You’re out in the backcountry, miles from the nearest AMC composting privy and without a toilet-in-a-bag, and nature is calling. It’s a bowel movement. Never fear: if you know how to dig a hole for your waste—known colloquially as a “cat hole”—that complies with Leave No Trace principles, you’re free to go whenever. Here’s how to poop in the woods.
Gear Up to Go
Before you head out on your adventure, make sure you’ve packed the supplies you’ll need to properly poop in the woods, should the urge arise. Here are the four essentials:
- Trowel: For digging a cat hole. These are available at most camp or hardware stores. The simple plastic kind works great! If you don’t own or forget your trowel at home, a rock or a stick also work.
- Toilet paper: For wiping.
- A baggie: To pack out your toilet paper.
- Hand sanitizer: To clean your hands after.
Find a Spot
In selecting a site to poop in the woods, we want to minimize water contamination, disease spread, and social impacts on our fellow recreators. For these reasons, pick a site that’s 200 feet (or about 70 adult paces) from a water sources, trails, and campsites. In some cases,
Pick a place that’s out of view, ideally with rich, dark soil. Dark soil contains plenty of microbes and fungus to help break down your poop.
Dig and Go
Using your trowel, dig a hole that’s 6 to 8 inches deep and around 6 inches wide. Pile the soil around the hole to fill in later.
When your cat hole’s ready, stand over the hole and poop! Once you’ve finished, wipe using minimal toilet paper or try natural materials like leaves or stones. To reduce your impact, pack out your toilet paper in the baggie you brought and only bury toilet paper if you do not have a method for packing it out.
Next, stir it all up with a sturdy stick to help speed up its decomposition and fill the hole back in with soil. Disguise your cathole with sticks and leaves and don’t forget to sanitize.
Keep in mind that these instructions apply for mild-weather outings only. On winter outings, AMC recommends packing out all solid waste because the cold slows down the rate at which poop decomposes. For winter hikes, a WAG bag or other toilet-in-a-bag product is a good alternative to leaving it in the woods. These are kits that contain a large bag with chemical powders that help to break down the human waste and include toilet paper and sanitizing wipes. Once used they are safe to dispose of in a common trash receptacle.
In most cases, though, when you know what to do—and how to do it safely and discretely—pooping in the woods isn’t such a big deal.