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"Dude, you stink!" - a common phrase heard in the woods. But beware of the pot calling the kettle black. “Camping sanitation practices” - “personal hygiene” - “funk removal” – whatever you want to call it, it’s about more than just smell. Your health and the health of fellow hikers; the aesthetics of the wilderness; avoiding fines; and your personal comfort are all at stake as well.
It’s all about the bugs – bacteria, viruses, and other various nasty’s. Keep them at bay thru better personal and environmental cleanliness, and you’ll feel better, smell better and be less likely to end up gut-wrenching sick. Hikers are usually knowledgeable about water contamination and proper treatment, but are less cautious about other sources of germs from food and waste - witness a trio of hikers all sticking their grubby hands into a bag of trail mix at break time. But just because you don’t have a gold-trimmed faucet, a bidet and a garbage disposal at camp doesn’t mean you can’t keep yourself and your trail area reasonably clean when out in the woods. We’ve assembled some suggestions on the subject so you can be a friend to the woods - and to your tent mate.
Going To The Bathroom
I’ve heard of hikers going as long as a week without “going” because of either being uncomfortable with the process, or too bashful of sorts to let nature take its course. No point getting your colon all up in knots over it; just emulate your cat, as we’ll explain below.
First, on urination – not a problem for guys; the world is our bathroom. Do relieve yourself away from camp sites as the urine odor can remain for some time. Ladies have more difficulty, but are encouraged to either drip-dry, carry out the TP, or bury it where allowed by using a backpacker's trowel.
Second, There’s actually a good-selling book titled “How to S#!+ in the Woods”, but we’ll try to condense that issue down to a few points:
1) Go off trail and at least 200 feet from any water source, including springs and streams.
2) Always carry a lightweight plastic backpacker's trowel when you hike for toilet purposes. Like your cat tries to, dig a hole 4-6 inches deep. If the ground is covered with snow, be sure to dig through the snow and create the cat hole beneath the topsoil – this can be labor-intensive if the ground is frozen.
3) Then just squat above it. This is the part novices fear the most, but actually results in much more natural and healthful elimination than sitting at a 90 degree angle on your home toilet. There are a couple of pointers – make sure you’re really out of sight; squat with your rear downhill; hang on to a tree or your hiking stick for balance; and make sure your shirt or coat is lifted up in the back. After wiping with TP, get yourself even cleaner back there with moist towellettes – reduce chances of chafing and later discomfort.
4) After using the cat-hole, cover it and the TP with the soil you removed. Revert the site to its natural look by re-scattering leaves, rocks or pine needles over the top. Place a rock on top so the next person along doesn't step in it or animals try dig it up. Note - in many areas you must pack out the toilet paper, particularly in dry arid areas. Use sealable baggies for that. If fires are allowed, you can burn the TP; just make sure it’s reduced to ash. Whatever you do, just don’t be a contributor to Charmin Confetti – used toilet paper blowing in the wind or hung up in bushes as you stroll down the trail. Gross!!
5) Always follow with a good hand cleaning with waterless sanitizer or soap and water.
6) Keep your trowel as clean as possible - wipe off on grass or sand or wash off after each use. Keep it and your roll of TP in a plastic bag and carry in or on your pack away from your food.
A hiker’s biggest gripe according to many polls - Trash on the trail and at camps – wrappers, toilet paper, plastic jugs – any can distract from the wilderness experience. Here’s how you can be part of the solution.