How to shit in the woods

One of the fabulous things about going bush is eating tasty food under a blanket of stars. More often than not, especially on longer bush walks, this food is going to be dehydrated.

Now, there’s not really a delicate way of saying this, but eating dehydrated food can tend to have certain consequences for some people…

…OK, it can really give you the shits. For some reason, us westerners seem to have an aversion to learning how to shit in the woods, however it really is quite an easy thing to master and once you (and your knees) have got over the squatting thing, you’ll wonder why you had issues in the first place!

Whilst on a 12 day walk in Kakadu several years ago, my friends and I came up with the term, the Dehyde Dance. Every morning, upon waking up, there would be a mad dash out of the tent, whilst grasping madly about for the toilet paper and plastic trowel (aka Shit Shovel) and hoping for dear God that you could find some ground soft enough to dig your hole in enough time (let alone get far enough away from your friends) before contributing back to the great circle of life. However, as anyone who has been walking along the pristine waterways of Kakadu knows – rocks are the predominant feature.

Super Duper Pooper Scooper
Super Duper Pooper Scooper

It didn’t take us long to realise that we needed a plan. The plan involved pre-digging a hole before sunset and then ensuring that we didn’t enjoy our wine so much with dinner that we forgot where we dug.

Thankfully, you generally won’t need to pre-dig your holes, but there are some important rules to remember about the whole poo and wee thing.

  1. 100m from watercourses or campsites:  Now, to be honest, this is BEST PRACTICE, but the reality of poo-ing in the bush is that our fabulous landscape doesn’t always allow us to be gold star crappers. For example: On overnight canyon trips you’ll be hard pressed to get 10m from water, let alone 100m. Good luck with that one. So either eat a lot of cheese in the days leading up to the trip to bring on a rock-solid constitution or exercise your pelvic floor and sphincter muscles until you get topside again.
  2. 20cm down:  The trusty orange shit-shovel (that’s commercially available in many outdoor stores) has handy measurements on its handle to let you know when you’ve dug deep enough. Otherwise, an adult hand from wrist to tip of middle finger is just under 20cm.
  3. Don’t bury tampons or pads: Either carry them out or burn them completely. (I’m going to do a separate blog post on this).
  4. Paper: There are several schools of thought on this. Some people burn their paper (be careful not to light a bushfire!), some people bury it, some people carry it out (double zip-loc bags). If you’re going to bury, I feel that the cheapest, recycled paper (yep, the scratchy brown stuff) is probably going to break down the quickest.
  5. In the snow: It’s a tough call, but officially when ski touring or walking in some pristine wilderness environments you shouldn’t bury your treasure, but carry it out. A Poo Tube is an easy way of doing this. But the big golden rule with poo-ing in the snow is to not use paper – a handful of snow works a treat and is like a little chilly bidet for your bottom!
  6. Mark your territory: I’m sure that when you were a toddler and proud of what you produced you felt the need to show everyone. However, we’re grown-ups. Please cover your creation completely with dirt and then mark your spot with sticks laid down – X marks the spot. If you’re in a group and the options are limited, you’ll be very thankful that everyone has followed this rule.
  7. Hygiene: Carry a small tube of hand sanitiser to use afterwards and also before eating.

These rules are for general bush and wilderness areas. Be aware that some National Parks and sensitive areas, will require you to carry out all waste.  Yep, this means you must carry out your poo and paper, in addition to tampons/pads, etc. There are a bunch of different methods on the internet of how to make a poo-tube for this purpose, but I will post a separate blog of a simple poo-tube that works for me.

Rules for using Toilet Trowel
Never shall they touch!

And now just some helpful tips…

  1. Tell someone and then leave your pack behind: This is more important during the day whilst walking, but also important first thing before departing camp in the morning. By leaving your pack behind on the track, your friends won’t leave without you (or so you’d like to think).
  2. If on a slope, squat facing down the hill: You’re less likely to lose balance and fall forward, than backward. On a steep slope squat behind a tree and hold onto the tree for balance.
  3. Keep feet perpendicular to slope: For us women, this will help us not have pee running over our shoes.
  4. Trowels are optional: … burying your poo and paper is not. I find that the heel of my shoe and then a good stick is enough to get a 20cm hole, depending on the terrain.
  5. Guys, we can see you: For some reason, there are blokes in walking parties who seem to think that just taking 5 steps and turning their back to the group, makes them invisible. We don’t need to see (or hear) you pee. Thanks.
  6. Check before you squat: Sounds obvious, but not only for snakes or stinging nettles, but leeches or sharp sticks, etc.
  7. No matter how you shake and dance: … the last few drops fall down your pants. It’s personal choice, but as a woman, I don’t feel the need to use paper for wees when I’m in the bush. Without paper you’ll need to be mindful of washing yourself properly when at camp to avoid that acidy burning sensation developing over a few days, particularly if you’re a bit dehydrated.
  8. Don’t forget where camp is: There’s a few funny stories about plaintive cries heard in the middle of the night from people who leave their tent for a quiet pee, to then lose the campsite. A good idea is to secure some reflective material to your tent or suspend in a tree.
  9. Don’t put it off: Don’t lie there thinking that the need to pee will get any better. As soon as you wake up, get out, get it done and get back into the tent. You’ll fall back to sleep much quicker.
  10. Don’t forget to look up: One of the best things about getting up to pee in the night is having the universe to yourself when you look up at the stars. Enjoy the sense of quiet, the Milky Way and deal with your silly fears of the dark once and for all… the boogeyman is not out there.

If you’d like to learn more about reducing your impact, visit Leave No Trace Australia to learn about the 7 Principles of minimal impact bushwalking.

Writer, producer and content creator by trade, search and rescue volunteer by passion, Caro Ryan started to inspire, teach and encourage people to get into hiking and the outdoors safely.

It’s all about connecting people to wild places in meaningful ways, so they can look after themselves, their mates and these precious places we visit.

She teaches wilderness navigation, authored the book, ‘How to Navigate’ and hosts, ‘Rescued - an Outdoor Podcast for Hikers and Adventurers.

In the bottom of her pack you'll find coffee grounds, instant noodles past their used by date and an insatiable curiosity.

Bushwalking & Hiking Tips from an Unexpected Outdoors Chick

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