How to Poop in the Woods: Answering the Call of Nature

By: Ashley Vitiello | Last Updated on December 22, 2023
how to poop in the woods

As we peel ourselves away from the conveniences of modern living and plunge into the embrace of Mother Nature, there are a few ‘natural calls’ that cannot be silenced. Yes, we’re talking about a topic that’s often avoided in polite conversation but is vital when adventuring in the great outdoors: pooping in the woods. It might seem trivial, or even a bit humorous, but learning to handle our bodily functions in a way that is respectful to the environment is paramount.

Let’s discuss the basics of wilderness hygiene, primarily focusing on the most efficient, least intrusive, and most environmentally conscious ways to relieve ourselves when in the woods. Nature’s call doesn’t discriminate, and when you’re out exploring the great outdoors, knowing how to poop in the woods is an essential skill every hiker, camper, and backpacker should master. So let’s dive into the world of spades, cat holes, and leave-no-trace ethics.

10 Easy Steps for How to Poop in the Woods (Properly)

Here are 10 easy steps to successfully poop properly in the woods.

  1. Embrace the art of outdoor pooping
  2. Know local rules and regulations
  3. Gather your supplies
  4. Choose the ideal spot
  5. Dig the perfect cat hole
  6. Assume the position
  7. Clean up
  8. Cover it up
  9. Practice good backcountry hygiene
  10. Be prepared for special circumstances

1. Embrace the Art of Outdoor Pooping

Don’t Hold It

First and foremost, understand that it’s completely natural to poop in the woods. So, when nature calls, don’t hold it! Holding it in can lead to physical discomfort, constipation, and even health issues. Your body will eventually establish a routine, and you’ll find that pooping outdoors isn’t as daunting as it initially seems.

I’ve found that in times when I hold it, I end up feeling rushed while digging my cathole, which can compromise on quality. If you feel like you will need to go soon, go ahead and find your ideal spot and start digging.

Mental Preparation

Part of the art of outdoor pooping is getting over the mental block. Remember, humans have been doing this for millennia, and with the right attitude and approach, you too can master this essential outdoor skill. Embrace the experience, and don’t be afraid to get down and dirty when the time comes.

2. Know the Rules and Regulations

Before you venture into the wilderness, familiarize yourself with the Leave No Trace principles. These guidelines ensure that you properly poop outdoors so you minimize your impact on the environment and respect fellow outdoor enthusiasts. Some key points to remember include:

  • If you dig a cathole, stay at least 200 feet (approximately 70 steps) away from water sources, trails, and campsites.
  • In places that allow it, bury your toilet paper. Some regions may require that you store used toilet paper in a plastic bag and pack it out.
  • Pack out all other hygiene products like tampons and wet wipes.
  • In dry, arid places and in narrow canyons, you may have to use human waste disposal bags and pack out your solid waste.
  • If you’re rafting along a very large river, you should pee directly into the water so that the shoreline doesn’t become saturated. The large amount of flowing water will dilute it.

Research the specific rules and regulations for human waste disposal in the area you plan to visit. In some high-elevation, sensitive, or heavily traveled areas, you may be required to pack out all solid human waste. Be prepared with the necessary equipment such as WAG bags and/or portable toilets.

An example of as sign showing local regulations. Photo from LNT.

3. Gather Your Supplies

Before heading into the woods, make sure you have all the necessary supplies on hand. These may vary depending on your disposal method but can include:

  • Toilet paper or alternative wiping materials. It will take some adjustments, but using other natural materials like leaves and smooth rocks will let you avoid dealing with toilet paper.
  • Sealable plastic bag or WAG bag for packing out soiled toilet paper
  • Camp trowel or lightweight digging tool (like The Deuce by TentLab)
  • Hand sanitizer or biodegradable soap and water for handwashing

4. Choose the Ideal Spot

Picking the perfect location for your outdoor bathroom break is crucial for both comfort and environmental protection. Here are some tips to help you find the best spot:

  • Stay at least 200 feet (70 steps) away from water sources, trails, and campsites.
  • Look for loose, rich soil (dark colored) and a sunny site to encourage faster decomposition.
  • Opt for privacy by finding underbrush or a secluded area.
  • The site should be elevated and not affected by rain or runoff.
  • Avoid obvious spots in high-use areas to prevent turning the location into an informal toilet.
  • If you are camping for more than one night with a large group, consider creating a latrine if local regulations allow for it.
Our Duece #2 by TentLab. It comes with us on every hike, backpacking trip, and camping trip.

5. Dig the Perfect Cat Hole

Once you’ve found your ideal spot and gathered your supplies, it’s time to dig a cat hole. This is an essential step in learning how to poop in the woods, as it helps to minimize your impact on the environment.

To dig a proper cat hole, use a camp trowel or other digging tool to create a hole about 4-6 inches wide and 6-8 inches deep. If the ground is too hard or rocky to dig, consider lifting a rock, using that spot, and replacing the rock when you’re done. Alternatively, you can carry out your waste and used toilet paper in a bag.

6. Assume the Position

Now that you’ve prepared your cat hole, it’s time to assume the position. There are several methods to choose from, including:

  • The Squat: Place your feet apart for balance, pull your pants down past your knees, and squat with your bottom close to the ground. Use one hand to pull your pants forward, keeping them out of the line of fire.
  • The Throne: Find a tree on a slight hill and press your back against it. Plant your feet firmly and squat with your thighs parallel to the ground.
  • The Tripod: Locate a slender yet sturdy tree trunk, grip it tightly, and lean back into a squat. Position your feet near the base of the tree.
  • The Assist: Look for a fallen log or tree stump to sit on. Hang your rear off the edge and go for it.

7. Clean Up

Once you’ve done your business, it’s essential to clean up properly. This not only helps maintain the environment but also keeps you feeling fresh and comfortable during your outdoor adventure. Here are some cleanup options:

  • Toilet Paper: Use as little as possible and pack it out in a sealable plastic bag, or bury it properly if local regulations allow.
  • Natural Objects: Large leaves (non-poisonous), smooth stones, or snowballs can be used as alternatives to toilet paper. Have your chosen item handy beforehand.
  • Wet Wipes: Pre-moistened wipes or baby wipes can be useful but must be packed out in your waste bag (along with menstrual supplies).
  • Backcountry Bidet: Use a small water bottle or container to squirt water on your bum.

8. Cover It Up

Once you’re all cleaned up, it’s time to cover your cat hole. Follow these steps to do so responsibly:

  1. Fill the hole with the original dirt, ensuring that it’s completely filled.
  2. Tamp down the dirt with your foot.
  3. Cover and disguise the spot with natural materials.
  4. Use hand sanitizer or soap and water to thoroughly clean your hands.
The ground should look undisturbed and natural.

9. Practice Good Backcountry Hygiene

Maintaining good hygiene while in the backcountry is essential for both your own health and the environment. Some tips to keep in mind include:

  • Carry hand sanitizer or soap and water for handwashing after using the bathroom.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly at least once a day when backpacking.
  • Dispose of dirty water on dirt, rather than on plants or lichen-covered rocks.
  • Consider carrying a small, fast-drying pack towel for drying hands or bathing.

10. Be Prepared for Special Circumstances

Sometimes, pooping in the woods may require additional considerations. Here are a few scenarios you might encounter:

  • Packing Out Solid Waste: If required by regulations or for environmental reasons, be prepared to carry out your waste using WAG bags or other portable toilet options. Do not throw human waste bags into pit toilets – properly dispose of them in a trash can or designated human waste drop off.
  • Menstrual Supplies: No matter where you are, period products must be packed out.
  • Nighttime Bathroom Breaks: If you need to go in the middle of the night, consider using a designated bottle (with a pee funnel if needed) to avoid venturing far from your tent. Close the bottle securely, place it outside your tent, and dispose of the contents in the morning.

Why Do We Follow These Steps?

Following these ten steps helps ensure that our outdoor spaces remain beautiful and clean for generations to come. This means not polluting water sources, minimizing exposure to disease, and avoiding the negative implications of someone else finding it (yuck!). If an area is particularly fragile (like alpine settings), dry (like deserts), or small (like a river gorge), our efforts can help further protect that place from the negative effects of human presence.

Final Thoughts

Pooping in the woods is not just a cheeky anecdote for your next camping trip, but an essential skill for every outdoor enthusiast. It’s about embracing a different mindset, where respect for the environment takes precedence over convenience. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a novice camper, the ability to ‘go’ responsibly while leaving no trace, is as much a part of your wilderness toolkit as a compass or a good pair of hiking boots.

By adhering to the principles of environmental stewardship, we can ensure that our wild spaces remain pristine and inviting for future generations. So the next time nature calls during your outdoor escapades, remember: dig your cathole, aim right, and properly dispose of your toilet paper.

Here’s to responsible and ethical outdoor adventuring, one poop at a time. After all, every little ‘deposit’ we make in nature counts!

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With over 60 years of experience in the outdoors, we don’t just talk about outdoor gear or recommend a good hiking trail.

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About The Author

Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, wildflowers, scenic snacking, and mushrooms. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent years enjoying time outside doing things like hiking, camping, and rock climbing.
Her goal with Know Nothing Nomads is to make these hobbies easily accessible through knowledgeable content and how-to's based on all the stuff she's learned on her journey. If she isn't writing an article, she's probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.

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We are Derek and Ashley of Know Nothing Nomads. Whether it is hiking, camping, or just generally being outside, we love it. We are so happy that you have found our little blog and hope that you stick around a while. Feel free to contact us with any questions or get in touch with us on social media!


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