Poop Problems and Bad Bear Hangs: Is Leave No Trace Working?

The roots of Leave No Trace, a set of principles designed to promote conservation of land and water resources impacted by outdoor recreation, go back more than half a century, and the nonprofit Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics was incorporated in 1994.

Yet for all those years of effort, a startlingly high number of outdoor recreationalists know little or nothing about Leave No Trace.

“Through our own research, where we have landed in terms is that about nine out of ten (outdoor recreationalists) are uninformed or underinformed about Leave No Trace,” says Ben Lawhon, education director for the center.

leave no trace appalachian trail zach davis

Photo via Zach Davis

Meanwhile, a steadily increasing number of recreationalists has put increasing pressure on the center—as well as its 650 partners, including government agencies, nonprofits, colleges, and communities—to help millions of users learn the principles of good stewardship.

“The biggest challenge we have is that visitation to all public lands continues to increase, the goalposts keep moving. What might have been a success 20 years ago is not the same metric of success in 2019,” Lawhon says.

Celebrating Success

Sunrise over the Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania. It wouldn’t be fair to only show photos of Leave No Trace problems. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.

Despite those concerns, Leave No Trace advocates, including Lawhon, say there are plenty of reasons to celebrate.

“I would say overall, I’m realistically encouraged,” says Chloë de Camara, trail education specialist for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, who oversees the organization’s education and outreach efforts in Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

“We feel that things have improved significantly,” says Scott Wilkinson, director of communications and marketing for the Pacific Crest Trail Association, who in July spent two weeks on the trail. “I met a lot of hikers, and they all seemed to be very conscientious. Several mentioned Leave No Trace to me—when they mention it to you, you know you are getting some penetration.”

“Long-distance hikers are so goal-focused… they don’t worry about what happens to Siler Bald, a North Carolina mountain on the AT. They’re thinking about Katahdin.”

What’s more, agencies and trail organizations continue to innovate in their efforts to show as many long-distance hikers and other users that practicing Leave No Trace is all about protecting the land they love.

“Leave No Trace is encouraging us to take note of every decision we make. It’s not boring; it can be fun. It’s just a set of empowering skills to help people discover how to minimize their impact out there,” de Camara says.

The Boulder, Colorado-based Leave No Trace Center is careful to say that the principles are not static, describing them as an “easily understood framework of minimum impact practices for anyone visiting the outdoors.” However, the principles are often listed as:

  • Plan ahead and prepare.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find.
  • Minimize campfire impacts.
  • Respect wildlife.
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Myriad Concerns

bear hang bear bag

A poorly done bear-bag hang may be worse than no hang at all, says Laurie Potteiger of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Creative Commons photo.

When it comes to long trails, advocates and land managers cite myriad areas of concern indicating that many hikers are not adhering to the principles. But a few stand out.

Improper disposal of human waste and toilet paper continue to be a problem. “We need a lot of honest talk about toilet paper and uncovered feces and refer to a need for hikers to be ‘potty-trained,’ ” Wilkinson says.

“Improper human-waste management, people not digging catholes,” de Camara immediately says when asked to name areas of concern. “It’s unsightly, and I don’t know if you’ve ever stepped in human feces but it’s demoralizing. Really gross. It also affects the natural ecosystem and the quality of water sources. It’s a hazard to other hikers.”

Failure to secure food is another oft-cited problem. If hikers do not properly hang bear bags or use bear-resistant containers, wildlife can become habituated to human food, resulting in everything from emboldened mice in shelters to the destruction of “problem” bears. Hardened bear canisters are now required on most of the PCT. A canister is required on only a few miles of the AT, but the ATC strongly recommends that hikers protect their food with a container on Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s certified products list.

“A poor bear hang, in my mind, is almost worse than no hang at all,” says Laurie Potteiger, information services manager for the ATC. “Bears become habituated to look for them, and that’s what has caused our biggest problems.”

Burning Problem

campfire leave no trace

Many hikers love a good fire, but forget to remove signs of it when finished. Creative Commons photo.

Campfires continue to be a concern, as hikers strip low-hanging branches from trees and gather up fallen twigs, sticks, and timber around shelters or campsites. Fire rings at popular overnight sites on long trails also have a tendency to expand and proliferate.

“You can have a fire and leave relatively little impact,” says Marian Orlousky, director of science and stewardship for the ATC in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania. With the exception of “official” rings at shelters, “if you are going to have one, keep it small, take it apart at the end, and make sure no one knows it was there.”

Orlousky partly blames the “Instagram effect” for another problem: hikers going off-trail to capture that perfect selfie or photo op, particularly in sensitive alpine areas such as the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

Among the other problems are dog waste, garbage, and micro-trash. On the AT, throwing garbage, food, clothing and other inappropriate items into shelter privies is a continuing issue.

“I’ve cleaned over 100 privies and had to pack out baby wipes, tampons, food waste, soiled underwear, you name it,” de Camara says. “It’s not fun.”

Inexperience and Unreliable Sources

chest nut knob appalachian trail burke's garden

Looking out over Burke’s Garden from Chestnut Knob Shelter, Virginia. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.

Given the decades-long effort to educate hikers about Leave No Trace, why do so many remain unaware? The most difficult obstacle is simply finding a way to reach hikers, particularly neophytes.

“It’s pretty obvious anecdotally that with … Leave No Trace issues, it’s often due to people who just don’t have the experience and time in the outdoors,” says Wilkinson of the PCTA. “With the increasing popularity of all trails … we’re seeing a lot more people on trail who have never backpacked in their lives.”

Just 15 or 20 years ago, most aspiring long-trail hikers sought information from organizations like the ATC and PCTA. Now there are countless avenues of information, not all of it reliable and much of it ignorant of or silent about Leave No Trace.

“Back in the day, you’d write a letter (to the ATC) in Harpers Ferry, and they’d send you some information, right from the source,” says the Leave No Trace center’s Lawhon, who worked for the ATC before the advent of the internet. “Now it might be a blog, YouTube, a friend. There’s very little consistency.”

While long-distance hikers often learn as they go, becoming more attuned to their impact on the trail and ecosystem, Lawhon worries that many lose sight of protecting resources.

“Long-distance hikers are so goal-focused, and so transient, that they don’t worry about what happens to Siler Bald,” a North Carolina mountain on the AT, he says. “They’re thinking about Katahdin.”

The sheer stress of marching long miles in difficult conditions can make hikers lose sight of the bigger picture. “It’s pouring rain at night, you’re stuck in Gooch Gap Shelter” on the Georgia AT, Lawhon says. “You’re not going to go dig a cathole. You’re going to go right behind the shelter.”

Leave No Trace Is not ‘The Man’

chloe de camara appalachian trail ridge runner leave no trace

Chloë de Camara, trail education specialist and longtime ridgerunner for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Photo via Chloë de Camara.

The ATC’s de Camara believes that many long-trail hikers, particularly beginners, may drop the ball on some aspects of Leave No Trace out of fear or embarrassment over their lack of skills. She includes herself in that category.

“On my thru-hike (of the AT), I was trying to hone my skill on throwing a bear line by myself. Often, I either didn’t do it or made some really poor decisions,” she says. “The worst thing that ever happened to me was that nothing ever happened to me, and I continued to store my food improperly.”

But, she says, “No one is born a backpacker. The question is, how can we encourage people to learn those skills?”

And then there are the recalcitrant few who see Leave No Trace as somehow impinging on their freedom or hiking experience.

“A few people, a minority, think of us as ‘The Man,’ some faceless corporate entity wagging a finger at hikers,” says the PCTA’s Wilkinson. “We definitely don’t want to be that, and we aren’t that. But some people are going to be rebels no matter what, trolling on Facebook, flipping the bird and saying, ‘Hey, man, this is a free country.’ ”

“Leave No Trace,” de Camara says, “isn’t The Man. We’re not trying to bring anybody down.”

Nature’s Authority

trail trash creative commons

Volunteers, maintainers, and others find all kinds of refuse on trails. The basic rule is, pack it in, pack it out, no matter what it is. Creative Commons photo.

Given increasing hiker numbers, advocacy organizations continue to innovate in their approaches to conveying the importance of Leave No Trace, not just to the ecosystem and wildlife, but hikers and the trails themselves.

One key strategy in recent years is quietly emphasizing the “authority of the resource.” Rather than telling hikers what to do, this strategy explores how their decisions can impact the ecosystem and other trail users’ experience.

“If you put it all in a neutral context, explaining that these are the impacts of what’s happening, it takes that human element out of it,” Wilkinson says. “The idea is to be educational, not confrontational, and nature has its own authority.”

For example, instead of simply telling hikers to dig a proper cathole, educators might have a conversation about the impacts of improperly disposed-of human waste, from contamination of downstream water sources to illness among other hikers.

The approach, embraced by many federal land-management agencies, can be nuanced. For example, turning 90 degrees and looking out across the land while talking to hikers can lessen the sense that they are being lectured. The idea is to encourage hikers to examine their own actions, rather than making them feeling that they are following a rule.

“Ask yourself, what do you feel comfortable with? Is that necessary? What is the actual consequence of that? That’s going to go a lot further than me saying, ‘Um, put rubber tips on your trekking poles,’ ” de Camara says.

Future Conservation Leaders

ice age trail wisconsin

A bluff on the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin. Photo via.

Education is key, and organizations continue to try new approaches to reaching current and future hikers. The Ice Age Trail Alliance, which supports and protects the 1,000-mile National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin, recently won a National Park Foundation grant to engage 10,000 Wisconsin fourth-graders about Leave No Trace principles.

“We tell stories, explain what a thru-hiker is,” says Amy Lord, outreach and education manager for the alliance. “Hands go up, ‘Where do they sleep? Where do they eat? Where do they go to the bathroom?’ and we talk to them about it.”

Lord, who says the IAT is currently “in a nice sweet spot, seeing increasing use, but not too much overuse or impact,” says the school program—which includes actual time on trail—sometimes focuses on easily understandable pieces of Leave No Trace ethics.

“One simple thing is when kids ask if they can pick up sticks, feathers, leaves, have walking sticks,” she says. “Our answer is, ‘We leave those things where they are, so other hikers can enjoy them, too.’ We see this as a really good opportunity to engage the next generation of conservation leaders.”

New Avenues

Southern terminus, Pacific Crest Trail. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.

Southern Terminus, Pacific Crest Trail. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.

The ATC has vigorously embraced education. It is one of a handful of organizations authorized by the Leave No Trace Center to teach master educator courses, or “training the trainers,” as Potteiger says. Alone among the “big-trail” advocacy organizations, the ATC spends considerable resources to hire ridgerunners and summit stewards to engage hikers and answer questions, with an emphasis on Leave No Trace.

The organization has had considerable success with its voluntary hiker registration program, through which it can help regulate crowds at Springer Mountain, the Southern Terminus from which three-quarters of AT thru-hikers embark. The registration program includes a 15-minute Start Smart program at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia, a joint effort of the ATC and Georgia Appalachian Trail Club.

“We gave 695 Start Smart presentations to hikers (in 2019), reaching more than 2,000 people we never reached before,” de Camara says. The ATC has also moved away from purely Leave No Trace workshops and toward hiker-education classes and overnight training programs.

“Leave No Trace (courses) often had a hard time attracting attendees, but we often can’t meet the demand for how-to-hike courses,” Potteiger says. “Integrating Leave No Trace is an organic part of those courses.”

On the West Coast, the PCTA has recently stepped up its on-trail education efforts, hiring full-time hosts at the trail’s Southern Terminus near Campo, California. Hosts work every day, starting at 5 a.m., from April through early June, answering questions and checking permits.

“They talk Leave No Trace and have laminated cards to hand out to hikers,” Wilkinson says. “It’s been really successful, and hikers tell us how helpful it’s been to talk to these people.”

The Little Things

bear butte prayer bundles centennial trail

Prayer bundles left by Native American people on Bear Butte, Northern Terminus of the Centennial Trail in South Dakota. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.

Advocacy organizations are also trying smaller-bore tactics to address specific issues. To encourage PCT hikers to pack out their toilet paper, for example, the PCTA provides plastic bags branded with the organization’s logo.

“It’s the most bombproof solution to ‘toilet-paper blossoms,’ ” Wilkinson says. “It’s got the logo on it, so it’s opaque.”

The ATC’s Orlousky has come up with the idea of a “Deuce of Spades” trowel for digging catholes.

“Instead of a plastic hang tag, we’d print Leave No Trace (principles) on one side of a light aluminum trowel,” she says. “It hasn’t taken yet, but I keep pushing it.”

And sometimes, education is personal. De Camara says small things, such as packing out used toilet paper, may at first strike hikers as untenable or disgusting. But once practiced, they can quickly become second nature. For example, she uses a very small amount of toothpaste (or none), then swallows it, and drinks the gray water from cleaning cookware and utensils.

“What seems like not a big deal to me, can seem revolting to them,” De Camara says. “I make it as nondramatic a conversation as possible, rather than make it ‘ewww’-worthy, like it’s just part of our daily grind while we’re out there.”

A Clear Choice

Despite signs of progress, concerns about combined impacts of growing use, limited resources and lack of public awareness, Leave No Trace advocates say they remain hopeful.

“How viable is Leave No Trace? Don’t even ask that question,” says the ATC’s Orlousky. “We don’t have a choice. We have to remain optimistic. We have to make sure everyone is following at least some Leave No Trace practices and instilling them in as many people as we can.”

Of course, in reality, there are other choices—but chances are, they wouldn’t be very appealing to hikers.

“Ultimately,” Potteiger says, “if people don’t follow Leave No Trace, the consequences are harming the resource and making the experience negative for others. And usually when that happens, it leads to regulations, which nobody likes.”

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Comments 27

  • Bob Taylor : Oct 27th

    I’m thru-hiking the PCT in 2020 (blogging and vlogging for The Trek) and I’m working on ways to address LNT violations without seeming like The Man. I’m pretty militant in my day-to-day life about conservation and recycling and such, but I don’t want to be ‘That jackass that keeps nitpicking everything we do on-trail’. Trying to focus on education rather than my usual ‘Bad dog!’ approach.

    As always, great stuff.

  • Bad juju : Oct 27th

    Aside from the tp blossoms in the middle of trial, my biggest peave is washing dishes in the water source. There’s just something about gathering water next to floating noodles and clumps of oat meal. Its gross and lazy and can be found at almost every shelter on the Maine section of AT. All my day hikes include a shaws bag threaded through my hip belt.

  • TBR : Oct 28th

    It has been a number of years since I’ve backpacked on the AT, and these problems were small or seemingly nonexistent then.

    I saw only a few toilet-paper blossoms (but did see some).

    From what I read now, I can tell the AT’s rising popularity has its price.

    My plan is to avoid the AT, except for day hikes, and do my plodding on trails less pounded and abused. I’ll enjoy that more, and I won’t be making my own contribution to AT overuse.

    That aside, I will look for ways to use digital media to spread some how-to. I agree with what was said here — there are too many sources of information, and only some are on target with their how-to.

    So’ I’m going to start dropping links to the the Old Reliables, such as … http://appalachiantrail.org/home/explore-the-trail/leave-no-trace.

  • Nancy : Oct 30th

    (Looking out over Burke’s Garden from Chestnut Knob Shelter, Virginia. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.)

    Beautiful picture. I thought it was a painting when I first saw it.

    • Clay Bonnyman Evans : Oct 30th

      Thank you, Nancy. I took that in April while hiking that section with a friend who was doing his second thru-hike.


  • Suzanne Hilton : Nov 1st

    Thanks for this article! I’ve just posted a video on this- I recently documented graffiti, trail vandalism and found DOZENS of painted rocks (all within a 1 mile area) along the trail. I posted the video on my YT channel….the comments were mostly supportive. Yet….some seem to think the painted rocks are not trail trash because they are “school projects” or “scouting projects”– but this is precisely the problem! These agencies SHOULD KNOW BETTER. (and so should the hikers defending this kind of trash). I reported it to the ATC HQ and they agreed this was trash and has no place on the trail. Even when you put lipstick on it by making donations to good causes when you find a rock.


  • Cosmo : Nov 1st

    Somehow, hikers who expect to find a clean campsite at the end of their day manage to leave it a mess when they go–how can someone’s head work like that?

    It’s a simple matter of respecting the place they have the privilege of visiting. Does the “wilderness” somehow make it OK to be a pig, or do they do the same at home?

    It always amazes me to find those ziplock bags of trash left in the bear box or privy, as if they were doing me a favor by somehow wrapping it up so it will be easy for ME to carry out…


  • FM : Nov 1st

    My hiking hat is off to the conscientious southbound AT hiker and LNT practitioner who found the massive cat hole I dug that was designed for two people staying a week on the AT near the Blueridge Pkwy in central VA a few years back. It must have been a *massive* drop, as he pushed back ALL the dirt I had excavated for that one load.

    Dude. Really?

  • FM : Nov 2nd

    I’ve have noticed that a few AT thru-hikers, particularly within the 18-25 age set, tend to take great offense with anyone whom they perceive (emphasis on perceive) doesn’t reflect their closely held endearing sentiments about the group. They come to the community, see it as a kind of utopian sub-culture superior to that of the outside, find a home there and feel anyone who isn’t one of them doesn’t belong or at least owns a substantially lesser position in the social hierarchy.

    To some extent they become repelling forces to any extra-community person hiking the trail, behaving as if they have no right to be there because “they are not one of us” (Shades of Invasion of the Body Snatchers!).

    I’ve witnessed one such person widely spread lying. malicious gossip with the intent of turning the whole thru-hiker community against that person to the point the target feels shunned and uncomfortable to be there. The design is to force them to make a personal decision to leave so they can have the forest to themselves. “Don’t let the sun go down on you on this national scenic trail, hiker.”

    This is a violation of item 7 of the LNT guidelines.

    If we bring in the very things that make the outside culture so toxic, how are we supporting the utopian like qualities of the trail community we endear?

    Leave No Trace is a set of outdoor ethics promoting conservation in the outdoors. It consists of seven principles:

    1) plan ahead and prepare,
    2) travel and camp on durable surfaces,
    3) dispose of waste properly,
    4) leave what you find,
    5) minimize campfire impacts,
    6) respect wildlife,
    7) be considerate of other visitors.

  • GoatHaunter : Nov 4th

    The cure for toilet paper in the backcountry? Use a travel bidet. More sanitary, superior cleaning, environmentally friendly, and lighter weight than nasty old toilet paper.

    • FM : Nov 4th

      Ladies use a lot of TP for #1 and a travel bidet would be expedient in that case, but for both men and women on #2? I dunno Yogi, maybe sleep next to one of these people in a shelter one night and see if you still think it’s a great idea? ; )


      • Clay Bonnyman Evans : Nov 4th

        Many, I’d say most, of my women friends who are long-distance hikers use a “pee rag” — basically, a bandana or other similar piece of material for use in dabbing after peeing on trail. Then, they fly it off their pack, where it dries or — hello, AT — is rained on, followed by sterilizing rays of sun and … voila! No fuss, no muss, no smell … the pee rag!

        TP used for that other excretory function? Personally, once I started packing it out routinely, it just became another bit of trash for town. I love that the PCTA is putting together fancy TP bags, but you an also create your own by covering a Ziploc with duct tape or whatever else.

        Incidentally, I strongly suspect that most “TP blossoms” I saw on the AT were not from long-distance hikers, most of whom have figured one way or another to handle the problem, but less experienced or day hikers. On the lower reaches of Katahdin in ’16 I was astonished at how many little plops of TP I saw next to the boles of trees right off trail; but, I’d bet they weren’t put there by women who had just hiked nearly 2,200 miles to get to Big K (I say women because a) they were pee blossoms … thankfully and b) men don’t typically use TP after urination).


        • FM : Nov 4th

          *chuckles*. Fist bump!

        • FM : Nov 7th

          I had never heard of the “pee rag” before. The more hygienic product with silver ions being sold now would seem to be a godsend. Any conscientious female hiker who used to dig holes to bury paper wouldn’t have to do that so many times a day anymore.

      • GoatHaunter : Nov 4th

        Your fear of odor will not materialize (literally) by using a bidet. A 400 ml bottle is more than enough water to clean even the worst mess. I have used a travel bidet over hundreds of miles for years and stink has never been a problem (whether sharing my tent or not). A bidet cleans much better than toilet paper ever will. My daughter thru hiked the Colorado Trail this year. Her personal hygiene products were a travel bidet and a Kula pee cloth. She had high praise for the benefits of her bidet on this thru hike and she converted many others, men and women, to switch over.

        • FM : Nov 5th

          With so many almost militant responses defending the concept of the portable bidet, and also discovering there is almost a religious fervor proselytizing the trail and converting the masses (would that spelled with an ‘m’ in this case?) to worshiping this *holy* relic, I find I must gratuitously concede and say: “I stand corrected, sir!”

          • FM : Nov 5th

            …Although I must add, pulling up the underwear into a wet pair of cheeks with specular splatter isn’t my idea of a thrill ride (however thrilling the preceding tickling of the twinkle might have been.)

            And as thorough as one might be with 400ml, I have never met a thru-hiker who was without nose blindness after developing their own particular brand of sweat and smegma stench, but I’ll take you at your word.

      • Maddie Sholar : Nov 4th

        I use the Kula Cloth pee rag, and they are amazing. It’s a women-founded brand and the products are made in the USA! The pee rag cuts down on the amount of toilet paper women have to use in the backcountry. As Goathaunter and Pony said, the pee rag is a fantastic option for women who backpack or hike. I use it for my trips, and will be using it again this summer when I hike the PNT. In fact, I have gifted many of my hiker friends a pee rag.

        I also use a travel bidet. I think it’s a great option for a couple of reasons. One, you don’t have to touch anything down there like you do with toilet paper, and as we know, hygiene can be difficult out in the woods. Nothing gets on your hands. Secondly, toilet paper leaves residue behind, which gets increasingly unsanitary. The bidet doesn’t have that problem; it keeps everything much cleaner down there. Travel bidets also create a pressurized stream of water when squeezed, so it gets residue off better than toilet paper usually does. Toilet paper is great when you shower often, but when backpacking we don’t often have the luxury.

        The bidet does take a bit of practice to perfect, but it is super effective once you get the hang of it. In fact, many countries in the world use the bidet as a method of cleaning. When I first read about a bidet as an option I was skeptical at first, but now that I have used it I think it’s fantastic. Packing out TP is also a great option, but if that doesn’t seem desirable then the bidet is something to seriously consider.


    • Clay Bonnyman Evans : Nov 4th

      Nimblewill Nomad, now 81 and veteran of tens of thousands of miles on North American trails, relies on water. This, of course, is how most of the world does it, too.

    • Bob Leigh : Nov 11th

      How about using RV toilet paper? Easily obtainable at Walmart. Drop it in your cathole of the moment, throw a little water on it, bury it and move on. Am I missing something here? From a 2020 AT through hiker candidate.

      • FM : Nov 14th

        I think the complaint is more the unsightly trashing of the forest by unconscientious hikers who leave behind paper without making the effort to dig a hole. The solution that has been offered here is the travel bidet, but I doubt unconscientious hikers would be so conscientious as to use a bidet when they won’t even dig a hole for the main purpose. That bidet does nothing to hide Mr. Handy’s surface presence, and I’m more worried about stepping on him than seeing some unsightly paper blowing around the forest.

        But in regards to decomposition, RV paper might be a tad faster, but the real issue people might not be aware of is the bleached paper. Chlorine dioxide used to bleach paper is detrimental to the environment because it forms toxic compounds with organics in the soil.

        I remember reading a story back in the late 80’s or early 90’s, I think it was, about how the Soviet Union tried to recycle paper in this way, by using it as a mulch for agriculture. The chlorine compounds rendered the soil impotent for growing crops, and the ruin was devastating and virtually permanent.

        Some mills now are using chlorine free ozone and hydrogen peroxide to bleach paper, but your cheapest paper is coming from China where they still use chlorine. And we all know where Wally World buys it’s stuff.

        A conscientious person might therefore use a non-chlorinate paper AND deposit it in an appropriately dug cat hole. Or a travel bidet if you’re inclined to enjoy that sort of thing. But the real issue here is neither paper nor bidet, but the cat hole. Peristaltic distress can lead a hiker to his morning constitution, but it can’t make him dig.

      • Cephas : Nov 18th

        Unfortunately, those cat holes are sometimes dug up by critters, exposing the left-behind paper. I use dog poop bags to collect and store the used TP and then dispose of it when I get to town. I’ve not adopted the bidet but will give it a try. However, I can’t say that spraying cold water on my cold bum is something to look forward to. I really don’t want to carry the extra water either. That being said though, carrying out your paper helps insure the wilderness experience is about viewing nature, not manmade blossoms.

        • FM : Nov 21st

          You think carrying an extra 400 ml of water for that daily constitution is grievous? I can see thousands of AT thru-hikers carrying TEN 5000 calorie turds to the next resupply town 150 miles away. (I hope they all don’t put it in the same trash can.)

  • Effie Drew : Nov 5th

    I so appreciate you creating a conversation around this. Thru-hikers need to be pioneers with LNT, otherwise I don’t think we’d be too thrilled with the regulations that would be required to make up for damage we’ve contributed to!

    • FM : Nov 6th

      Regulations? Carry a bear cannister *and* a travel bidet!

      I’d hate to be required to carry a bidet. Sometimes I have that internal failure-to-launch residual the bilge pump just can’t clear, neither a bidet can reach, and if carelessly left behind, it has the timely effect of leaving a leaking kind of skidmark on the pavement. (I heard of a guy on the trail named ‘Skidmark’, wonder if he had a similar problem).

      I guess someone with only a bidet will eventually *finger out* how to deal with that problem without paper. But I tend to be more successful in this regard with a safe amount of TP. For me at least, that paper will continue to go into the 6″ deep hole.

      We try to keep our roadside basecamps clean, even help clean up what other people leave behind in their close-to-the-road-lazy-party-in-the-woods-beer-drinking events.

      But I don’t think all the LNT compensation I could muster would have compensated for the shaft of glass that almost went up my foot from the broken beer bottle base left beneath the fallen leaves this recent October adventure. Maybe for the next guy, but almost not for me.

  • Clay Bonnyman Evans : Nov 14th

    As the author of the story, it’s intriguing to see so much conversation around a relatively discrete matter: disposal of toilet paper.

    I should point out that the ATC still endorses placing TP in a *properly* dug cathole, and that “packing out” is just another option. And, of course, your decision may depend on where you are. Digging a nice, deep cathole is easy on the southern AT, not quite so easy in the rocky heights of the White Mountains, the Sierra Nevada or the Rocky Mountains.

    I can’t see hauling a travel bidet with me, and I’m just used to packing out TP. But there are many ways to dispose of human waste, keep clean and follow LNT.

  • EllieMae : Nov 30th

    I’m so glad I read through these comments. I didn’t realize there was such a thing as a travel bidet. That is definitely going to become a standard pack item for myself and my girls. I learned about the pee rag earlier this year and have successfully incorporated that idea. Now I’m excited to incorporate the travel bidet. We purchased bidets for our toilets at home years ago and once you get used to how clean you feel, it’s hard to go back to tp. But my family has been using “family wipes” for many years – rectangles I cut out of flannel sheets that I find at thrift stores, in place of toilet paper. I made our pee rags for backpacking from flannel sheets and now I see we need a backside dry rag as well!
    I have to say, I first attempted to thru hike the AT in my early 20’s, which was 30 years ago. This was before the internet and we literally took a trip to Harper’s Ferry to the ATC conservancy to get trail guides and information to prepare as well as read books like The Complete Walker II. Now that I am taking my teenage girls backpacking, it is wonderful to have SO much information available so easily!


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