How to Defecate Outdoors

Two Methods:Winter or Alpine ConditionsDesert Conditions

You were invited to go camping, and sleep under a tent under the sky and stars. It sounds like it would be great fun, but you wonder what to do when you have to use the bathroom, and there is no bathroom? Well, learning to "poop in the woods" should not stop you from enjoying the great outdoors.


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    Before you leave home, decide what you will do about toilet paper. If you insist on having it, be warned you will have to carry the used paper out with you, preferably double-bagged. A more environmentally-friendly method is to use "natural toilet paper" - leaves, sticks, etc.
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    When you feel the urge to go, always tell someone else in the group where you are going. This way, they can look out for you, and if you do not return after a short time, they will look for you to make sure you are safe.
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    Head out into the forest far enough so that people can no longer see you. If it is dark, do not wander too far from your camp, ask someone to accompany you, and always take a flashlight with you. Find a place at least 100 feet (30 meters) from camp and the trail, and 200 feet (60 meters) from water sources.
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    Once you reach a desired place, grab a stick (or bring a small shovel) and dig a hole no more than 6 inches (15.2 cm) deep (the bacteria that properly break down this waste don't live deeper than that). This hole will function the same as an outhouse hole.
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    Do your business in the hole, and take care of the paperwork.
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    Use a stick to stir some soil into your dropping, so soil bacteria can break it down more quickly. Then completely cover the material you deposited in the hole with dirt.
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    Place the dirty paper, if you used it, in a zip-lock freezer bag so you can pack it out.
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    Head back to camp and wash/sanitize your hands.

Method 1
Winter or Alpine Conditions

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    Please do not defecate in the snow. When the snow melts someone else will find your "present", as well as there is a possibility that the run-off, mixed with feces, will contaminate a water source.
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    Instead, walk until you find dirt, or pack it out (double-bagged with kitty litter, or in a poop-tube).
    • Alternatively, if you are camping on a glacier, find a small, deep crevasse.

Method 2
Desert Conditions

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    Don't bury your fecal waste in the desert. As the dropping will not decompose due to lack of bacteria in the dry soil.
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    Instead, find a rock well away from where people will be and do it there.
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    Smear the dropping into a thin layer with a stick or large rock. Leave the smeared remains uncovered and the sun will quickly decompose and sanitize the area.


  • If it's cold out - a smear of Vaseline before can minimize any wiping and speed the whole process.
  • Instead of packing out your toilet paper and risking contaminating your backpack, drop the toilet paper into the hole you dug for your poop, set the toilet paper on fire, then cover it over with dirt after it's done burning and has been extinguished completely.
  • It is easier if you lean against a tree when you squat, just try not to get it on the tree.
  • In desert conditions, "dusting" with a handful of soft sandy dirt from under a nitrogen-fixing bush (mesquite, palo verde, acacia) can function as a toilet paper substitute.
  • For everyone's sake, don't leave toilet paper behind and bury your feces properly. To do otherwise is disgusting and irresponsible.
  • If you're really anxious before you go camping, bring a small pop up tent with no base. This gives a lot more privacy.
  • Cheap toilet paper will decompose just as easily as the feces itself. Feces contains plenty of bacteria that can break itself down, hence septic tanks working without adding bacteria.

More expensive toilet papers may contain substances to enhance the strength and softness. So expensive toilet paper may not decompose as quickly.


  • If you are in the forest, it is very easy to quickly get lost even in daytime since everything looks the same in all directions. Make sure you know how to get back to your camp even if you don't walk far.
  • Never leave camp without telling anyone. This is for your own safety should you become injured while away.
  • Some animals and insects are attracted to the odor, so always make sure you go to the bathroom far away from camp.
  • Make sure you are not near a prickly bush. This may hurt! Same goes for poison ivy and poison oak.
  • Always be extremely careful burning toilet paper. In dry conditions please pack it out ask the risk of forest fire are increased.
  • If you dig a hole, don't let your shovel touch your feces.
  • Defecate at least 200 feet (60 meters) from any water source, for it could contaminate the water supply.

Things You'll Need

  • Toilet paper (optional)
  • A flashlight
  • A small shovel (you could also use a stick, but it would be harder)
  • A Ziploc-type freezer bag
  • Hand sanitizer

Article Info

Categories: Camping Hygiene | Intestinal and Digestive Health