How do I go to the bathroom when hiking?
Ok, so this is a silly but practical question from a newbie hiker. I have a long charity trek coming up with a group. Any practical words of wisdom regarding bathroom breaks while doing long day treks along a mountain range??
Great question. For ladies, going to the bathroom (#1 or #2) is one of the biggest fears that keeps women from hiking and backpacking.
How Ladies Go #1 When Hiking:
The key is to go when you have to go! Don’t let yourself get uncomfortable. When you have to go, find a secluded spot for privacy (behind some trees or dense bushes) and go. If you are most comfortable using toilet paper to keep yourself dry, feel free to use it! But, you must pack it out with you. Stuff it in a ziploc bag. You cannot bury toilet paper under any circumstances, because animals will dig it up, resulting in an environmental mess. Use hand sanitizer immediately.
How Ladies Go #2 When Hiking:
Follow the steps for urinating on a hike, but make sure your private spot is ultra private! First, dig a hole 6-8 inches deep with a trowel (REI has lightweight plastic trowels that are easy to take hiking and backpacking. Then, relax, squat, and use your toilet paper. Put your used toilet paper in a Ziploc bag (Quart sized freezer bags or Gallon sized freezer bags because they are thicker), then hide it in a paper bag or something that is opaque (you won’t want to see that later in the day in your backpack). Use hand sanitizer immediately.
Remember, the view will be far nicer than the view from your toilet at home…no one I know has beautiful trees, fresh air, and sunlight in their home bathrooms ;).
For fun, there is a fantastic book, How to Shit in the Woods, about going #2.
Thanks for stopping by! Now it’s time to start exploring!
Thank you for responding! Didn’t see your queation in time, as my phone battery died, but I did find relief on that desert trip. Cleaned my behind with soap and water from one of my canteens afterward. Never drinking from that one again. Didn’t occur to me to use clothing, but good idea – no worse than sacrificing a canteen I guess.
Bummer you’re in such a predicament! Do you have anything like wet wipes? Or even a kotex pad? As a last resort, maybe use your backup pair of socks or t-shirt. You’ll have to pack these out though since it isn’t environmentally friendly to bury a sock, kotex, etc.
Good luck. Deserts can be tricky!
Hi, I’m on a camping trip with friends right now. It doesn’t seem like anyone brought toilet paper. We’re in a desert so there’s no leaves or snow to use either. Can you suggest anything else I might use? I’m too embarrassed to ask my friends what they’re using for TP, it feels much easier asking anonymously on the internet. I really need to take a dump, I’ve been putting it off for days. Please advise.
I have bad knees and lower back. When nature calls, find a tree (without poison ivy) dig hole at base and use tree to stabilize your squat! Or pick up afterwards with your plastic baggie. In tough situations, try to find a spot cut into side of the trail or a big rock to lean on. Always leave your pack on the trail so that people coming by give you some privacy!
Thanks Alex! I’ll be memorizing what thimbleberry looks like. Maybe someday it’ll save my butt – literally!
Skagit, if you don’t want to carry paper with you, you can clean yourself with natural materials like moss, smooth rocks or leaves, and bury these in the cathole. Just be sure you can ID the leaves – wouldn’t want to use stinging nettle!
From your username I’m guessing that you’re from the Pacific Northwest, like me. One plant there that works very well for bathroom purposes is thimbleberry – it’s very abundant and has big, soft leaves.
I know it is gross…I don’t have a solution but maybe one of our readers does! As far as extremely steep terrain where you are at such high altitude that you’re above the tree line, you’ll need to ask your hiking partners to continue ahead and offer you some privacy. Worst case scenario is that you could do your #2 into what’s called a “wag bag“. Some well traveled mountain routes (i.e., Mt. Whitney in California, which is quite rocky and heavily trafficked) require the use of these Wag Bags for doing #2. It is a thick bag with an odor controlled powder (cat litter usually) that you’d have to put in a backpack or keep with you until the end of your workday. Hope that helps.
This is a great article! I am a beginning hiker and was a little worried about this aspect of hiking, but now I feel confident that I can deal with it when it happens.
The one problem is the requirement to carry out dirty toilet paper… I’m sorry but that is just too gross to think about for me. Do you know of any alternative ways to keep myself clean so that I don’t have to bother with the paper?
Also, what do you recommend doing in places with no vegetation to hide behind, or where the terrain is too steep to go far off the trail?
Sounds like you had a fantastic experience in Kiribati! Thank you for your comment and for your years of service working for a medical nonprofit 🙂
As far as your question about human waste disposal here in the West vs. Kiribati, I would still recommend burying poops and doing so at least 200 feet away from the water, and at least 6 inches deep as per Leave No Trace principles. Happy trails!
I worked for several years for a medical nonprofit in Kiribati, an island nation in the Pacific. The island I was on had no running water or toilets. #1 was done basically anywhere outdoors, and #2 was done in the water off two designated beaches – one for women, one for men. I was told to only use the “bathroom beach” when the tide was going out, so my waste would be carried away. Living on a diet of mostly fish and coconut, it was sometimes hard to wait for ebb tide!
Aside from the gender divide, going to the bathroom is not considered a private activity in Kiribati. People would often walk to the beach together at ebb tide and talk while they did their business. This took some getting used to for me as a Westerner, but I managed. On my very first visit to the “bathroom”, I attracted a large crowd. I later learned that, as I was the first white person to live on the island in some time, they were wondering whether my bottom would be as white as my face!
I’m writing this to ask if you would consider this an acceptable practice – not so much in Kiribati, where it’s the only option, but here in the West. If I were, say, hiking on a remote beach in the US, could I do what I did in Kiribati, or would burial in the sand/rocks be better?
Glad to be of help, Hannah! I think your co-worker’s method of lifting a rock is OK, but not ideal. And the other method of bringing in dirt seems like a violation of Leave No Trace to me, and you definitely don’t want to be importing invasive species. I’m so excited that the wag bag you made worked out well for you. Just dump the Ziploc in a paper bag so you don’t have to look at the contents whenever you open your backpack! Enjoy your bran muffins and being comfortable at your job. Happy trails! 🙂
Dear Hiking Lady,
Thank you SO much! I read your post last night and kludged together a homemade wag bag out of a Ziploc and some kitty litter I had on hand, then used it at work today. I’m feeling better than I have since I started the job, and I could actually focus on my work today without being distracted by discomfort. I was a little grossed out at first by the idea of carrying #2 around in my pack, but it’s a lot more pleasant than carrying it inside me all day!
I did ask a couple coworkers what they do about the bathroom issue. One said he usually lifts up a rock and puts it back when he’s done. Another said she takes a shovelful of imported dirt with her (since we can’t dig, we have to carry in dirt for our trail-repair projects) and uses that to cover it up. I might like to use these methods, since they’re less gross than the wag bag and don’t use plastic, but only if you think they’re “Leave No Trace” appropriate. I’ve been told not to pick up or move rocks, and dumping imported dirt in the woods seems like a good way to spread invasive species. What do you think?
In any case, thanks again for your help! Now I can eat bran muffins for breakfast again!
Wow, I’ve never heard of such a rule. Have you asked other colleagues what they do? I realize this is a sensitive topic and not something people usually discuss, but in your case I can see how this is literally an uncomfortable situation. Worst case scenario is that you could do your #2 into what’s called a “wag bag“. Some well traveled mountain routes (i.e., Mt. Whitney in California, which is quite rocky and heavily trafficked) require the use of these Wag Bags for doing #2. It is a thick bag with an odor controlled powder (cat litter usually) that you’d have to put in a backpack or keep with you until the end of your workday. Hope that helps.
I have a new job working in remote areas at a Civil War battlefield. Because there are artifacts in the ground that they don’t want disturbed, this park has a strict policy of “no digging, for any reason, unless you’re a park archaeologist”. Because I’m working long days at a site with no bathroom, and can’t dig holes, I can’t go #2 all day. (#1 is thankfully allowed.) This is really hard and uncomfortable for me, like “thinking of quitting the job” hard and uncomfortable, and my supervisor’s only advice is “hold it”. What should I do?
Thanks Jenny and Hiking Lady for your advice! I have a backpacking trip coming up this weekend, so I’ll have the chance to try it out.
If you don’t have a trekking pole handy, you can also try resting your back against a tree or rock. Or, if you find a log, you can sit on it, with your rear end out past the edge of the log.
Hope this helps!
Great question. Here’s an idea: you can try to hold on to a trekking pole or walking stick for balance while you’re in the squatting position. It will help you stay in place (so you can hit the target!) an it will provide a bit of relief on your knees.
Hope that helps. Happy trails!
I’ve been camping/backpacking for many years and I’m a past master at going #1 in the woods, if I do say so myself. But I continue to have issues with #2… namely I tend to, um, miss the hole. My knees also can start hurting if I’m in the squatting position for a long time. What do you recommend I do?
I’m glad you wrote this article, by the way. I think a lot of people are too embarrassed to ask about this topic, and often people who know how to deal with it assume everyone else knows how.
Great question. Not really a difference in positioning! Just find a hidden spot and take your time!
Hi!I am not an experienced hiker..does it make a difference in my squatting posture if I need to pee or poop? What else should I do? I have peed many times in the woodsbut have never pooped. As it may come one day, could you give me some precious tips? Thank you for your reply! Jana
Good information in the comments!
Great question Maggie. There is a new company called Lady Hike that makes panties that have an easy to remove crotch, and this would work very well with your dress system. However, as far as I know they don’t make leggings yet with a similar crotch opening. Perhaps you could contact them and see if they could add it to their product lineup!
The problem for me is the pack !!! when needing to do # 1or 2, my pack covers the top of my lower garment. I pee a lot in the mornings and can’t stop to unzip or pull down every time. I wear a skirt and high denier black stockings ( needed because of bugs) and black panties, peeing is a breeze, don’t even have squat. If I could find leggings that opened at the crotch, life on the trail in my skirt would be complete. Anyone know where to get them ? I make my own opening, but not optimal.
I have two female urination devices (one is P-style,the other one is a Go Girl).I tried both of them and I ended up completely wetting my pants!
Even after practicing plenty of times it didn’t worked out and it was incredibly messy.
I was reading the comments about the “devices” women can now use. I may give them a try, however, ever since I was itty bitty I learned how to use the potty in the woods thanks to my family who loved to spend every weekend camping it seems like. To me, it is second nature.
However, I still have that fear I am going to squat on a rattlesnake or a snake will slither up when I am not watching and bite me on my rear =) Maybe I can master the new “devices” for women. If all else fails, I am sure my husband will at least get a good chuckle =)
I’ve tried both the Shewee & Lady J. Both apparatuses instruct that you unzip your pants and slide the gadget in and under you, directing the “spout” outwards. I’m here to tell you that 7 out of 10 times I’ve wound up with urine down my leg inside my pants. Wet legs, wet pants, panties & even a sock or two. Yuck! Mind you I’d practiced w/them many times beforehand. By and large, it’s a (you’ll pardon the pun) a “hit” or “miss” result.
I much prefer just dropping trou & squatting. At least then I have better control over…er….’directing’ things where I want them. 🙂
Hi Lauren – yep, I am familiar with the “attachments” for women so we don’t have to drop our pants… Personally I am okay just finding a secluded spot (often it is nice to be away from the rest of your hiking buddies anyways when it is time to go to the bathroom). I have a lot of friends who love “attachments”, especially when backpacking. However, I have heard a lot of horror stories from women who can’t quite master the technique. Thanks for your input and women should do whatever is most comfortable for them and just not let the bathroom issue prevent them from hiking 🙂 Happy trails!
Hi Donna – just the toilet paper goes in the bag. Your poop goes into the hole you dig! Hope that helps. Good luck 🙂
I got a couple of different kinds when I was trying them out for that very same reason. Some are definitely easier than others. I prefer the p-style cause it’s super easy to use (only had to “practice” once) and it’s also easy to clean. Everyone has their personal preference though. I went on a group backpacking trip recently and it was funny that someone brought it up and at least half of the females used them but everyone preferred a different one. I keep one with my camping gear but I also have one to take with me for concerts (yucky port-a-potties) or gas stations or anywhere else that I don’t feel comfortable or sanitary squatting. It’s really a must-have!
In Australia we have a fabulous ‘gadget’ made especially for women called a ‘Shewee‘ which is a urination device they have been manufacturing since 1999. It means that you can more or less urinate standing up so is perfect for those times you need to be discrete, terrain on which it is difficult to squat, and helps eliminate spillage and run off onto shoes etc. Fabulous for taking hiking, camping or anywhere really. I use mine in public toilets especially when travelling as it eliminates the need to sit on the toilet seat.
I’m pretty sure this is why women wore skirts when traveling out west.
I would like more info on those products so as not to have to “drop em”. I’ve seen them, but read some comments needing to really practice to get the “aim” right!
HI Hiking Lady,
I’m too embarrassed but I have to ask you this. When it comes to doing # 2 are we supposed to try to get that in the bag or just the toilet paper 🙁
Oh Hiking Lady, I am both surprised and disappointed in your answer. There are so many other ways for ladies to go to the bathroom in the woods other than hiking an extra mile to find some privacy. Amazon sells many of the products… Lady-J Go-Girl, P-style (my favorite), and even walmart, sports authority and other sporting goods stores sell some now. No need to find a secluded spot, no need to even drop your pants, just unzip and go like the guys do! Never again will you dread having to go while outdoors!