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Attention Hikers: How to Poop in the Woods Without Harming the Planet

Hikers and campers are negatively impacting the environment by improperly disposing of their waste. Learn how to poop in the woods responsibly and sustainably.

how to poop in the woods
Written by
Riley Baker
is a great way to enjoy
. You get some fresh air, see breathtakingly beautiful views, and work up a sweat. Unfortunately, some hikers are ruining the experience for everyone by failing to dispose of their waste properly during these outings.
Colorado Tourism Office
recently decided to fight back against the state's poop problem by awarding a $40,000 grant to the Gunnison Crested Butte Tourism Association. With this grant, the organization will come up with a "'Doo' Colorado Right" campaign that's "aimed at educating and empowering visitors to practice appropriate outdoor
waste disposal
in conjunction with the state’s 'Do Colorado Right' messaging."
Besides questioning why so people are pooping on trails (when you've gotta go, you've gotta go, I guess?), you're probably also wondering what the big deal is when it happens. Aside from grossing out other hikers, disposing of feces on hiking trails—and anywhere you're not supposed to, for that matter—can harm the environment in more ways than one.
Here's everything you should know about the environmental impacts of improper waste disposal. Plus, how to poop in the woods sustainably.

The Dangers of Improper Waste Disposal on Hikes

how to poop in the woods
If you frequent trails or camp regularly, you may already know about the
Leave No Trace
principles. These principles ensure enjoying time out in the great outdoors doesn't disrupt the environment or cause harm to wildlife, whether that's leaving what you find (no souvenirs here!) or disposing of trash or human waste properly.
Poop should be treated like any other garbage. Because it can take up to a year to
, leaving it sitting out in the open can become an environmental hazard, contaminating water sources and spreading disease—both of which can harm wildlife and disrupt ecosystems.

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But everyone poops, including the animals that live there. So why is human waste such a problem? The issue is humans don't eat the same food as animals, so what we leave behind contains traces of things they're not used to. To avoid your waste winding up in their drinking water and potentially causing harm, it's crucial to learn how to dispose of it responsibly and sustainably.

How to Poop in the Woods Like a Planet-Friendly Pro

If you're on a long hike, nature might call. Good news: There's no shame in taking a bathroom break out in the woods as long as you do so responsibly.
Before planning your trip, check the regulations of the park or area you're hiking in. Some parks allow cat holes, and others require the use of "blue bags." (More on each below!) You'll also want to have a handy bathroom break kit with you.
Miranda Webster of
Miranda in the Wild
recommends bringing along a cloth bag that contains three things: a
, a baggie filled with some toilet paper, and a plastic waste bag (and/or a "blue bag").

The Cat Hole Method

Webster says to find an area that's at least 200 feet away from any water source to avoid contamination. Next, dig a hole that's at least six inches deep by four inches wide—enough to contain and cover your poop. Finally, squat over the hole and do your business.
Once you've finished pooping, use a small amount of toilet paper to wipe. Put the used toilet paper in your waste bag—not in the hole—and dispose of it later, once you have access to a trash can.
Carefully cover the hole with dirt, ensuring your trowel doesn't touch the waste. Then cover the hole with some leaves and sticks. "Essentially what I'm trying to do is make it look like I was never here. That way, people and animals are less likely to find it," Webster

The 'Blue Bag' Method

If you want the most effective Leave No Trace option, the blue bag method is the way to go.
Like the cat hole method, start by finding an area that's at least 200 feet away from water sources. Do your business, then put your poop and toilet paper in a "blue bag," which is essentially just a plastic bag for your waste that you bring along with you and take out of the park. Sometimes
they're sealable
and leakproof for extra protection.
"The way a 'blue bag' works is you'll go to the bathroom and pick up your poop doggy-bag-style, the same way you would with your dog," Webster says. "Then wrap it up and put it in an extra bag for protection and you'll carry it out with you."

The Takeaway

Sure, taking the extra steps of either digging a cat hole for your poop or putting it in a blue bag and carrying it along with you isn't the most ideal hiking situation. It is, however, a surefire way to help preserve the future of the environment (and protect the
) you love so much.