One of the biggest concerns for most people going hiking is how to go to the bathroom while on a hike. It is a touchy subject that no one wants to talk about, but it is most probably the most important subject to address.
Familiarize yourself with Leave No Trace ethics. One of the best things you can do for your fellow hikers is to leave the area as clean or even better than you found it. We are fortunate that in the Drakensberg we are not yet required to carry out our human waste. However you need to confirm what the policy is in other areas especially if it a sensitive or heavily travelled areas.
So let’s get it right by following the following guidelines.
How to pee in the mountains
Firstly choose a place well away from your camp site or cave and well away from the trail. When you choose an area keep the following in mind:
Always make sure you are about 70 steps away from a water source, river, dam or campsite or a cave. Never pee in a stream as this is a water source for people downstream to drink from.
In the mountains there might not be much privacy where you are, so take a friend with that can act as a lookout and warn you of any approaching hikers (and vice versa).
On a day hike, you can carry a couple wads of toilet paper or tissue and a small zip-lock plastic bag. Put the used toilet paper in the bag and dump the paper in your toilet when you get home. Remember you cannot just leave your toilet paper on the trail – you need to carry it back out with you.
If you’re sleeping in a tent and don’t want to go out in the cold of night, you can use a bottle that you designate for this purpose (definitely practice this at home first). Close the bottle and place it just outside your tent. In the morning, dump it out in the bushes away from camp.
How to Poop in the mountains
Before going on your hiking trip you will be needing the following for your poop kit:
Toilet paper in a zip lock bag to help keep it dry,
Small bottle of hand sanitizer to clean your hands,
Spare zip-lock bags to carry out used toilet paper,
A camp trowel: Many are very lightweight and can be helpful for digging a cat hole.
I usually keep my poop kit in a small roll top bag so I know I have everything I need in my bag.
Find an appropriate spot:
Find a good spot at least 70 steps from a trail, campsite or water source. Find some bushes or rocks for privacy, and make mental notes of your surroundings to make sure you can find your way back to your camp or trail.
Where possible find loose, rich soil and a sunny site. Both of these conditions help decompose waste more quickly. Use your trowel, to dig a hole about 10cm in diameter and about 15 to 20cm deep.
Try to use as little toilet paper as possible or you can wipe off with natural objects such as large leaves or grass. Make sure you have your chosen item handy beforehand.
Make sure that you bury the TP properly and only do it if your cat hole is deep enough. Some people will burn their TP but then ensure you keep a watch especially in winter to prevent any runaway fires.
Pre-moistened wipes can be nice to use on occasion, but don’t drop them in the hole; they need to be packed in your waste bag (as do menstrual supplies).
Cover the cat hole with the original dirt and completely fill the hole. Tramp it down with your foot. Place a rock over the hole to discourage digging critters.
Lastly, use some sanitizer on your hands and rub vigorously, paying attention to fingers.
Some hygiene tips
Unwashed hands can lead to intestinal ailments during or after your trip. Here are some tips to keep your hands clean while on a trip, when water may not be readily available:
Personal hygiene tips:
Carry a small hand sanitizer gel (or wipes, which must be packed out). Always use it after you poop and before handling food. Soap and water and the physical act of rubbing can be a more thorough way to wash hands. But the rubbing action with sanitizers may have the same result.
While backpacking, it’s a good idea to thoroughly wash your hands at least once a day with soap and water.
Dry your hands with a different towel or bandana than you use for drying dishes.
Keeping the environment clean:
On longer outings, you may enjoy a full-body wash, or at least going for a swim. Here are some tips to keep water sources clean:
Never use soap in a river or pool even if it states it’s bio-degradable – it can still harm aquatic life.
Use a portable camp sink (or cooking pot) to carry bathing water at least 70 steps from a water source.
If you choose to use soap, make sure it’s biodegradable.
Before swimming, wash off any sunscreen and insect repellent from your skin; those chemicals can badly pollute a small pond or stream.
After washing, pour your dirty water on dirt, rather than on plants or lichen-covered rocks.
Consider carrying a small, fast-drying pack towel.
Remember you want to leave as little trace as possible that you were there.
Adapted from the REI guide lines – How to Go to the Bathroom in the Woods