Potty Talk - Best of the Northwest Best of the Northwest

Potty Talk

Blue bags, trenches and trowels mean anything to you?


Have you been to a place where the most pristine alpine lake views were literally spoiled by toilet paper strewn across the landscape willy-nilly? Seen and smelled half dug holes overflowing with human excrement?

This is a surefire way to ruin the aesthetic of a wildly beautiful place not to mention a health hazard for contaminating water sources.

I don’t think people trash places intentionally.
$#!+ happens.

When nature calls we all need to be prepared.

There are rules of engagement that keep forests pristine, clean and safe.


Human Waste
Disposal Etiquette

Use the Facilities.

plan for potty time

When there is the luxury of a trail head outhouse, use it. These generally exist in high enough traffic areas and places that have the budget to permit and build an outhouse. Be prepared for the toilet paper stocking situation to be variable. Packing your own TP or wet wipes (make sure they are biodegradable) is a good backup plan.


In locations where there are limited facilities (Frenchman Coulee in the Columbia River Gorge comes to mind) please train your bowels to release quickly on command. Forcing morning business of people to wait in line what seems an eternity in agony should be avoided.


Training your bowels to operate like a Swiss watch is topic for another conversation, but some tips include eating plenty of roughage and timing of coffee as a laxative. I have a friend that took a morning dip (tobacco) that got things moving; although I wouldn’t recommend that.

Pack it out.

Bags aren’t just for dogs

When I was a kid the local park was strewn with dog feces. At some point city ordinances across the country decided it would benefit everyone to require cleaning up after your pup. Now it is commonplace to find dog waste stations equipped with small plastic bags and disposal receptacles.



 If you are in a location above tree line, generally on any volcano in the NW blue bags are handed out with your climbing permit. These are very similar to the bags that you find at any dog park, with the exception of them typically being blue and coming with zip ties and a translucent outer bag. This helps to contain the odor. Yosemite big wall climbers use a similar technique with an inner plastic bag packed into a carabiner compatible “poop tube.”


Blue bags are required in these areas generally because the cold harsh alpine conditions don’t allow the waste to naturally break down and in crowded camps (think camp Muir) loads can accumulate quickly and cause WWI front-line trench stench.  So it has to be packaged and transported out.  We end up using dog waste bags for our toddler who doesn’t always feel like taking care of business until we are miles down the trail.

Always pack out other bio-hazards (don’t bury) feminine hygiene products etc.


Dig it.

The trowel never touches

In lower elevations where bio matter exists. Soil bacteria and organisms break down the waste and reabsorbs into the environment. Boy Scout rule if I remember right is to dig a latrine trench or cat hole. Dig at least 6” deep far from visual or olfactory proximity from camp and at least 200 feet (or 75 steps) from any water source. Bury the waste with soil and cover with needles or topping of your choice that matches local decor.  Make sure you are a good distance away from any trails as well.  See if you can be a bathroom ninja and “leave no trace.” Use sticks, rocks or fancy digging trowel that can be purchased ad your local outdoor retailer. Remember the trowel never touches…


So in summary:

  1. Use the facilities (if they exist)

  2. Bury it or pack it out – either way no one should ever be able to tell you “went there” i.e. Leave No Trace

A couple of extra toilet tips:

Wet wipes can double as cleansing for stinky bitz and pitz. On longer mile days keeping this area very clean and with a possible supplement of anti chafing cream can really save your hide from getting chapped. You know what I mean if you have experienced miles of this agony. If there is no TP try rocks (not too abrasive) Leaves (not poison ivy or stinging nettles) or my personal favorite snow.


Bury human waste at least 6″ deep

Bring small container of hand sanitizer for afterward.




More details here from trailspace.com

“Human waste and what we do with it can be one of the most significant impacts that faces lands used by the public for recreation,” said Ben Lawhon, education director for the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. “It’s a disease impact, water quality impact, social and aesthetic impact — and it’s something that a lot of people just have a hard time dealing with.”


Bryan is an avid weekend warrior that has explored, GPS mapped and video documented hundreds of unique trails in the NW many toting kids in backpacks.

First one up breaks trail.

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