How to answer the call of nature when you’re in nature

Person going into the woods [Photo credit: Kyle Peyton/Unsplash]

Surely there are some things in life that are so simple that we simply can’t mess them up. Things that we’ve been doing since the dawn of humanity. Things that are as natural as breathing.

We’re talking, of course, about pooping. And not just pooping, but pooping in the woods, the way people have done since time immemorial.

But it turns out that answering the call of nature when you’re out in nature can be a difficult and even dangerous undertaking. Take the case of a pair of campers in Nevada who, earlier this month, started a forest fire because they were trying burn their waste. The fire spread across an area of 504 acres, requiring attendance by 228 personnel.

You may wonder who would resort to lighting a fire to get rid of their discarded dung, but the desire to eradicate our excrement runs deep, and burning toilet paper at the very least isn’t an uncommon practice.

So perhaps some proper instructions may be in order to ensure that we’re all doing our duty with due care. Here’s our quick’n’dirty (but not too dirty) guide to pooping in the woods.

Don’t do it unless you have to

Outhouse in the woods
[Photo credit: Amy Reed]

Outhouse occupied? A few minutes’ wait isn’t an adequate reason to resort to relieving yourself in the woods. Though it’s natural, excrement isn’t exactly great for the environment. Human waste can take a year to decompose, and can contaminate groundwater and spread illness and disease. It’s best to avoid going in the woods at all if possible, so if there are any facilities available to you, use them.

Choose a good spot

Find a place that’s out of the way to do your business, not just for your own modesty, but for the good of humanity and nature. Leave No Trace, an organization dedicated to educating people about using the outdoors responsibly, recommends that you stay 200 feet from trails, water, and campsites.

Dig a hole

plastic backpacking shovel/spade
[Photo Credit: Pine Creek Outdoors]

When you go camping in the backwoods, you probably bring a hatchet, but you might also want to consider bringing a spade. Digging a hole is the best practice if you’re going to be leaving anything behind outdoors, so to speak, and that hole should be a minimum of six inches deep. Fortunately, you can buy light plastic spades that don’t add much to your load.

Choose the right toilet paper

There’s definitely a hierarchy of appropriate toilet paper materials. Least appropriate are scented and colored toilet papers. Even in your home, these just aren’t good for the environment, or your health. Next is plain, biodegradable toilet paper. This is better, and can be buried in your hole along with your leavings, hopefully to decompose soon. Best of all (from an environmental standpoint) is “natural” toilet paper. Yes, we’re talking about good old leaves (lamb’s ear is supposed to be decadently soft!), twigs (smooth ones), and, uh, rocks.

Bury it, or (yes) pack it out, but do not burn!

Once you’re done, cover over your hole fully so it won’t be stumbled upon by animals or other unfortunate campers. Of course, if you truly want to leave no trace, bringing your used toilet paper (or even your excrement itself) out with you to dispose of at home is the absolute best. For that, you’ll probably need a good sealable bag (preferably non-transparent). You can also use products like kitty litter to pack it in, which will minimize messiness. Of course, the one thing you don’t want to do is burn your toilet paper. Sure, it’ll break it down, but as we’ve just learned, it also might start a wildfire, so resist the temptation to torch it.

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