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How To Poop When Backpacking


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Kiri Brehm



When backpacking in the great outdoors, one of the most essential skills to master is proper hygiene, especially when nature calls. While it may not be the most glamorous topic, knowing how to properly handle your bathroom needs can significantly impact your comfort, health, and the environment.


Going to the bathroom in the backcountry requires careful consideration and adherence to Leave No Trace principles. It is vital to minimize your impact on the environment and protect the wilderness for future generations. In this article, we will provide you with a comprehensive guide on how to poop when backpacking, covering everything from choosing the right spot to dealing with diarrhea in the backcountry.


Whether you are a newbie or an experienced backpacker, these tips will help you navigate through one of the less talked about aspects of outdoor adventures. So grab a seat (or rather, find the perfect spot), and let’s dive into the world of wilderness toilets!


Preparing for the Backcountry

Before heading out on a backpacking trip, it’s important to be prepared for your bathroom needs in the backcountry. Here are some essential steps to take:

  • Research the regulations: Different backcountry areas may have specific regulations regarding human waste. Before your trip, research the guidelines set by the park or the area you’ll be visiting to ensure compliance.
  • Pack hygiene essentials: Don’t leave home without essential hygiene items. Pack hand sanitizer or biodegradable soap, toilet paper or biodegradable wipes, a trowel or small shovel for digging catholes, and a ziplock bag for carrying out used toilet paper.
  • Learn about local flora: Familiarize yourself with the local plant life, especially poisonous plants. Knowing what to avoid when choosing a spot to dig a cathole can prevent any unwanted encounters with irritating or toxic vegetation.

Additionally, it’s essential to be mindful of your own personal needs and comfort. Some backpackers may prefer to bring a lightweight portable toilet, which is especially useful for those with mobility issues or a preference for extra comfort. However, keep in mind that portable toilets require carrying extra weight and disposing of waste properly.


By taking the time to prepare for your bathroom needs in the backcountry, you will ensure a more comfortable and environmentally responsible experience.


Choosing the Right Spot

Choosing the right spot for your backcountry bathroom break is crucial for minimizing your impact on the environment and maintaining hygiene. Here are some important considerations when selecting a location:

  • Distance from water sources: Always choose a spot that is at least 200 feet (about 70 steps) away from any water source, such as lakes, rivers, or streams. This prevents contamination and preserves the purity of the water.
  • Elevation and slope: Select a spot that is on flat ground and away from any trails or camping areas. This ensures privacy and prevents others from accidentally stumbling upon your chosen spot.
  • Soil type: Look for soft and non-rocky soil, which makes it easier to dig a cathole. Avoid areas with dense vegetation or fragile ecosystems, such as alpine meadows or fragile desert landscapes.
  • Privacy and views: Aim for a spot that offers privacy and a pleasant view. This can enhance your overall experience and make the process more enjoyable.

Remember to always be respectful of your surroundings and choose a spot that will cause minimal disturbance. If you notice other catholes or signs of previous use, move a reasonable distance away to allow the area to recover.


Choosing the right spot for your backcountry restroom break is not only important for hygiene but also for preserving the natural beauty of the wilderness. By following these guidelines, you can ensure a harmonious coexistence with nature.


Necessary Tools and Equipment

When it comes to handling your bathroom needs in the backcountry, having the right tools and equipment is essential. Here are the necessary items to pack for a successful wilderness toilet experience:

  • Trowel or small shovel: A trowel or small shovel is crucial for digging a cathole. Look for lightweight, durable options that can easily fit in your backpack.
  • Toilet paper or biodegradable wipes: Pack enough toilet paper or biodegradable wipes for your trip. Consider wrapping them in a waterproof bag to keep them dry and easily accessible.
  • Hand sanitizer or biodegradable soap: Maintaining good hygiene is important, even in the backcountry. Carry hand sanitizer or biodegradable soap to clean your hands after each bathroom break.
  • Ziplock bag: A ziplock bag is useful for carrying out used toilet paper or hygiene wipes. Make sure to seal it properly to prevent any odors or leakage.
  • Toilet trowel: For those seeking extra convenience and comfort, a lightweight and portable toilet trowel can be a great addition to your gear.

These essential tools and equipment will ensure that you are properly prepared to handle your bathroom needs in the backcountry. Remember, it’s important to keep these items easily accessible in your backpack, so you can quickly and efficiently take care of business when nature calls.


Techniques for Digging a Proper Cathole

When nature calls in the backcountry, it’s important to dig a proper cathole to dispose of your waste. Follow these techniques to ensure optimal hygiene and minimal impact on the environment:

  1. Choose the right location: Find a suitable spot following the guidelines mentioned earlier – at least 200 feet away from water sources, on flat ground, and away from trails or camping areas.
  2. Gather the necessary tools: Use a trowel or small shovel to dig the cathole. Ensure that it is deep enough (6 to 8 inches) to prevent animals from digging up the waste.
  3. Start digging: With your chosen tool, dig a hole that is approximately 4 to 6 inches in diameter. Remove any rocks, sticks, or other debris from the hole to prevent obstruction.
  4. Dispose of waste properly: Once you have finished using the cathole, carefully place the waste in the hole. Avoid touching the surrounding soil or vegetation to prevent contamination.
  5. Fill and cover: Use the excavated soil to completely fill the hole. Firmly tamp it down to ensure it is covered and doesn’t attract animals. Replant any vegetation that you had to move aside during the digging process.
  6. Disinfect your tools: Clean your trowel or shovel with water and biodegradable soap or hand sanitizer to prevent the spread of disease.

Remember to always practice proper hygiene throughout the process. Wash your hands thoroughly with hand sanitizer or biodegradable soap after digging and before handling any food or eating utensils.


By following these techniques, you can minimize your impact on the environment and maintain proper hygiene in the backcountry.


Best Practices for Proper Hygiene

Maintaining proper hygiene in the backcountry is essential for your well-being and the health of the environment around you. Here are some best practices to follow:

  • Wash your hands: Always wash your hands with hand sanitizer or biodegradable soap after using the bathroom and before handling any food or eating utensils. This helps prevent the spread of bacteria and disease.
  • Keep hygiene items easily accessible: Make sure to have your toilet paper, biodegradable wipes, and hand sanitizer within reach in your backpack or a convenient pocket. This ensures you can maintain cleanliness when nature calls.
  • Properly dispose of waste: Only dispose of human waste in designated catholes or toilets. Never leave toilet paper or hygiene wipes behind – pack them out in a ziplock bag to properly dispose of them later.
  • Practise good menstrual hygiene: For individuals menstruating, it’s important to manage menstrual waste properly. Pack out used sanitary products in a sealed bag and dispose of them in a proper trash receptacle.
  • Be mindful of personal hygiene: In addition to bathroom hygiene, it’s important to maintain overall personal hygiene in the backcountry. Regularly clean yourself with biodegradable soap or wipes, especially in areas prone to sweating or odor.
  • Respect the environment: Always follow Leave No Trace principles, which include leaving natural objects as you find them, avoiding using scented products, and refraining from bathing or washing dishes in water bodies.

By following these best practices for proper hygiene, you can ensure a clean and healthy experience in the backcountry while minimizing your impact on the environment.


Disposing of Toilet Paper and Waste

Properly disposing of toilet paper and waste is crucial for maintaining cleanliness and minimizing environmental impact in the backcountry. Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Pack out used toilet paper: Always pack out used toilet paper in a ziplock bag. Leaving it behind can take months or even years to decompose and can negatively impact the environment and wildlife.
  • Bury biodegradable wipes: If you are using biodegradable wipes, you can bury them along with your waste in the cathole. Make sure to dig a deeper hole to ensure proper decomposition.
  • Use unscented and biodegradable products: When choosing toilet paper and hygiene wipes, opt for unscented and biodegradable options. These products break down more easily and have a lower impact on the environment.
  • Double-bag waste for extra protection: To prevent any leakage or odor, double-bag your waste in a ziplock bag. This ensures that your backpack stays clean, and the waste is contained properly.
  • Carry out all waste: In certain fragile environments or high alpine areas, it may be necessary to carry out all your waste, including toilet paper, in a designated waste bag. Check local regulations and requirements before your trip.
  • Properly dispose of waste: When you reach a proper waste disposal facility or return to civilization, make sure to dispose of your waste in the designated trash receptacles. Follow local regulations and guidelines for waste disposal.

Remember, it’s vital to leave the wilderness as you found it, so always make a concerted effort to minimize your impact and preserve the natural environment for future generations.


Dealing with Diarrhea in the Backcountry

Dealing with diarrhea while backpacking can be challenging, but with proper preparation and precautions, you can manage the situation effectively. Here are some tips to help you handle diarrhea in the backcountry:

  • Stay hydrated: Diarrhea can lead to dehydration, so it’s crucial to stay properly hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids, including water, electrolyte-rich beverages, and clear broths, to replace lost fluids and minerals.
  • Modify your diet: Stick to bland, easily digestible foods, such as rice, bananas, toast, and boiled vegetables. Avoid spicy, fatty, and high-fiber foods that can aggravate diarrhea.
  • Practice strict hygiene: Wash your hands thoroughly with hand sanitizer or biodegradable soap before and after using the bathroom. This helps prevent the spread of bacteria and further contamination.
  • Consider medication: Consult with your healthcare provider before your trip about carrying anti-diarrheal medication. This can provide temporary relief in case of severe symptoms, but it is essential to understand the potential side effects and follow the recommended dosage.
  • Stay close to restroom options: Plan your route or choose a campsite near established campgrounds or areas with restroom facilities, if possible. This provides easier access to proper bathroom facilities if needed.
  • Carry extra supplies: Pack extra toilet paper, biodegradable wipes, and ziplock bags in case of increased bathroom visits. Be prepared to pack out used toilet paper if necessary.
  • Monitor your symptoms: Keep track of your symptoms and how your body is reacting. If diarrhea persists or worsens, seek medical attention if available or consider altering your trip plans.

It’s important to prioritize your health and well-being when dealing with diarrhea in the backcountry. Adjust your pace, take breaks as needed, and listen to your body to avoid overexertion. Remember, your safety comes first.


Considerations for Bear Country

When backpacking in bear country, it is crucial to take additional precautions to ensure your safety and minimize potential encounters. Here are some considerations to keep in mind:

  • Be bear aware: Educate yourself about the behavior and habits of bears in the area you’ll be backpacking. Understanding their behaviors, especially regarding food, can help you make informed decisions to reduce bear encounters.
  • Store food properly: Use bear-resistant containers or hang your food in bear bags, away from your campsite and at least 100 yards away from where you sleep. This helps prevent bears from being attracted to your campsite.
  • Keep a clean camp: Properly dispose of food scraps and clean up any cooking utensils immediately after use. Bears have a great sense of smell and can be attracted to even the faintest odors.
  • Do not bury food: Avoid burying food scraps or waste, as bears have a strong sense of smell and can easily dig it up. Pack out all food-related waste to prevent attracting bears to common bathroom areas.
  • Make noise: While hiking, especially in dense vegetation or near running water, make noise to alert bears of your presence. This will reduce the chance of surprising them, leading to potential conflicts.
  • Carry bear deterrents: Consider carrying bear spray or other bear deterrents as a precautionary measure. Familiarize yourself with how to use them properly and keep them easily accessible.
  • Follow local regulations: Be aware of any specific regulations or guidelines for backpacking in bear country. Some areas may require specific bear safety protocols or equipment.

Remember, the goal is to prevent bear encounters and promote coexistence with these magnificent creatures. By following these considerations and respecting the natural habitat of bears, you can minimize potential risks and enjoy your backpacking experience in bear country.


Leave No Trace Principles

When backpacking, it is essential to follow the Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment and preserve the wilderness for future generations to enjoy. Here are the seven Leave No Trace principles:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare: Proper planning ensures a safe and environmentally conscious trip. Know the regulations, weather conditions, and possible challenges of the area you’ll be backpacking in.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces: Stick to established trails and campsites to avoid damaging fragile ecosystems. Use designated tent pads whenever possible and be mindful of vegetation.
  3. Dispose of waste properly: As discussed earlier, properly dispose of human waste in catholes and pack out all used toilet paper and hygiene products. Leave no trace of your passing.
  4. Leave what you find: Respect the natural environment by refraining from taking natural objects or artifacts. Leave rocks, plants, and other items as you found them for others to enjoy.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts: Use established fire rings or designated cooking areas if permitted. Use small sticks from the ground as firewood and fully extinguish the fire, leaving no trace of your campfire.
  6. Respect wildlife: Observe wildlife from a safe distance and never feed or approach them. Keep your food and scented items properly stored to avoid attracting wildlife to your campsite.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors: Respect the solitude and experience of others by minimizing noise, yielding to other hikers, and following any specific area rules or guidelines.

By adhering to the Leave No Trace principles, you contribute to the preservation of the natural beauty of our wild spaces and help ensure that future generations can enjoy the wonders of the outdoors.



Mastering the art of handling your bathroom needs in the backcountry is an essential skill for any backpacker. By following the tips and guidelines outlined in this article, you can ensure a comfortable and environmentally responsible experience. From choosing the right spot and digging a proper cathole to practicing proper hygiene and disposing of waste correctly, each step plays a vital role in minimizing your impact on the environment and maintaining the pristine beauty of the wilderness.


Remember, proper planning, preparation, and adherence to Leave No Trace principles are key to responsible backcountry toileting. Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or just starting your outdoor adventures, these practices will help you navigate the less glamorous aspects of backpacking with ease.


So, the next time nature calls during your backpacking trip, feel confident in your ability to handle the situation responsibly. By taking care of your bathroom needs in a way that respects the environment, you can contribute to the preservation of our natural treasures and ensure that future backpackers can enjoy the beauty of the wilderness for years to come.