Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pooping in the Woods - Not as "Easy" as it Sounds

In keeping with my unintentional "theme" about nature break adventures, this entry is about how to deal when you camp in a rustic place that doesn't even have outhouses.

Really? Do I not have anything better to talk about than pooping in the woods? Since I've devoted THREE entries to peeing standing up, clearly, I do not.

Lots of outdoor folks on the 'net talk about poopin' in the woods like it's straight-forward and simple, and if you could just suck it up and be less of a princess, it's really no problem. There are lots of blogs:

and a book (How to Shit in the Woods) about how to do just this.

Although I am happy for these writers that they find no difficulty in this task, I have not been able to join them in their attitude and enthusiasm. Judging by the available products on the 'net for dealing with this conundrum, I think I'm not the only one.

Apparently, the first step to a successful backcountry movement is to find the perfect location. Something that is:

  • Discrete (sheltered from offending others); AND
  • Safe (think... bear encounter with... ahem... your pants down); AND
  • Is far away from your camp; AND
  • Is far away from any water sources
I'm sorry but this reminds me of someone who orders spaghetti and meatballs then wants to modify it with organic gluten-free spaghetti that is exactly 7.64cm long, free-range humanely-sloughtered mammoth meatballs, hold the basil and onions, and with the sauce on the side (oh, and the oregano on the other side).

I feel a compromise coming on.

Step two: dig a hole. Uhhh... really? I have nothing against carrying the required shovel for the job - you can take a small one for backpacking, or a larger one for car camping - but I have found that the ground in the places I've camped to be more than a little resistant to letting me dig a 6" deep repository. The ground is generally hard packed and so full of tree roots that digging said repository is near impossible without causing injury to yourself, or the trees.

From there, I actually find the whole job easier. "Go" in the hole. Check. Bury it. Check. Pack out the toilet paper. Check (have ziplock, will travel).

The first time I had to face truly rustic conditions was at a lovely hidden campsite west of Nordegg, Alberta. I was prepared - I'd read lots about how to get by without indoor plumbing, or even a nasty wooden long-drop, and I'd brought the required gear.

Shortly after arrival, I discovered that a group who had been there before us had constructed a make-shift toilet in the woods, and I thought GREAT! I/we can use that and not have to deal with the tasks of finding the location and digging the hole.

Wrong. I was wrong. Upon closer inspection, the makeshift toilet actually had left-behind poop AND TOILET PAPER... just sitting there right on the ground. I applaud them for building the facility, but really... you can't leave everything just sitting around on the ground. How disgusting.

I never did use that "toilet", but in the spirit of leaving the backcountry in better shape than I'd found it in, I did bury their poop and pack out their toilet paper. Oh yes. Yes, I did that.

After discovering that pooping in the woods is really not so "easy" as it's made out to be, I decided that I needed some other kind of solution (since I was planning a return to that place with my friends).

I don't know yet what I'll do for the situation while backpacking. I will probably stick to areas with outhouses and/or muddle through with the recommended processes.

But for car camping.... my new best friend is my Cleanwaste Portable Toilet (slogan: "Don't take a crap on mother nature").

It's not without issues, by any means:

  • The lid doesn't stay on. The picture makes it look like the lid stays on like on a regular toilet, which would afford perhaps a little shelter. Forget about it. It falls right off.
  • It's a little tippy. There's only one leg in the front so you have to be careful about moving aorund and getting off.
  • I rankle at spending $140+ on a companion shelter, so I rigged my own shelter out of a hanging clothes dryer (sort of like this) and a shower curtain from the Dollar Store.
  • There is an enormous amount of plastic waste created when using the companion "Waste Bag Kit" or "Toilet in a Bag" products so my plan is to experiment with lighter-footprint options... lighter/smaller plastic bags and cat litter... or some such.

Challenges notwithstanding, I am thrilled to have this option available for car camping. And, I know I will be the envy of my location-finding, hole-digging friends when the time comes to tackle that rustic camping again.