Introduction: Going to the Bathroom in the Wilderness

When one is enjoying the beauty of the wilderness, it is important to understand the impact one's presence has on the fragile environment. We don't want to foul the water sources we rely on or affect the habits of the wild critters that live there. If one excretes carelessly, microbes from waste can taint water from nearby streams and lakes, or become an eyesore if dug up by an animal. Here are some techniques for safely and properly disposing of human waste in the wilderness.

Step 1: Materials

A simple small, durable plastic shovel, and partial roll of toilet paper (size depending on how long your trip is). Keep these clean in a gallon zip-lock plastic bag. Some hard-core backpackers take the cardboard roll out of the middle to save space!

Step 2: Choosing a Location

There are different standards for different locations. National Parks specify in their rules that human waste must be deposited at least 100 feet from water, trails, and inhabited backcountry campsites. Other types of wilderness areas, such as National Forests, may have less stringent regulations. To practice good backcountry ethics, it's best to play it safe and be far away from all of those sources, where there is loose soil for digging and plenty of privacy. 

Step 3: Choosing a Location #2

Not to be underestimated is the importance of a good view! Your most memorable moment of your trip might be a glimpse of a deer passing in the distance with a scenic mountain vista in the background during your serene moment of comfort.

Step 4: Techniques

Be sure to dig at least 6" deep. Rocky areas can be difficult, so look for sand or loose dirt to work. Erosion from snow, rain, hail, wind, and ice can expose your handiwork over time, and decomposition is slow at high altitudes, so the digging depth is important. You might want to be near a boulder to prop yourself up when it's time. Enjoy!

Step 5: Finishing Up

When the deed is done, make every attempt to cover up your business with plenty of soil and a few large rocks. These will prevent wild animals from rooting it up, and heaven forbid, others hikers from stumbling across it during their bathroom site hunts. Some popular areas are very heavily impacted, and it might take some effort to keep a pristine look. Heavy use areas, such as Yosemite National Park, actually require the toilet paper be packed out. One can avoid this unpleasant practice by using rocks, sticks, or leaves. This is actually not nearly as bad as it sounds, and provides a feeling of incredible freedom (although it isn't for everybody).

Step 6: Peace and Contentment

As you enjoy the beauty and solitude of the wilderness, do so with the knowledge that you have left minimal impact, and taken care to protect your chosen area for others to appreciate in the future. Happy hiking and happy...well, you know!

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