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.
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!