Eco-friendly Wilderness Evacuation
April 4, 2011 10:50 PM   Subscribe

Ah wilderness! What better place to escape the stifling trappings of urban existence - overflowing inboxes, two-hour commutes, social-media addiction. And, of course, indoor plumbing. "Take off your shoes for a while, unzip your fly, piss hearty, dig your toes in the hot sand, feel that raw and rugged earth," the great Western author and curmudgeon Edward Abbey once exhorted car-bound city slickers. Contemplating the reasons for taking a trek down the Appalachian Trail (and aping Abbey-ish machismo), travel writer Bill Bryson mused, "I wanted a little of that swagger that comes with being able to gaze at a far horizon through eyes of chipped granite and say with a slow, manly sniff, 'Yeah, I've shit in the woods.'"
posted by vidur (36 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Is. He. A. Bear? /awed six-year-old voice
posted by orthogonality at 11:10 PM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

A couple of years ago, the Australian Goverment considered banning people from climbing Uluru, partly on the grounds that people keep taking dumps at the summit.
posted by robotot at 11:23 PM on April 4, 2011

This Poo Powder (linked in the above article) looks like an interesting backcountry camping addition.
posted by benzenedream at 11:29 PM on April 4, 2011

I've not done much outdoorsy stuff but I've read about it some, enough to know that weight is a huge deal for mountaineers and distance back-packers; I've read about hikers drilling holes in their toothbrushes, etc. Point being that every ounce counts.

A piece of four inch PVC with plastic ends on it, would that weigh as much as a high-qual sleeping bag? It'd weigh more than that as it filled, no doubt about it, though I suppose that the case could be made that it wouldn't probably weigh much more than the food they packed in which, eventually, created said poop.

I can't imagine that anybody who's drilling holes in their tooth brushes is going to be interested in this, it'll be fun for me to read this thread, get more experienced peoples take on it.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:30 PM on April 4, 2011

I'm all for this, I had a couple of close escapes with 3rd party waste when out hiking.
posted by arcticseal at 11:43 PM on April 4, 2011

weight is a huge deal for mountaineers and distance back-packers

Especially now that they can post pics of their drilled out toothbrushes on the internets.
posted by ryanrs at 12:50 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Who does he think he is, the Pope?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:57 AM on April 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

weight is a huge deal for mountaineers and distance back-packers

But we're not talking about them. To them, what's a really "huge deal" would be the, "LEAVE NO TRACE" mentality - I'm not going to throw my wrapper on the ground, why would I leave my shit on the ground, either?

I think in this article we're talking about more so are those "city slickers" going on day hikes. The same ones that get in my way, taking phone calls at 13,000 feet on the Class 1 14er. The same ones that can't pre-plan a few hours so they don't shit while up there.

Regardless, packing out poop shouldn't be a problem. We do it for our dogs, right? We go on walks, they shit - we pick it up in a plastic bag? Try this idea: Shit in a plastic grocery bag. Tie it up. Put that in another grocery bag, tie that up. Pop that poop in your pack. Done and done. If you've got something more like diarrhea, don't do that. Shit it in the woods. If you can, dig a hole or something. I've also heard smearing it on a rock face helps it dissipate faster, but please, use your brains on that one.

What's completely shitty is seeing paper used for wiping left. It doesn't break down very fast. So not only is their shit everywhere, there's shit-laden paper everywhere, which seems strange, as that's irrefutable litter.
posted by alex_skazat at 1:03 AM on April 5, 2011

You know those filtration membranes they use to filter drinking water? Could you make a biodegradable version of that stuff that wouldn't cost a million dollars? If so, for people who just aren't going to carry their shit along for the hike, no matter how much you try to make them feel bad about it, make biodegradeable red "BIOHAZARD!" poop bags into which they could scoop (or directly deposit) their shit. Seal it, bury it well out of the way, and let it degrade. Let the filter membrane keep their nasty bugs inside until the contents have safely digested themselves.
posted by pracowity at 2:01 AM on April 5, 2011

I have walked across many wildernesses. It's fine to crap in the woods, and indeed this is what happens in nature. A quick guide to doing wilderness urination/defecation right:

Pee is sterile, but smells. I thus do not do it near my campsite or any local water sources. This is especially important for water sources as the smell of human urine is an unusual new factor in many ecosystems, and scares away some animals from their usual water source. Otherwise meh.

Crapping in the woods is also perfectly fine, but with a few more caveats. I always think of just doing it like a little like a cat; dig yourself a little hole, defecate in that, break the faeces with a stick whist slowly sprinkling the soil to aid breakdown, then putting the earth back on top. Obviously this shouldn't be done near water sources (I have a 75 meter rule of thumb), and also shouldn't be just above a water source to avoid runoff contamination issues. Leaving toilet paper is a terrible thing and, frankly, makes people look like boors. A leaf or snow may substitute and be buried, but if water sources are in the area it is frankly best and easiest to go full African and just use some of your water and your left hand to clean yourself.

The Middle Eastern/African view that being tapped on the head with the left hand is quite the insult should now make perfect sense.
posted by jaduncan at 3:06 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is clearly an important issue, but the wider environmental problem of animals other than man habitually defecating outdoors can't be ignored any longer.

It should be simple enough to pass a law compelling bison to poo into individually issued buckets and then carry them in their mouths to the nearest council waste depository. Wild Boar could use fair trade, organic brown paper bags while seagulls could be asked politely to aim for floating thimbles seeded into the ocean which could then be pushed to shore for safe disposal by properly trained seals.

Urinary waste is also unacceptable but a simple bylaw instructing hikers to carry handy hosepipes between five and fifteen miles long allowing them to wee straight into the nearest proper toilet should solve the problem at a stroke. Finally lambs should wear nappies. If you've ever gone walking in England's national parks you'll know they're just one big sheep's toilet and I don't see why sheep should be held to any lower standard than we are.
posted by joannemullen at 3:37 AM on April 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

A leaf or snow may substitute

When we were kids and out hopping trains one winter, one guy dropped his pants, leaned his back up against a concrete bridge abutment, crapped, and then used pieces of railway gravel. In the winter. Wiped his ass with frozen railway gravel.
posted by pracowity at 3:48 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Regardless, packing out poop shouldn't be a problem. We do it for our dogs, right?

If walking the dog meant heading several days out from home, perhaps carrying a lot of extra weight in a stuffed backpack, you would see pretty close to zero percent willing to add that dog crap to the round-trip burden. The dog crap would stay in the woods with the mountain lion crap and the bear crap and the other animal crap.

How about bagging and burning human crap? I guess a big ol' campfire is not exactly ecological, but people will build them. So bag your crap, bring it back to camp, toss it on the fire, and then stand way the fuck back long enough to let it burn down? How long would that take? Or maybe bag it and build the fire over it? Would it be quick and clean enough or would you end up with a huge evil-smelling cloud of shit-steam hanging over the campsite all night? "Man, what's up with these marshmallows?"

Or do right-minded hikers and campers just not build fires anymore?
posted by pracowity at 4:15 AM on April 5, 2011

pracowity, we don't, at least not in the highly sensitive or high-traffic areas being talked about in the article. If it's a sensitive area, it would be a violation of LNT principals to build a fire, and if it's a high-traffic area, all the suitable wood is probably gone.
posted by Aizkolari at 4:50 AM on April 5, 2011

This is clearly an important issue, but the wider environmental problem of animals other than man habitually defecating outdoors can't be ignored any longer.

Proposal: let people out of prison and replace them with geese.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:59 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I've shit in the woods.'"

Big deal. I've pissed between moving subway cars.
posted by jonmc at 5:04 AM on April 5, 2011

This article is not so much about shitting in the woods as it is about shitting 10 feet from a trail through the woods.

So few people actually get into the woods that human shit is highly concentrated near trails and campsites. On the other hand, most animals crap wherever they happen to be when the urge strikes them (yes, that's overly simplified. Animals prefer to not be vulnerable when they shit. They also don't generally shit in their homes.) Humans, on the other hand, want a nice big tree to hide behind. Without realizing that some other guy was hiding behind the same tree an hour ago.

Do what I do. Walk 30 feet into the woods with your shovel. Dig your hole, hover, crap, bury. There won't be another spot of poo for 20 feet.

Optional - swear when you step in some inconsiderate jackass' unburied loaf. Or, just watch your step very closely.
posted by bilabial at 6:01 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, Leave No Trace principles for campfires:

* Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
* Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
* Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
* Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.

Plus it's been so dry here in the Southeast US the last few years that lots of places end up having fire bans all summer.
posted by ghharr at 6:10 AM on April 5, 2011

With more than 1.7 million visitors roaming the backcountry areas of National Parks annually, there's potentially a lot of poop piling up out there.

Those 1.7 million people are spread across an awful lot of land. Honestly, I think this is mostly a non-issue. You have places (eg rivers with large rafting groups, certain high-alpine routes, etc) where it is obviously the right thing to either pack it out or build latrines (but those are expensive when the poop needs to be carried out by mule train or helicopter). And then there's everywhere else, where the answer is to do what bilabial says and walk further into the woods.

Think of it in terms of population density: if there are so few hikers that you are like a small group of nomadic hunter/gatherers, go ahead and poop wherever. If there are so many hikers that you are more like the population of a village, then you are going to be forced to poop in more civilized ways. It's genuinely not rocket science, and people wanting to apply rules suitable for one situation to a totally different one is really irritating.
posted by Forktine at 6:39 AM on April 5, 2011

The last and maybe only time I shat and shoveled in the woods, I clambered way, way off the beaten trail into some thick bushes that four-legged animals might have avoided. Nice and private, I figured. All I could see was underbrush. Unfortunately for me, about a thousand mosquitoes must have followed me back there and they behaved as if they had never seen a bare human bum before. I bet their little eyes just about popped out at the sight of such an easy victim.

Leave No Trace fire practices sound slightly boring. I am for Leave No Trace in principal and in general, but when I see the details laid out (carrying your own shit out, using designated fire rings, keep off the moors and stay on the road, etc.), it starts to sound about one timid step away from staying home and watching one of those fireplace videos. Can we agree to a sort of carbon trading scheme, whereby I get to build a decent campfire every once in a great while (I haven't had a fire in years) because I don't ever fly or drive or use any other sort of motorized transport, etc.?
posted by pracowity at 6:41 AM on April 5, 2011

People, this is what coffee is for. Even if you're starting out your day at 4am, bang down a few cups strong coffee and poop at home. I learned this lesson hunting in Montana, which involved >1% shooting at animals and 99% of trudging up and down steep hills in knee deep snow from before dawn to after dark. The thought of pinching a loaf in deep snow, negative temperatures and a stiff wind is not appealing.
posted by 445supermag at 6:57 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, those days are well behind me.

Imagine having to do this in the Minnesota woods where mosquitoes swarm.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:16 AM on April 5, 2011

Cavers have been packing out their waste for years. I always, always laugh when I hear a reference to a "burrito."
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:27 AM on April 5, 2011

Robotot, that article about Uluru... I just... don't have any words.
posted by PepperMax at 7:30 AM on April 5, 2011

I've done enough hiking/camping/pooing in the woods to know which specific leaves are best for butt-wiping.

And yeah, you dig a hole. (With, as it is known, the "bowel trowel.") Who are you savages just pooing on the ground? That's seriously gross.
posted by sonika at 7:59 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

And by "dig a hole" we're not talking just a little litterbox scratch hole... Try to dig down at LEAST 6", a good solid foot is better. And when you fill it in, take the time to see if you can get 100% of the dirt back in the hole, and step on the top so it's packed into place.

I've never heard about giardia coming from people before. Where I grew up backpacking, much of the land (even public land) was used for cattle grazing, and I was taught that it was usually from cattle feces or other large animal feces. Certainly there weren't any beavers in the national forest I was backpacking in when I picked up that particular bug, which was one of the worst things I've ever contracted.
posted by hippybear at 8:05 AM on April 5, 2011

If you have a cat, do what I do and bring along a little baggie of cat hair. It weights hardly anything and saves you the trouble of digging holes. After you've done your business, just sprinkle a little cat hair over it.

Complete the illusion by warning other hikers about the 200 lbs coyote that's been sighted in the area.
posted by ryanrs at 8:28 AM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

This part sounds kind of like my usual citation style. "There has been at least one study I've read where beavers managed to cleanse themselves of giardia over the winter and it was people who reintroduced it to the area in the spring." Ah yes, I read an article on a website one time that said the exact opposite. Or maybe I made that up.
posted by jefeweiss at 9:06 AM on April 5, 2011

Shameless plug for my friend's book about the southbound AT hike where he covers this topic in detail, among other things.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:17 AM on April 5, 2011

Now, I wouldn't go drinking out of a stream full of pooping cattle. That said, it really does look like it's your fellow hikers who are putting you at risk, more than the animals. citation
posted by Forktine at 9:32 AM on April 5, 2011

Oops, that was in response to this:
I've never heard about giardia coming from people before. Where I grew up backpacking, much of the land (even public land) was used for cattle grazing, and I was taught that it was usually from cattle feces or other large animal feces
posted by Forktine at 9:35 AM on April 5, 2011

Many years back, a friend and I went backpacking in the Pecos Wilderness near my home in Santa Fe. The first day, we stopped at Pecos Baldy Lake at the base of West Pecos Baldy Mt. and struck camp near the shore. It was a beautiful setting and there weren't too many other campers.

There was a flock of Bighorn sheep; really just the ewes and baby sheep. They were being re-introduced to the Wilderness by the Forest Service and some of them were wearing what looked to be large collars (presumably, for identification and/or tracking).

Most of the sheep stayed far away from us and ran whenever we came near. There was one old, grizzled ewe with a collar who was more inquisitive and came close while we cooked our dinner. We tossed it a few pieces of pasta but it wasn't interested and wandered off.

The next morning after breakfast, I marched off 200 yards from the water, carrying my plastic trowel, AP (aka toilet) paper and matches. I'd been trained in Scouts to dig a deep hole and after I was done, to burn up the paper in the hole and bury it up. As I prepared my hole, I saw the flock skittering off into the woods. I surveyed to see that otherwise, I had privacy for my pooping.

For those who are unfamiliar with this process, it's a delicate balancing act. You're squatting outward to attain the right angle so the package will go into the hole and not outside, or worse yet, into your shorts that are around your ankles. If you are also planning to pee, the process becomes more intricate. I depantsed, crouched down and began filling the hole.

All at once I felt an ice cold wetness in between my cheeks followed by a warm tongue ravenously licking my backside. I fell forward… swearing, dropping my paper and grabbing my trowel for protection. I turned around to see the grizzled ewe happily licking her chops. Then I noticed the rest of the flock was bounding over. No amount of yelling would scare them off while I struggled to finish, clean up and get my pants back up.

I got back to camp and my friend asked if I found a good place to take a shit. I told him about the nice spot I found just over the hill… where all the sheep were.
posted by jabo at 11:04 AM on April 5, 2011 [8 favorites]

bighorn sheep: nature's bidet
posted by hippybear at 11:47 AM on April 5, 2011

Of course, most of the conversation here is ignoring the worst-case places like they describe in the article, where there are just a few little beaches along a long river and everybody who goes down that river camps (and craps) on these crowded little beaches. In cases like that, you have to carry your shit out. There is no burying option when pretty much every square inch of shittable space has already been dug up and shit in.
posted by pracowity at 12:25 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

A Walk In The Woods
posted by homunculus at 12:29 PM on April 5, 2011

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