Pooping in the Woods

Where do you go when you have to go? (number two, that is)

This question pops up quite a bit when people ask me about hiking the Appalachian Trail, often they are hesitant and slightly embarrassed. I always answer with a smile and simply respond, “dig a hole.”, which typically satisfies the inquiring mind, but sometimes I can tell there is still a lingering intrigue that cannot be placated. Not until one actually experiences the act of squatting amongst the trees, bare-bunned in the sunshine, will they fully understand the answer to this question.

We were born to do it; to create more dirt, which in turn creates new life. It’s totally natural. We as a culture have just become detached from our old ways. We were potty trained from a young age and as it’s said, old habits die hard.

I understood this once again the other day. I was on a short backpacking trip out in the Alabama woods needing to go. What a confusing predicament. I couldn’t understand how just six months off the trail had made seven months of practice completely slip from my mind. “Where do I go?” I was completely uncomfortable and nervous. “Relax, breathe, and just pick a spot!”, I told myself and laughed, feeling how serious I was making the situation for no reason at all.  I scanned my surroundings and made my way to a nice spot to dig my hole. I hoped that I had walked far enough and no one would come by. “Why do I feel like somebody’s watching me…”, a familiar Michael Jackson tune sang in my head as I gave another glance around before dropping trou. The rest is history.

It’s funny how something so simple has become so complex. As nice as it is to have a seat upon a throne of porcelain, it’s also nice to have less impact on the environment. It’s crazy to me that every time we use a toilet we pollute nearly two gallons of clean water. It sounds like a crime the EPA should investigate but it’s just the way we do things these days.

An eco-friendly solution to the highly traveled areas on the trail are moldering or composting privies; similar to the outhouses of old. They are sort of a cross between toilet and giant cathole, predug for your convenience. They are found throughout the trail near shelters where campsites would otherwise be turned into what’s been dubbed, “the devil’s potato patch”, sections of trail with frequent camping activity and careless ne’er do wells that don’t properly bury their poop. To “flush” in a privy, you simply add a handful of dried leaves or mulch. Over time and the great dedication of trail maintainers the solid waste  decomposes.


If you are planning on an extended trip to the woods, please look up the area’s waste disposal and Leave No Trace practices, different area’s rules may vary. A few basic principles to remember are making sure you are at least 200 feet away from water sources, camping areas, and trail and to bury your excrement at least 6 inches deep. It’s alright to bury the toilet paper (according to some) but wet wipes and lady products must be packed out. It’s very important to follow these rules to help prevent disease and water borne illness. The key is to make sure no one can ever find it.

I hope this eases any fear. It is much easier to do than our ego allows it to be. Enjoy life in the great outdoors and dig a hole!

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