How Do I Sh*t in the Woods?

17 Jun 13
How Do I Sh*t in the Woods?
How to find the perfect spot to cop a squat.

Dear Mountain Mama,

I’m spending a weekend in the backcountry for the first time. My camping experience is limited to car camping, with at least a port-a-pottie nearby. What’s the etiquette for taking a dump in the woods?

Clueless About Sh*t

Dear Clueless About Sh*t,

First off, thank for asking a question many wonder about but never ask. Everyone does it. The bears do it. The deer do it. Your backcountry camping partners do it. Yet, many are reluctant to talk about how to pooh in the woods.

The answer depends on where you’re planning on camping. For the purposes of the post, I’ll assume you’re camping in the temperate forests of the Southeast, where the wet, fertile ground contains earthworms and bugs who will make quick work of decomposing human waste.

Give yourself plenty of time to find a good spot to squat. At the first sign that you might have a bowel movement, grab a small shovel or walking stick. The general rule is to choose a location that’s 200 feet or more away from any water source, trail, or campsite. [ed. – story originally said 2,000 feet.]

While you’re picking out an ideal spot, look for good wiping materials. I know one friend who waited until she finished the deed before looking for something to wipe her skin clean. In her haste, she ended up grabbing poison ivy and was left with an itchy bum for weeks. Ouch! Instead, use leaves, pine cones (go with the grain), or moss to wipe.

When picking a toilet location, I like to chose one with a good view. If you anticipate being there for a while, consider looking for a log on the ground. This allows you to sit on the log and scoot your butt back until it hangs over the side of log, providing a familiar toilet-like feel.

Nice view.

Nice view for number two.

Once you’ve picked a spot, dig a cathole. This is wear your small shovel or walking stick comes in handy. The hole should be six to eight inches deep, that way nobody else accidentally steps in it but it’s shallow enough that the decomposing process will happen quickly.

Before squatting over the cathole, be sure to roll the top of your pants down to your knees and the legs of your pants up to your knees. There’s nothing worse than getting poop on your only pair of pants. After you’ve done your business, deposit the moss or leaves you used to wipe into the cathole. Mix a little bit of dirt in with the feces. The dirt helps expedite the decomposing process. Cover the hole with dirt and leaves.

Clueless about sh*t, now you know. Knowing means that you won’t poop in a place where your friends see you, or worse, later step in your shit. And nobody wants to get a waterborne disease because someone pooped too close to water. Take your time and enjoy a peaceful meditative experience out in nature!

Mountain Mama


  • the article may have been edited but If it said 2000 feet that is almost half a mile (1 mile = 5220 feet). the proper distance is 200 feet and that NOT five and half football fields away it is about 2/3 of ONE football field. 50 to 75 feet is plenty of distance.

    PhilB   17 Jun 13, 2:40 pm

  • 200 feet is only 75 yards, check the math. You be over 1500 feet from water at 5 football fields.

    Bill   17 Jun 13, 2:34 pm

  • What??!!! I have been crapping in the woods for 56 years and if I had to walk 5 1/2 football fields to crap…I would crap all over myself….then what should I do to wash up? go to the creek?? How do you know after hiking 5 1/2 football fields length that just beyond…say 50 more feet away..there isn’t a campground or trail. This is SO unrealistic!

    Cathy   17 Jun 13, 12:47 pm

  • What about technique? The various ways to bend, squat, lean, and position are as varied as tai chi positions and are dependent on personal preference, agility, and terrain. Some folks like to simply squat as in the description given in the above response. Others, on the other hand aren’t quite that flexible and may choose to assume a sitting position while backed up to a tree or large boulder. Still others may prefer squatting with the assistance of a tree branch or limb, much like holding a ski rope handle for support. And still others may be lucky enough to find a fallen log that’s just the right width and height to hand your ass over the back side making a sort of horizontal toilet seat. I have tried all these ways and found each to be situationally accurate and can get you far enough off the ground to eliminate splashback from being too close, or wide spray pattern from being too far. So, if you are unsure and have plenty of time, privacy, and not confident that your camp food will leave you with the perfect fluffy turd, I suggest either removing one pants leg and pulling your pants to the outside or simply taking them off to avoid the aforementioned shitted pants. And, here on the wet east coast, I do bury TP but only the biodegradable kind. When we backpack in the Grand Canyon or desert, you have to pack it out. Some people like to burn their TP but after a friend caused a forest fire doing that, I have refrained.
    Pooping in the wilderness can be rewarding and gratifying adventure. Enjoy!

    Bill Moore   17 Jun 13, 11:22 am

  • Hello Mountain Mama,
    I appreciate your quick explanation on taking a crap in the woods. I think it’s important for all levels of backpackers/ campers to understand this process, do it correctly, and embrace it enthusiastically. One point of concern I noted in your article was the distance of 2,000 ft away from water source or trail. Is this a typo? Leave No Trace principles state 200 ft. is plenty of distance and one football field is about 350 ft. anyway. I would caution readers in walking an extreme distance away because they will a) get lost on the way back b) crap there pants before they get to the perfect location c) hate the concept of hiking that far to take a good pooh.

    Overall, I think the article is great. I would also suggest to readers that if you are transitioning from porta-potty to attemping catholes and are reluctant to use all natural materials, there is nothing wrong with bringing along some wet wipes or toilet paper (just be sure that it gets packed-out in a ziploc tight bag) and never bury your TP. Last note, sanitize your hands after wiping! Happy poohing everybody.


    Urbanite   17 Jun 13, 10:41 am

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