When you gotta go, you gotta go. And there is a right way and a wrong way to do it! In fact, entire books have been written about how to do it including How to Shit in the Woods. But it really is a simple process. At the top of one pack so it is easily accessible, we keep one gallon ziploc bag that is an absolutely indispensable component of our backpacking gear- our camp “bathroom.” The backpacking bathroom is pretty simple- a roll of biodegradable toilet paper, a small package of baby wipes, a Backpackers Trowel, a tiny bottle of baking soda, and a small bottle of hand sanitizer. The last part is super important as it is what helps really keep your hands clean and germ free, both important things when you’re backpacking. Plus you can get really lightweight bottles which helps keep your pack easier on your back. A friend of ours goes for Hand Sanitizer Canada but any will work. In addition, we keep one separate ziploc bag as our bathroom garbage bag. I’ve had several people tell me that the thought of going to the bathroom outside is what keeps them from backpacking. What a silly thing to keep you from an adventure! With a little planning, going to the bathroom while on a hike is an easy process and should not cause worry.
On many trails, pit toilets are available at various spots along the way. Basically an outhouse, pit toilets usually have toilet paper provided, but pack your own just in case. If at all possible, use the pit toilets, as concentrating waste in one spot is much more environmentally friendly than spreading waste throughout the trail. When pit toilets aren’t available, you will need to find a spot with some privacy. Going to the bathroom in the woods is simple. First, find a private space at least 200 feet away, and not uphill from, water sources, trails or campsites, also making sure to avoid poisonous plants. Generally, if you just have to pee, you can go without digging a hole. Otherwise, using your trowel, dig a hole at least 6 inches deep to go to the bathroom in. Once finished, wipe with toilet paper or baby wipes, cover with soil and wash your hands with hand sanitizer. Don’t forget this last step as stomach bugs caused by poor bathroom hygiene are common on trails! Make sure to dig a deep enough hole (at least 6-8 inches) and completely cover your waste with soil- no one wants to step in a pile of people poop! It is important to always pack out your toilet paper/wipes, so place these in your bathroom garbage bag. It is always disappointing to find piles of improperly used toilet paper all around the edge of the trail. If you are hiking for more than a day or two, you can sprinkle baking soda in your waste bag every so often to control odors. I carry a tiny Nalgene Container filled with baking soda for this purpose. Do not bury your toilet paper as even biodegradable toilet paper leaves an environmental impact.
One other thing to consider- there are areas where burying human waste is not an option because of the negative environmental impact and all waste must be packed out. In these areas, a Bag Waste Kit must be used. Be aware of these restrictions when planning your hike. You family backpacking bathroom is easy to assemble and “going” in the woods is nothing to worry about.
Good info! So, when you’re hiking with a whole family, do you make everyone “try” in the same spot to simplify the process and concentrate the waste? Any tips for helping younger kids, especially girls, so they don’t pee on their shoes or clothes?
We do tend to go in the same area. As far as girls, it is a learning process! We have had more than one wet pair of pants when they were little. 🙂 When they were very small, I would sometimes take their pants and underwear off to minimize the mess.