Going in the Forest

Human Waste Disposal in the National Forest or How to Pee and Poop in the Backcountry

When toilet facilities are closed or unavailable...

Proper disposal of human waste is important to avoid pollution of water sources, avoid the negative implications of someone else finding it, minimize possibility of spreading disease and maximize rate of decomposition. When people are not responsible going in the woods, they contaminate the water you swim in, fish from, and drink. Bacteria and viruses found in human feces are known to cause hepatitis, salmonella, giardia, and other gastro-intestinal diseases. Remember, the water in the rivers and lakes you visit may flow into your own drinking supply.

As more and more people enjoy parks and protected areas every year, packing out human waste is likely to become a more common practice to ensure long-term sustainability of our shared lands.

First a word about Number One:

Move at least 200 feet away from any water sources, trails, parking areas and campsites. Urine has little direct effect on vegetation or soil. In some instances, urine may draw wildlife which are attracted to the salts. They can defoliate plants and dig up soil. Urinating on rocks, pine needles, and gravel is less likely to attract wildlife. Diluting urine with water from a water bottle can help minimize negative effects.

Women should pack out or bury toilet paper after peeing. Don’t leave TP flowers on the ground. Carry two ziploc bags... turn one inside out to use as a glove to grab toilet paper, turn the bag right-side-out and zip it closed, enclosing the used TP inside. Place this bag inside the second sandwich bag to double bag it. This sealed bag can join the rest of your trash to be packed out.

Moving on to Number Two:

Your options for dealing with number two are simple: You can dig a hole and bury your solid waste, or you can pack it out.

Pack it Out:

There are several EPA-approved, commercially produced pack-out systems available that are easy to use and sanitary for backpacking/hiking use.

When nature calls, you grab your bag kit, toilet paper, bag for used toilet paper, and hand sanitizer and head off to find a secluded area. You squat and do your business. You then take your trusty pack-out kit, slip the inner bag over your hand and grab your poo pile. Then, fully enclose the poo and seal that bag inside the thicker, outer bag or stash inside your container of choice. Place your used toilet paper in the bag. Clean your hands with hand sanitizer. Pack it out with you and dispose of properly at home.

Dig a Cathole:

cathole graphic and a trowel

In most locations, burying human feces in a cat hole in the correct manner is the most effective method and most widely accepted method of waste disposal.

Move at least 200 feet (about 70 steps) away from any water sources, trails, parking areas and campsites. Select an inconspicuous site where other people will be unlikely to walk or camp. 

Choose a sunny site with rich soil that’s free from roots and large rocks. Sunlight and soil help your waste decompose faster. If camping in the area for more than one night, or if camping with a large group, cat hole sites should be widely dispersed. Don’t go to the same place twice.

Use a trowel, stick or rock to dig a hole that is 4–6 inches wide and 6–8 inches deep.

After you’ve done your business, fill in hole with the original dirt and completely cover it using natural materials.

Use toilet paper sparingly and use only plain, white, non-perfumed brands. Toilet paper must be disposed of properly! It should either be thoroughly buried in a cat hole or placed in plastic bags and packed out. Natural toilet paper has been used by many campers for years. When done correctly, this method is as sanitary as regular toilet paper, but without the impact problems. Popular types of natural toilet paper include stones, vegetation and snow. Obviously, some experimentation is necessary to make this practice work for you, but it is worth a try!

Leave No Trace has a short video demonstrating the cathole technique.

Printable version of poster: Dispose of Human Waste

How to dispose of human waste in the forest