How to Poop in the Woods: A Step-by-Step Guide

Last Updated: December 2020

Yes, pooping in the woods isn't a topic many of us want to discuss, but if we aren't pooping in the wilderness properly, our wild areas will start to look more like a giant outdoor bathroom than a serene natural getaway. 

If you're newly becoming oriented with the outdoors, then Leave No Trace guidelines will be a necessary addition to your backcountry knowledge base. 

While there are plenty of LNT guidelines, Principle 3: Dispose of Waste Properly is the most important, no matter the environment.

When you are exploring the wilderness, there are two options for disposing of your poop: 

  1. Dig a cathole and bury it
  2. Pack it out

Not all wilderness areas allow the use of catholes. The places that do allow them have particular requirements to ensure that human waste does not become a pollution source. 

In this article, you will learn how to dig a cathole, the best way to carry your poop if you are required to pack it out, and why it is important to properly dispose of human waste.

girl woods hiking

Step-by-Step Guide to How to Dig and Use a Cathole

Digging a hole in the ground doesn't sound like it should be that complicated, but there is a right way to do it. Here's how: 

Step 1: Find the Best Location

First, you need to know where you are allowed to dig and bury human waste. The same rules apply if you dig a cathole to dispose of your pet's waste or food scraps. 

The general rule is to be at least 200 feet away from any water sources (including washes), trails, or campsites. This is close to around 70 steps.

Once you think you've found a place far enough away, start looking for a place to dig. 

It would be best if you tried to find a location that has direct sunlight and does not contain roots or rocks. So, digging a cathole under a tree isn't recommended. The soil should have rich soil with plenty of sunlight to help your waste decompose faster. 

Step 2: Digging your Cathole

Now that a proper location has been chosen, time to start digging!

To do this, it is wise to pack a travel trowel with you.

You can get a lightweight, yet sturdy plastic trowel that is perfect for backpacking or a smaller collapsible trowel, usually made of a kind of metal. 

If you are car camping, you can choose to bring a slightly larger collapsible shovel to make digging easier. 

We find it easiest if you put all your pooping supplies into one bag.

This should include your hand sanitizer, trowel, biodegradable toilet paper, wipes, and an empty bag to put wipes in when you're done. The wipes are optional, but on a long trek, it can provide a cleaner feeling. 

When you're ready to start digging, use your trowel (or if you don't have one, a stick or rock) to dig a hole that is at least 4-6" wide and 6-8" deep. An easy way to gauge the depth of the hole is to use a standard Nalgene water bottle. 

Step 3: Pooping in the Cathole

There isn't necessarily a wrong way to poop into a cathole, but the main thing is that you want to be in a stable position.

The best approach is to straddle the hole and squat directly over the hole. Be wary of your aim before you start, so you don't miss it. 

Once you've done your business, you can leave the toilet paper in the hole, but only biodegradable.

The easiest way to know if it is safe to leave in the cathole is if the toilet paper is designed especially for camping or for an RV septic system. 

If you are using standard toilet paper, you'll need to pack it out in your empty bag, along with wet wipes or tampons. 

Step 4: Covering the Cathole

Now for the final step.

When you cover the cathole, try to make sure that the hole is covered thoroughly and slightly mounded. The reason you should mound a cathole is so when it rains and the dirt compacts, the hole doesn't sink into itself. 

You should also brush some other organic materials on top. This can be sticks, leaves, or other natural materials around you. This will help with the decomposition process in keeping moisture on the ground there. 

Finally, don't forget to either wash your hands or use some hand sanitizer.

hiking mountains

When & How to Pack Out Your Poop

Not all wilderness areas allow visitors to dispose of waste using catholes.

These areas are usually in desert regions, through canyons, or in high elevation areas. If this is the case, then you'll need to find a way to carry your waste as you go and pack it out when you leave. 

Opt for a Wag Bag

One of the easiest ways to pack your poop out on an expedition is to use a wag bag. These are essentially doggie poop bags but designed for humans. 

Wag bags are also known as go anywhere toilet kits or travel toilet bags. You can also decide to use doggie poop bags if you're in a pinch, but wag bags offer a more sanitary and less smelly experience. 

Each bag is designed for backcountry use and is puncture resistant. They also contain a small hand sanitizer packet, a solidifying agent, poo-powder to mask any odors, and toilet paper. 

These bags' portability makes them perfect for backcountry treks. They're also lightweight enough to bring day hiking, keep in a first aid kit or an emergency survival kit. 

How to Use a Wag Bag

Using a wag bag is very similar to using a cathole. In this instance, though, the bag is the hole.

Most wag bags have instructions printed on them, so if you're unsure how to use them, the bag will let you know what to do. 

Using a wag bag only takes a few simple steps: 

  1. Pull out bag liner (on inside of puncture-resistant outer bag)
  2. Take out the toilet paper and hand sanitizing packet
  3. Find a stable position in a slightly squatted position
  4. Hold the plastic bag around your hips, and this should capture your waste
  5. Once you've wiped and sanitized, use the cinch loop to seal the inner pouch
  6. Then, close the ziplock portion of the outer pouch to seal completely 

Once you have your waste safely stored, then you will need a place to carry it.

If you're on a multi-day trip, the best location is at the bottom of your pack.

You want to ensure that used wag bags are far away from food and that they are not leaking at all. To avoid this, put them inside another bag as a barrier between the rest of your gear. 

Once you're back in the front country, you can dispose of the wag bag in a standard trash bin.

Since they contain a solidifying agent and an odor suppressant, you shouldn't open them and flush the waste down the toilet. 

leave no trace sigh

Why is Proper Human Waste Disposal so Important?

Just as with litter and dog poop, human waste poses a potential environmental hazard.

It is essential to know how to dispose of human waste properly to avoid pollution of water sources, minimize the possibility of spreading disease, maximize decomposition, and so other visitors don't have to discover it. 

A part of enjoying the outdoors is taking responsibility for preserving its beauty and the area's ecosystem. 

If you're unsure if you should be using a cathole or a wag bag in the area you're traveling, consult the local rangers or look on the area website for rules and regulations.

Most parks and public lands have well-marked rules regarding waste disposal. 


While there are plenty of LNT guidelines, Principle 3: Dispose of Waste Properly is the most important, no matter the environment.

Make sure you follow our step-by-step guide to digging and using a cathole or our guidelines on when to pack your poop in order to ensure our wild areas stay clean and safe.

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