How to Poop in the Woods – An Illustrated Guide to the Lost Art

If a turd falls in the forest and no one is around to smell it, does it really stink?

Heck yeah it does! And it can even pollute waterways and seriously mess with mother nature’s tranquil vibe when not handled properly. 

So let’s get the full scoop on properly pooping in the woods. In this 5-minute read you’ll get everything you need to know how to poop in the woods so that the next time you’re hiking and mother nature calls…

  • Your human waste doesn’t pollute the outdoor environment
  • You can respect the trails and leave no trace
  • You keep yourself clean and avoid sticky situations
  • You can actually enjoy the whole experience

Read this article and you’ll be a Certified #2 Can-Do Do-Do in the Woods Expert! 😂

how to poop in the woods guide

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Why You Should Care About Pooping in the Woods 

Animals poop in the woods, right? So why should us humans worry about where we poop in the woods? Here’s why.

  • Poop adds up. Just as an example…a glacier geologist calculates that in the past 60 years or so climbers on route to Mt. Denali’s summit have deposited up to 215,000 pounds of human feces onto the Kahiltna Glacier.  That’s a huge pile o’ poo. 
  • Hikers’ waste is concentrated in smaller areas than animal waste. Most hikers traveling in the woods are sticking to established trails. That means anytime they have to take care of business, they’re going to be in the general vicinity of where other humans are traveling (and camping, cooking, gathering water, etc.) That means those areas will get contaminated much faster than the rest of the backcountry.
why it matters where you poop in the woods
  • Poo pathogens make their way into water sources. Sadly human waste is one of the reasons you should always filter your water while in the woods. It’s a major contributor to water contamination and nasty stuff like giardia getting into backcountry water sources. 
  • Nobody likes to find poop or used toilet paper and wipes in the woods. I mean, come on…that’s just plain gross. But sadly, along well-trafficked routes in the summer, it’s all too easy to find a fresh patch of “TP flowers”.

*True story to illustrate this… A few years ago on a road trip, I stopped at a popular vista and took a short hike to the top of a nearby hill. On the way back down I ran into a patch of “TP flowers” and other…shall we say “tootsie rolls”. Despite my best efforts, about 30 seconds after getting back in the car, I realized I hadn’t been as successful as I thought at navigating my way through the minefield. 

So please, whether you’re a woods pooping newbie or a Genuine Outdoor Person, do yourself and your fellow hikers a favor and head to the next section.

Here’s How to Poop in the Woods 

Here’s exactly what you need to do in order to properly handle human waste disposal in the woods. 

Pick a Suitable Location

Here’s what to look for in a prime pooping-in-the-woods location.

  • Find a spot that’s at least 200 feet (about 70 steps) away from any water source (streams, rivers, lakes, springs, ponds, swimming pools😜, etc.)
  • You should also be about the same distance from trails, campsites, roads, or any other place humans will be.
  • Thick undergrowth gives you cover so no one else gets a glimpse of your “cat hole choreography”.
  • Avoid places where water would flow when it rains.
  • If you can find a place that gets a lot of sunlight, even better. That’ll help with decomposition.
  • A site with dark, rich soil that’s easy to dig in is best.
  • Don’t go in the same place twice. So if you’re camping with a group for more than one night at the same place, be sure to spread your potty spots over a wide area.

Grab Your Gear

The gear you grab will depend on your disposal method. Whichever you use, go well-prepared. Run out of toilet paper? You can’t just hobble over to your bathroom vanity to grab another roll.

So don’t forget things like:

  • Trowel or stick for digging your cathole
  • Toilet paper (or your favorite smooth stone)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • WAG bag (Waste Alleviation and Gelling) or another sealable plastic bag, if you need to pack out your waste
  • Moist towelettes – Just remember to pack them out. Don’t throw them in your cathole since they take a long time to break down.

Prepare the Place for Your Caca

When it’s staying in the woods: 

  • Dig a hole at least 6 inches deep and about 6 inches wide. Six inches seems to be the sweet spot. Any wider and it’s hard to straddle. Any narrower and well…how good’s your aim?

*I’m gonna provide a diagram just to be 100% clear, but come on people…it’s not that hard to dig a hole. 

where not to poop in woods

When you need to pack it out:

  • Prep your wag bag. How you do that will depend on what type of bag you’re using. In most cases, you just grab the bag with two hands, hold it next to your backside, squat down, and go. 

If because of mobility issues you need your hands to help keep you from falling over, dig a small cathole and place the bag inside. Use some sticks or rocks to hold the bag open.

Assume Your Position

Now it’s time for the fun part that’ll make you wish you’d done more yoga in the weeks leading up to your hiking trip. 

The Squat: This is the most common position. Haven’t squatted in a while? Practice at home. You don’t want the first time you’re squatting in a year to be when your pants are down in the middle of the woods.

So here’s what to do:

  • Take a wide stance over your cathole.
  • Pull your pants down to your knees.
  • Squat down, resting your forearms or elbows on your knees
  • If necessary, pull your pants forward so they don’t catch anything. (It happens and it’s not pretty…or so I’ve heard😥)
the squat

The Tripod: If you need a little help getting into position, try the Tripod. 

  • Find a young, sturdy tree with a narrow trunk.
  • Assume the Squat stance while facing the tree.
  • After dropping your drawers, grab the tree at about waist height. I suggest interlocking your fingers…you do not want to fall!
  • Lower yourself into the squat position, using the tree to help stabilize you.
the tripod

IMPORTANT! – If you’re on an incline, make sure your butt is facing downhill. (Any stray bullets will roll downhill and not towards your feet.) That pretty much applies to any of these pooping positions.

The Throne: Similar to the tripod, this gives you extra support when you need it. 

  • Find a sturdy tree with a thick trunk.
  • Turn so your back is facing the tree.
  • Drop your pants and assume the squatting position with your back pressed against the tree.
  • If you’re doing it right, your thighs should be about parallel to the ground.
the throne

The Butt Hang (or…The Assist): Unless you’re a yoga pro, when you need to hunker down for a few minutes to take care of business, you’re gonna need a place to sit. 

  • Look for a fallen log. It shouldn’t be too big, about a 12-inch diameter or less seems to work best.
  • Sit down and scoot back as far as you can to hang your rear off the log. 
  • Go for it.
the assist pooping in the woods position

Get Rid of the Evidence – Clean-Up Time

Now it’s time for leave no trace waste disposal so the area looks exactly as it did before you came. 

  • If you’re using plain, white, biodegradable toilet paper, go ahead and bury it. 
  • Don’t bury soiled wet wipes or non-biodegradable toilet paper.
  • Cover the hole with the original dirt you removed from the hole
  • Kick some leaves, sticks, and other forest material over the hole so it looks like you were never there.
  • Clean your hands with hand sanitizer or biodegradable soap and water

TIP for group camping! – If you need to mark where you pooped so someone in your group doesn’t go nearby, just jab a stick into the ground next to your cat hole. 

What if I missed the hole? No worries. Just push everything into the hole and bury it.

If you’re carrying out all human waste? Place the poop bag in another sealed bag (you can never be too careful). Then throw it in the garbage when you get back. A lot of pre-made portable bathroom kits include a gelling powder that makes the bag easier to transport and helps neutralize the bacteria so it’s safe to throw out anywhere.

different positions to easily poop in the woods

What About Pee

  • Avoid peeing in or near small bodies of water. Try to stay about 200 feet from the water sources or campsites.
  • If you’re kayak camping or rafting along a very large river, you can pee directly into the water. The large volume of moving water will dilute it.
  • Remember…water flows downhill. Pee in a downhill direction.
  • Look for soft ground that will absorb the pee quickly.
  • If you’re a woman and want to have an easier time peeing, look into something like the Shewee

How to Handle Sticky Situations 

Having to poop in the woods can lead to some…let’s say…interesting situations. Here’s how to handle them. 

How to Poop in the Woods Without Toilet Paper

Use nature’s toilet paper. Here are your best options. 

  • A smooth stone. Yup, that’s right, a smooth rock can do the trick surprisingly well.
  • Leaves. Just avoid leaves of three (Poison Ivy), Stinging Nettles, and any other local plants that could cause reactions in sensitive areas. If you’re planning on foregoing toilet paper on your hike, do your plant research beforehand.
  • Snow. You can form a snowball into whatever shape you want for cleaning off your backside. Plus it kinda cleans you as you wipe. 

*Just remember that whatever you wipe with (toilet paper, snow, rocks, leaves, other natural materials) should go in a cat hole or WAG bag.

What If You’ve Got the Runs

That’s not gonna make for a nice backpacking trip. First off, try to avoid diarrhea in the first place by planning your food wisely, practicing proper hygiene, and purifying your water.

But if for whatever reason you get hit with the runs, this could help:

  • Take some Imodium. It’s a good idea to have a few in your first aid kit.
  • Choose your pooping position wisely. Use “The Assist” to give yourself a comfortable place to sit and a clear barrier that protects your lower legs and clothes.
  • Use a WAG bag. That gives you more control over where stuff goes. And a lot of WAG bag kits come with a gelling agent that solidifies any liquids so they’re less dangerous to transport.

When It Hits You at the Last Minute

Sometimes, for whatever reason…the urge to take care of business just hits you like a semi. There’s one BIG thing that you can do that’ll help when that happens.

Make a latrine kit and keep it handy!

As you pack your backpacking gear, make a latrine kit with TP, wipes, hand sanitizer, bags, your trowel, and whatever else you might need. Then pack it in an easy to access place. 

That way when nature calls at the last minute, you’ll be able to quickly grab your “go-bag” and go. 

Gear for Your Rear to Make Pooping in the Woods a Bit More Civilized 

Here are a few items that can help you answer nature’s call.

Biodegradable Soap and Hand Sanitizer

Proper camp hygiene is super important. These items make it easier to stay clean while impacting the outdoors as little as possible.

Coleman Camp Soap Sheets

camp soap biodegradable soap for camping
Source: Amazon

Sea to Summit Wilderness Wash

sea to summit wildnerness wash
Source: Amazon

Sierra Dawn Campsuds

concentrated biodegradable soap for camping campsuds
Source: Amazon

Portawipes Compressed Toilet Paper

*Not really soap or normal toilet paper, but these things are cool! They are tiny tabs (a tad bigger than a penny) that open up to a 9×9 inch towel when you activate them with a bit of water. 

Source: Amazon
portawipes for toilet paper camping
Source: Amazon

Lightweight Backpacking Trowel

It’s soooo much easier to dig a proper cathole with a small trowel, as opposed to a stick or your hands.

Coghlan’s Backpacker’s Trowel

Coghlan's Backpacker's Trowel
Source: Amazon

Tye Works Backcountry Backpacking Trowel

Tye Works Backcountry Backpacking Trowel
Source: Amazon

Sea To Summit Reinforced Nylon Pocket Trowel

Sea To Summit Reinforced Nylon Pocket Trowel
Source: Amazon

UST U-Dig-It Light Duty Aluminum Shovel

UST U-Dig-It Light Duty Aluminum Shovel
Source: Amazon

WAG Bags

Essential for when you need to carry out your waste.

RESTOP Leak Proof Waste Bag Kit (With TP and wet wipe included)

RESTOP Leak Proof Waste Bag Kit (With TP and wet wipe included)
Source: Amazon

NiceClimbs El Crap Waste Bag Toilet Kit

NiceClimbs El Crap Waste Bag Toilet Kit
Source: Amazon

GO Anywhere Lightweight Portable Toilet Refill Kit

GO Anywhere Lightweight Portable Toilet Refill Kit
Source: Amazon

You Are Now a Pooping in the Woods Expert!

Not really sure if you want to add that to your resume or not, but at least the next time you’re hiking, you’ll know exactly how to poop in the woods!

Follow the tips in this article and you’ll make a huge contribution towards keeping the outdoors a safe, fun, and fragrant place to have an adventure. 

Don’t forget to check out my other outdoor articles to get ready for your next backpacking or kayaking trip.

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