Like most firsts, my inaugural shit in the woods was a clumsy endeavor. I was 6 years old and on the brink of an emergency several miles into the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. My mother escorted me behind a large tree, instructed me to pull down my pants, squat, and take care of business. I did as she described and promptly dropped “my business” straight into the pants bunched up around my ankles.
If you hunt, fish, hike, or camp long enough, you’ll eventually be met with an emergency of your own. But it does not have to end like mine did. Here are the best tips I’ve gathered from many years of nature dumps.
The easiest way to manage outdoor bowel movements is to avoid them altogether. This is particularly important for day-trippers who just need to make it a few hours before returning to the convenience of a porcelain throne.
“Listen to your body and be conscious of what you eat prior to your hunts,” said Skyler Wirsig of Heartland Bowhunter. “I no longer eat pizza at deer camp the night before a hunt, and that has solved many issues.”
For this same reason I’ve ditched pre-hunt coffee. But dietary considerations be damned, backwoods movements are sometimes still necessary.
“The main thing is to be prepared,” said Dan Infalt of The Hunting Beast. “Dry leaves and sticks make horrible choices for toilet paper, and the wrong choice could lead to a nasty rash in a nasty place.”
Biodegradable toilet paper and wet wipes are my tools of choice, with wipes being of particular importance if you’re on a backcountry trip and unable to bathe for days on end.
Be sure to double-check your toilet paper supply before each trip. Friends of mine caught in the field without TP have returned to camp minus socks, hats, and boxer briefs. Don’t be that guy or gal.
Pick Your Position
According to the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), if you poop in the woods, you should stay at least 200 feet from water sources and 100 feet away from nearby trails. Find such a place and then use a trowel or stick to dig a 6-inch-deep and 12-inch-wide hole beneath your position. You can use pre-made holes by rolling over rocks or logs, then rolling them back when you’re done.
Carefully choose your stance. The standard squat is easy enough but high risk, as evidenced by my first story. This can be modified into what outdoor writer Brendon Leonard calls “the tripod.” This method adds an outstretched hand behind you for support. “It’s definitely a more active position and probably safer if you have any reservations about your… solid waste getting on your shoes or hiking boots,” Leonard wrote in Adventure Journal.
Infalt recommends an approach closer to what one might normally experience back home: “Search out a slightly elevated fallen tree you can sit on and hang your butt off the far side.”
I’ve heard of people using boulders the same way, allowing you to take a comfortable seat and drop your luggage off the backside. My preferred method is similar, but rather than sitting on something, I like to lean against it. I find a large tree and sit back against it as if doing a wall-sit.
If you spend a lot of time in a tree hunting whitetails like I do, there’s always the possibility you might find yourself unable to make it down in time to try one of the aforementioned methods. In this case, you may want to practice what Nine Finger Chronicles Podcast host Dan Johnson creatively calls a “sky dump.” To do this, Johnson recommends you pull your pants down to your ankles, double-check the connections on your treestand harness or saddle, lean back away from the tree, and do your thing.
Leave No Trace
Regardless of what position you choose, it’s important to properly clean up after yourself. Think of the environment and fellow recreationists around you. If you’re using biodegradable toilet paper, make sure to bury it deep and cover any sign of your activity with whatever dirt, leaves, rocks, and sticks are available. If you need to use something less environmentally friendly, like perfumed paper or wet wipes, NOLS recommends that you pack it out in a sealed plastic bag. The agencies managing some highly protected public lands, especially large mountains, require you to pack everything out of there, excrement and all.
The essence of a good shit in the woods is not too different from these simple rules for life: Prepare for the worst, look before you leap, and don’t leave a mess for the next guy.
Feature image via Captured Creative.