reactions if they come in contact with your skin or if you use them as wipes. You can prevent this by researching toxic plants in the area you wish to explore and try identifying them.
Insects can also be bothersome in the outdoors. Stinger-type insects include wasps, bees, hornets, yellow jackets, and so on. These insects usually attack when their nests are disturbed and you should pay special attention to your environment when popping to ensure you don’t disturb their nests. Common nest locations include hollow trees, in the ground, branches, or even in the mud.
Find out the insects prevalent in the area where you’ll be hiking and avoid peak insect times. Perfumes, sprays, soaps, and scented lotions can also attract insects, so avoid using them.
Another Option: Packing It Out
While digging a hole is generally accepted as the responsible way to poop in the woods, some parks are revising this and encouraging visitors to pack out their waste. This is due to the high numbers of people visiting the outdoors making catholes not sustainable in the long term.
In winter, it’s not enough to bury poop in snow as they’ll become exposed in warmer weather thereby leaching into water sources or contaminating the environment with pathogens. Sealable plastic bags are used to pack out poop in the woods for later disposal.
Sometimes, the ecosystem is so fragile that any waste must absolutely be packed out to avoid any pollution. It was the case when I did my trek on Mount Roraima, Venezuela for example. We had brought little plastic bags containing a bit of talcum powder to do our business and keep the local ecosystem intact.
Even though peeing or pooping in public spaces generally is against the law, the reality is that when you are in the middle of the forest or any natural area, you rarely have toilets available and you have no other choice than peeing or pooping directly in the woods.
It is every hiker’s responsibility to do it right, both for the comfort of other hikers and the preservation of fragile environments.