Nature’s call: How to properly go to the bathroom in the woods

What are the best ways for an Upstate New York outdoors enthusiast to pee and poop in the woods when there are no regular toilets or outhouses around?

Some may find this a humorous or silly subject, but the ramifications of doing things haphazardly or in a non-caring manner have both social/aesthetic and ecological implication

For example, as more people than ever flock to the Adirondacks to enjoy the park’s natural wonders and numerous activities, the number of people who answer Mother Nature’s call in the outdoors is steadily increasing.  And so are the incidents of those who relieve themselves without consideration of others or the environment.

“It’s a big issue in the High Peaks,” said Neil Woodward, executive director of the Adirondack Mountaion Club. He noted the highly popular, 6-mile trail up to Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in the state, occasionally shows signs of visible “toilet paper blooms” just off the trail leading up to the summit.

The following are recommendations from the Adirondack Mountain Club and other sources of how an outdoors enthusiast can handle No. 1 and No. 2 situations in discrete and sanitary ways without leaving any unsightly, messy or smelly traces behind.

PEEING IN THE WOODS

For males, urination is usually not a problem for anatomical reasons. A good rule of thumb is relieving one’s self in a secluded spot at least 150 to 200 feet away (about 70 paces)  from a camping site, hiking trail or a water source.  Watch out for poison ivy and bees nests.

It gets a bit more complicated for females. Basics include:

*Pick a good spot to do your business. Choose an area that’s secluded and least 150 to 200 feet away (just like the guys). The best bet is an area that allows a clear drop on flat ground, without any plants in the way and not on a flat rock. You run the risk of splattering on yourself.  Also, be on the lookout for poison ivy, ant hills or bees nests. If on a slope, always position yourself so you’re facing downward.  If you have a hand shovel, you can dig a hole or trough to pee in, but it’s not necessary.

*Get your clothes out of the way. Your pants and underwear should be down to your mid-thighs, or slightly below your knees. It’s harder for the stream to clear your pants if they are around your ankles and you are more vulnerable to tripping and losing your balance, noted a story on the topic posted on annaoutdoors.wordpress.com.

*The squat.  Assume a wide stance for balance (to make sure your feet are out of the way) and get down as low as you can.  Think of sitting in a chair. You can hold on to or put your back against a tree, a rock or something else for balance.

*The aftermath: One approach is to finish by shaking one’s hips to shake off any lingering drops and then allow a few seconds to air dry. Many prefer to bring toilet paper to wipe themselves. Don’t leave it on the ground.  Most toilet paper doesn’t biodegrade quickly and leaves a trashy mess on the ground. The best approach if you bring TP and use it is to put what you use in a ziplock baggie and pack it out. Another method is to bring along a “pee-kerchief,” a handkerchief one can use to wipe one’s self.  Attach it to your backpack to air dry.  It’s a good idea to bring along a little bottle of hand sanitizer lotion for your hands afterward.

The P-mate, one of several female urination devices available for outdoors enthusiasts. Photo by David Figura l dfigura@syracuse.com
The P-mate, one of several female urination devices available for outdoors enthusiasts. Photo by David Figura l dfigura@syracuse.com (David Figura l NYup.com)

*Pee like a guy. There are several products on the market called“female urination devices” that are either one-time or reusable funnel-type devices that enable women to pee standing up.  Products includeP-Mate, Go Girl, Pstyle, Pee Pocket.  “Make sure that all sides of the top of the pee funnel have good contact with your body so that if forms a complete seal and no pee escapes. It’s a good idea to practice at home in the shower beforehand to make sure you’ve mastered the technique,” according a story on blog.rei.com.

POOPING IN THE WOODS

According to the ADK Mountain Club, there are four objectives for proper human waste disposal in the outdoors: “Avoid polluting water sources, eliminate contact with insects and animals, maximize decomposition and minimize the chances of social impacts.” Basics include:

*Pick a good, secluded location (150 to 200 feet away from a trail or campsite, free of poison ivy, etc..) and dig a “cat hole” with a stick or a garden trowel that you brought along.  Once again, look for a spot that provides a clear drop and be on the lookout for poison ivy, ant hills or bees nests. Using a garden trowel or a stick, dig a hole about 6 to 8 inches deep with a diameter of about 8 inches (the size of a coffee can).  Pick spots that “minimize the concentration of cumulative visitor deposits along trails or near campsite,” the ADK recommends.

*Get comfortable and squat. You can either squat and balance yourself; lean against or grab on to a tree trunk as you squat; grab an overhead branch as you squat – or find a log, dig your hole on one side and sit on the log hanging your rear over the hole.

*The aftermath. Once finished cover your feces with soil in the hole and cover the hole with leaves and sticks. You can either wipe yourself with leaves or toilet paper that you brought along.  Just putting a rock over it doesn’t cut it because the four objectives mentioned above aren’t met.

Options for disposing of toilet paper including “burying it deep in the cat hole or packing it out,” the ADK said. “Do not attempt to burn toilet paper as it rarely burns completely and has caused wild fires. … Always pack out feminine hygiene products.” Finally, it’s a good idea to bring along a little bottle of hand sanitizer lotion to use afterward.

*Another option: One can also just bag and seal the solid waste in a ziplock baggie, taking it with you when you leave.  It makes sense for winter campers and hikers when the ground is frozen, making digging a cat hole impossible “and spring snowmelt and runoff will leave it in the ground and possibly into water sources,” according to the ADK. Products you can buy for this include Biffy Bags, ReSTop and,Cleanwaste.

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