A Guide To Pooping In The Woods
This guide includes LNT instructions, the importance of monitoring bowel movements, the poop rating system, euphemisms for pooping, and the story of my favorite poop!
Leave No Trace After Defecating
- Pack it out. You can carry plastic bags, bag your poop, and dispose of it later in a toilet or privy.
- Go in a privy. As a former member of an AMC trail crew, I do want to highlight that privies are strictly for pooping. Peeing in a privy is what makes it smell and prevents the fecal matter from decomposing properly, so please avoid doing this.
- Bury it or go directly in a cathole. This hole should be six to eight inches deep, away from the trail, and 200 feet away from water, campsites, and shelters. Always carry a shmoo shovel (trowel) on the trail, and treat it well. You can even name your shmoo shovel! In India, ours was Paco. A shmoo shovel should never come in contact with your poop.
- If you are in an area without a privy that you can’t dig in and don’t have anything to pack out your poop in (i.e., on top of a rocky mountain), then defecate on a hard, durable surface, such as rock. A rock is not a living organism, but moss, lichen, grass, and bushes are, so avoid killing these organisms with your crap. Save lichen, shit on rocks.
- Please see the Leave No Trace website for their policies at https://lnt.org/learn/7-principles.
Keep Tallies On Your Poops
- Your bowel movements are an important indicator of your health. As a veterinary technician, we record stool quality in order to help monitor the patients. If an animal has continuous diarrhea or blood in its stool, than we notify the vet and adjust the treatment as needed. So if you’re on the trail and notice that you’ve had several bouts of diarrhea in a row, than it might mean that you are getting sick or are dehydrated. Also diarrhea can be caused by dehydration and cause dehydration, so if your stool is loose, increase your water intake.
- Conversely, your lack of bowel movements are indicative of your health. If you aren’t defecating, that can be a bad sign. It’s a good idea to know how frequently you poop normally. Therefore, if you notice that you’re going significantly less than usual or not at all, than you should try to consume foods and liquids that will help you do the doo.
- It’s fun! Believe me, keeping track of your poop can make for hilarious stories. At least in my experience. Also, getting more comfortable talking about poop can make life easier. For example, you won’t feel as awkward bringing it up with doctors or you won’t be as embarrassed when you stink up the bathroom at your significant other’s place.
The Poop Scale
- Liquid. It feels like you’re pooping water. “It’s coming out of me like lava! Movie, anyone?
- Loose stool. Basically, mild diarrhea.
- Perfect. Not too hard, not too soft. No burn, no extra effort.
- Slightly hard. Potentially difficulty to push out.
- Rock solid. It feels like you’re squeezing large diamonds out of your ass. Your turds may even cause some bleeding on the way out.
How To Use The Scale
- Using the number system, keep track of your poops, especially if you begin to notice your fecal matter drifting to one end of the scale. If you do tend away from 2.5 to 3.5, start to pay special attention in order to be on top of trends that may indicate oncoming sickness, the need to drink more water, or the need to consume a more balanced diet, including fiber.
- Even better, keep a poop journal! If you are journaling, then you can keep a couple pages in the back dedicated to recording bowel movements. In India, the whole group shared a poop journal, and we all got copies when we came home. It’s funny to look at now, like the day where someone had 11 poops. He was very sick. It was hilarious (because he was fine in the end).
- Taking a dump
- Baking a brownie
- Building a log cabin
- Code brown
- Dispensing some soft-serve
- Download a brown load
- Foraging for dingleberries
- Let the dogs out
- Dropping the kids off at the pool (my personal favorite, learned from a friend who I studied abroad with in Botswana)
Emma’s Greatest Poop Of All Time
The best crap I ever had was along the AT in southern Massachusetts in fall 2009. I was on a training weekend backpacking trip with my World Challenge gang. When I remember that trip, I recall dreading the idea of pooping. I didn’t know everyone well enough yet, and making a grab for Paco was my worst nightmare. However, on the second night, I could not hold it any more. I took Paco as inconspicuously as possible and marched away to find a spot.
I climbed to the top of a hill, and my eyes widened. I had come across a magnificent lookout with the sun setting on rolling hills of fall foliage in New England. It was such a beautiful view. There was a downed tree conveniently placed on the top of that hill. After digging a hole in front of the log, I rested against it as I dropped my kids off at the pool. Of course, they were all 3s. Finally, the agony of clenching my cheeks shut was over. I sat there for an unnecessary amount of time just to take in that view and revel in my satisfaction.
OK folks, that’s it for my guide on pooping in the great outdoors. May your travels be blessed with many 3s!
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.
Far as descriptions go, I’ve always liked one we used in the Pen. “Dropping a Duece”. See ya on the trail toots.
Vince aka “The Dude, SOBO, ’17/’18
A very resourceful blog with good information. Reminds me of my days in the Israeli army. Look forward to reading more.
This post is almost 5 years old, but still valid! We were a group of students planning for a mountain hike (field study) lasting over three weeks this summer when we discovered the post. At the first glance we laughed out loud. But after really reading it, we found it full of practical hints. Only a few of us in the group had some kind of hiking experience. Therefore, it came as a shock to some that they would have to squat over the ground when pooping.
As we were staying in remote areas for over three weeks, it was not feasible to pack out the human waste. It would have been all too much to carry it around for so long time. It was also quite difficult to make proper holes. We had to stick to advice #4, do it on a durable surface. But as we were 9 persons, we had to make a strategy. It would soon become too messy if everyone should find their own “hiding place”. Every place we camped, we therefore pointed out a certain spot as a “bombing field”, away from water and paths and other areas where anyone would tend to go, and as well as possible out of sight from the tents. Being in the mountains it was safe to burn the paper. The only drawback was that what we left, became visible for everyone in the group.
But after a few days I think all of us stopped being concerned about that. It became so evident that what I had done, did not differ considerably from what for example NNN had done, and so on. We had the same diet. It was a healthy diet, and luckily most of our poops were #3 on the scale.
We decided to use your hint on keeping tallies on our poops as a kind of group health monitoring system. As you mentioned from India, we made a common spreadsheet for the whole group. Luckily we all functioned normal all the time.
Our “poophemism” turned out to be “lay a cable”, which was kind of a pictorial description of our poopings.
Your post from 2018 helped at least our group to keep a low stress level on the toilet issue. This in contrast to another mountain hike I attended some years back. Everybody had to make it a private project. Stressed men and women tried, often without success, to find shelter behind a random boulder. Especially in the early morning or late evening you could see others trying to get “unseen” away from the group. Certainly everyone could figure out why. We didn’t talk about it. It was taboo. During eleven days, I only had three poops. I guess many got constipated and stomach pain. Any attempt to normalize this should be very welcome. Then we at least have to realize that for men as well as women it is normal to lower the pants and squat. We do it in our urban lives too, but then we have a door to lock.
I am so glad it helped! That’s the goal! And even if 1 person feels more comfortable pooping in the woods, I consider it a success 🙂 It’s definitely tough in experiences like your previous mountain hike where it was made a private activity to be hidden from the others. The more time I’ve spent in the outdoors community, the more comfortable I’ve gotten talking about pooping… even with complete strangers! Happy trails and happy pooping!
Geo is not the only one who has found your blog to be helpful, Emma! When taking up hiking some 15-20 years back I used to be a typical “toilet neurotic”. I did never mention anything about it to anyone. If someone else touched the issue, which at that time indeed rarely happened, I withdrew from the conversation. Instead of using a trowel for digging a hole, I used a small tent plug, which I easily could hide in my pocket. Every “mission” was kept “top secret”, even from my friends, in particular my female friends. Every time, I tried to camouflage the fact that I was actually going, for example by saying that I would go away to take some pictures, if I needed an excuse to get away. (Afterwards I am no sure if anyone believed in it!)
I think I am a very rational person, but in this aspect I was totally overwhelmed by some kind of irrational emotions. I think it should go over 10 years before I managed to tackle it better. One of the reasons was your blog, which I read for the first time type five years back. It trigged me to think more rationally about it, for example beginning to rate my own poos. At one occasion I was also suddenly walked in on by a female hiker just when squatting. When she discovered me, she smiled and said good morning, and when she passed I noticed the roll of toilet paper and trowel in her hands. She obviously had no need to hide it. Afterwards I felt like a coward, a man not able to stand up for what he is doing. (Not a good self image.)
This happened at the start of a four week solo hike. During the rest of the hike I actively was thinking on your blog, and used kind of a cognitive approach by myself to think that I told you (sorry!) when I had to go off into the bushes. Now I am (almost!) cured of my toilet neurosis. At least I now manage to go away with trowel and paper in my hands. It helps oneself to talk about it, (and others when someone writes about it!)