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Do You Know The 7 D’s Of Backcountry Defecation?

Author: Ethan Newman

September 20, 2016

Whether you’re a hardened veteran or stickered water bottle gumby, we all hear the Call of the Wild. That call that beckons us, trumpets blaring, drums pounding, in our minds—and mainly in our bowels. But before you grab the orange trowel and waddle off into the bushes, know that there is a very right and very wrong way to poop in the woods. Let me introduce to you the Seven D’s of backcountry defecation. Follow these seven steps, and you’ll be defecating in tall cotton in no time.

First, though, make sure you’ve packed a small kit for when nature calls. In my kit, I carry a trowel for digging, hand sanitizer, a small roll of toilet paper or wet wipes, and a zip-lock bag for the toilet paper. If you only bring one of these, make sure you bring the hand sanitizer.

Desire. While this first one may seem obvious, consider that often times our diets and eating habits change while we’re in the backcountry. Dehydrated and freeze-dried foods, and hearty nonperishables like GORP are often a far different consistency and require different digestive times than what you’re used to. Wait for the right moment, for it will come.

Distance. After grabbing your trusty trowel, or a makeshift digging tool (so paleo!), walk at least 200 feet away from any campsite, trail, or especially any water source.  If the terrain makes it hard to guess how far away three hundred feet is, walk for five minutes in one direction while thinking about the horrors of Giardiasis. That should get you far enough away to avoid any sort of contamination.

Dig like you mean it. A proper hole to poo in should be at least six inches deep after you’ve gone. That means you’ll probably have to dig an additional 2-4 inches. An easy way to tell it’s deep enough is that it should be deeper than the length of your hand. I highly recommend performing this measuring method before the next step.

Do. ‘Nuff said—we’ll leave that between you and the forest.

Deal. If you’ve got toilet paper, by all means use it, but don’t bury it. Toilet paper takes a lot longer to break down than you’d think, and adds quite a bit of mass to your waste pile. If you’re going to take toilet paper or wet wipes, also take a Ziploc to pack it out. (Some people cover their Ziploc bag in duct tape to give it a bit more reinforcement, and for added discretion.) A good alternative to TP is a series of smooth rocks or debarked sticks; effective and exfoliating!

Disguise. Using a stick or rock to stir some dirt in with what you’ve left behind will quicken its route to decomposition. Cover up your hole with the soil you unearthed, making sure it’s deep enough that nothing will dig it up. Nobody likes Lassie coming back with a surprise.

Disinfect. Use the hand sanitizer you’ve brought, or if you have biodegradable soap, even better. Make sure you clean your hands thoroughly, as backcountry hygiene is important for all trips—especially long ones. Illnesses are harder to treat with a tiny first aid kit. Don’t be the Typhoid Mary of the campground.

If you’ve followed these seven steps you can walk the 200 feet back to your campsite with a spring in your step, feeling a little light footed, knowing you’ve done what must be done, and leaving hardly a trace. You’ve communed with nature, connecting yourself to ancestors past, and answered the call of the wild with a resounding “toot.”

Ethan Newman

Ethan Newman is sometimes a writer, a ranger, a landscaper, an arborist, but mostly a climber. His writing can be found online, as well as in Alpinist and Climbing Magazine. He lives in Springdale, Utah.