How to Dispose of Human Waste in the Backcountry

The need to go can happen whether backpacking on an extended expedition or on a day hike. Being able to properly dispose of human waste is important not only to fulfill basic needs, but to avoid harming the environment.

Why Use a Cat Hole?

According to Leave No Trace, Inc., burying human waste is an effective method for disposing of feces in the backcountry. It helps to maintain hygiene while preventing the pollution of lakes and streams, as well as keeping the waste discreetly away from other hikers and campers.

Be Ready to Go

Before going out on the trail, bring a few key items to make it easier to go to the bathroom in the backcountry. Some things to bring include:

  • Hand trowel: either a garden trowel or a plastic, lightweight backpacking trowel to dig a cat hole.
  • Toilet paper: choose a brand that does not have a scent. Some brands are made from recycled materials. Store in a plastic bag to keep dry.
  • Hand sanitizer: use to maintain backcountry hygiene.

How to Dig a Cat Hole

A hole should be dug between six and eight inches deep. This is where the waste can most easily break down in the soil. The hole should also be at least 200 feet from water sources and trails. This is so that the water is not contaminated by human feces, and that other visitors do not find waste or see someone taking care of their personal business.

When digging the hole, it helps to have a log or rock next to it so that one can sit. Afterwards, use a stick to mix up any paper left in the hole with the waste in order to help with the paper’s decomposition. Cover the hole with the dirt dug up from the cat hole, and stomp on the dirt to compress it in the hole.

Alternatives to Toilet Paper

Using natural forms of toilet paper means less paper left in the backcountry, and they can be left in hole, which also means no paper to pack out as well. These include:

  • Smooth rocks, such as from a riverbed.
  • Leaves
  • Snow, which can be easily compacted into a ball.
  • Sticks, with the bark removed.

When Holes Aren’t Practical

Sometimes it just isn’t possible to dig a hole. Some areas may be so sensitive that land management agencies prohibit it. When this is a concern, bring along a commercially made plastic bag to be used to store waste in a sanitary manner and bto e packed out of the backcountry.