Taking Care of Business: When Nature Calls in the Wild

This is a story about poop.

Everyone poops, as they saying (and the book title) goes. And normally, pooping isn’t a big deal. It’s just part of the average person’s average day. But what if you’re in the woods (and you’re not a bear)? Well, that gets a little trickier.

There is, in fact, a whole book on this topic, titled appropriately, How to Shit in the Woods. It’s a good book, and well worth reading. But to keep this simple, I’m going to cover the three most common scenarios one will deal with when nature calls while you’re enjoying nature.

The Outhouse

Outhouses aren’t all that common in the backcountry. If you happen to come across one, consider yourself lucky. Sure they stink and are typically infested with more flies than a biblical plague. Naturally you’re afraid to put your butt on the seat. But compared to the alternatives detailed below, it’s a little slice of heaven.

A green outhouse just off the trail.

The Cathole

There’s nothing glamorous here. You dig a hole, assume the position, and let it fly. Then, after what seems like an eternity of wiggling to make sure your business end is all clear, clean yourself up and bury your leavings. But now the fun begins, because you get to carry that soiled toilet paper around with you until you find a  suitable trash can — and that might not be for a few days.

Broken poop shovel.

Oh, and there are rules about where you can dig your cathole. These vary from place to place but usually go something like this: You must be 100 feet from any trail, 200 feet from any water source, and your hole must be six to eight inches deep. Meeting these conditions isn’t always easy — especially if nature is knocking at your back door.

If you’re interested in how this process is supposed to go, I’ve written about pooping in the woods before.

The WAG Bag

From an environmental perspective, this is the perfect low-impact solution. From a comfort perspective, it’s a substantially gross solution.

What we’ve got here is a bag containing some “magic powder” they call a gelling agent. That’s the G in WAG — yes, WAG is an acronym that stands for Waste Alleviation and Gelling. Yeah, someone got paid to come up with that.

This powder absorbs the moisture (and the smell, hypothetically) from your waste products. The bag fits conveniently inside another bag. Me, I like to put the whole thing into a third bag. Just to cover off.

The Infamous WAG Bag
Despite the picture on the outside of the bag, there is no stool — other than yours, that is. (Photo by Patrick Maloney. Used under a CC BY-NC 2.0 License.)

Using the WAG Bag is easy! Simply pop the bag open, spread it on the ground, once again assume the position, and let it go. When you’re done and your nether region is satisfactorily clean, just wrap the package up (toilet paper and all), pop it back into the bag, and you’re off to the races. The fun part here is, instead of carrying around dirty toilet paper, you get to carry around a bag full of poop.

I know what you’re thinking … “But what if nature calls again?” No problem — this bag can be filled numerous times! Science!

In some places, like the trail to Mount Whitney, there are so many people crapping on the trail that you’re required to carry one of these. Or not, as is evident when you arrive at Trail Camp.

Trail Camp: Latrine
I know I’m a bit of an iconoclast, but I tend to prefer that my food containers be a little further away from my bulging WAG bags as they bake in the sun.

So let me tell you a story …

The first time I climbed Mount Whitney and arrived at Consultation Lake, a gorgeous alpine lake adjacent to Trail Camp, I was awed, stunned by its beauty. I needed a photo.

So I stepped up on a rocky ledge to to get a better shot, and there, right below me, I took in an eyeful of some guy crapping in a bag. So now my memory of Consultation Lake is forever marred by some nameless dude’s ass.

Consultation Lake
Forever scarred …

And I’m not the only one …

In a recent post over at Backcountry.com, self-proclaimed gearhead Casey Glaubman recalls his excretory adventures during his bid to summit Denali in a little tale he likes to call Pooping at Altitude. A brief excerpt:

This is one of the things they don’t exactly tell you before you climb Denali. It’s just people shitting, everywhere you look. Gonna go for a quick stroll to the edge of camp to check out the sunset? Oh, hey, look, it’s that guy you were talking to earlier…shitting on a bucket. Glamorous.

So, yeah. When nature calls, everyone poops. Even in the woods. Or on the mountain.

The end.

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