Hikers have to be prepared for anything when they hit the trails, and that includes taking care of business. So, how do hikers use the bathroom?
We’re sure that there must have been a time when you might have had to ‘go’ right there and then during your hiking excursion. It can be very frustrating, but more importantly, it’s bad for the surrounding environment.
The best way to go to the bathroom while hiking is to use an outhouse or a trail toilet. In case this option isn’t available, experienced hikers dig a hole in a secluded area, use it as a bathroom, and cover it back up.
We understand that using the bathroom in the woods can be challenging and equally frustrating. But with a couple of handy tools and techniques, the process can be a breeze. All you have to do is carry a couple of extra wipes and towels, and you’re good to go!
We are ‘leave no trace masters, and believe it or not; we can teach you how to go to the bathroom in the woods while minimizing the environmental impact and facing any difficulty. Let’s get started!
A Leave No Trace Guide to Using the Bathroom While Hiking
Let's begin by discussing why this is significant. Pathogens that aren't generally found in nature can be detected in human excrement. These bacteria can make people and animals sick if they get into a water supply. Burying excrement allows it to decay and the germs to be filtered out by the soil.
Burying excrement also keeps it out of sight, which is beneficial because, let’s face it, it’s unsightly and nobody wants to see it. What's even more revolting is that many animals enjoy rolling around in excrement or slurry. We know, it’s disgusting. This may entice wildlife to visit your campsite, which can be quite dangerous unless you want a challenge. It can also make animals ill. No dog owner wants his or her pet to eat or roll in excrement!
How Do Hikers Use the Bathroom?
In the woods, the perfect way to go to the bathroom is to use an outhouse or a toilet. Find out if there are restrooms at the trailhead or anyplace along the trail you intend to hike by doing some research ahead of time. While some outhouses are a little stinky and gross, it's preferable to plug your nose and use the restroom than to spread waste in the neighboring forest.
How to Use the Bathroom While Hiking
Using the bathroom on the trail is actually not as difficult as it may sound. Move away from water sources, the trail, and campsites and find a secluded location to relieve yourself. Urine, surprisingly, has no impact on animals, plants, or soil. If at all possible, use gravel or rocks instead of plants. Some animals, such as deer and goats, may be drawn to it and will dig up dirt to collect it and defoliate plants.
Don’t forget to carry extra rolls of toilet paper with you on the hike along with a spare plastic bag to discard waste. However, we recommend that you buy a small set of towels instead of toilet paper because it’s more convenient. You can also use a piece of cloth, like a bandana, that you can use as reusable TP and then wash at home.
If you need to go immediately, but don't have access to an outhouse, walk 200 feet (70 big steps) away from water sources, campsites, and trails, dig a 6" (15cm) deep hole with a rock, tent peg, stick, or trowel, fill the cat hole, and cover it with mud once you’re done.
Don't put off looking for a place to stay until it's too late. It'll be frustrating and you'll most likely be unable to get too far off-trail or away from water. If you're short on time, pick a secluded area, dig a hole, do your business, and cover it up with mud or soil using sticks.
Place your toilet paper in a plastic bag and seal it. For modesty, wrap your used towel or piece of cloth in a clean one. Some folks bring a duct tape-covered bag to pack up their toilet paper so you can't see what's inside. Toilet paper takes weeks or months to decompose, even when buried. Meanwhile, dogs and wildlife like digging it up. Gross! Also, please don't burn your toilet paper; many hikers have ignited forest fires by doing so. If you don't have any toilet paper, you can use snow, boulders, leaves, and moss as a substitute.
More importantly, don’t forget to bring a hand sanitizer with you along the way. After you're done, thoroughly wipe your hands with hand sanitizer. When hikers become ill, they frequently believe that the source of their illness is contaminated water. Sadly, it's typically just a case of bad hygiene.
You might have to pack up and carry your excretions with you in vulnerable high-use locations, mountaineering routes, and some environmentally-sensitive locations. But don’t worry, there are commercially available hygiene and bathroom bags available for hikers that even include odor-neutralizing substances that transform the liquid into a gel and neutralize aromas.
Bathroom Kit for Hikers
We advise hikers to carry a plastic bag in their bags along with bathroom gear. This way, you will always be ready to go to the bathroom and leave no trace. Here's what you should have in your bag:
- Hiking trowel
- A roll of toilet paper
- Hand sanitizer
- Toilet paper in an extra Ziploc bag
- A pair of reusable towels
About THE AUTHOR
I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.Read More About Peter Brooks