While planning a four-day trek across the Appalachian Trail, many essentials come to mind as I prepare. Given that it is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, my supply considerations include a better pack, non-perishable food, a backpacking stove, and plenty of wet wipes for when nature can’t wait until the next shelter.
Don’t drop those pants yet though. Before anything is done, trail hikers should be informed on the basics of pooping etiquette. It is ultimately preferred that you try to make it wait until you have access to one of the many privies scattered throughout the trail. However, when waiting is not an option or you have digestive track issues like myself, you better have a trowel. Your trowel will be used to dig a six to eight inch cathole that you will drop your waste in as you squat. You are expected to defecate or urinate far away from any trails or water sources (about 200+ feet), as you want to avoid polluting the drinking water and being spotted, unless you like being watched.
Once you’re done fill the hole that your waste is in, and leave a cross on the patch as a warning to other hikers. Make sure that your hole is sufficiently covered, as nature can and might find a way to dredge it up.
What you need
If you have any regard for sanitation you will need toilet paper or wet wipes, a ziplock or paper bag to dispose of the wipes, hand sanitizer, and enough time to dig a hole with your trowel. To be safe on a 4-day trip like mine, I am planning for 3 rolls or bags of wipes, a dozen or more disposal bags, and two bottles of hand sanitizer.
If you use paper bags and dry wipes, there are some hikers that use their tainted supplies as campfire kindling. However, do not do this if you’re going to the A.T. because it is discouraged. Many trails expect you to have the means to personally dispose of your paper waste. This means having a dedicated kit for “packing it out.”
For defecating, two popular positions are the squat and the hold. The squat is self explanatory, but if you don’t have the knees and the balance for it you should find a tree to squat in front of. “The hold” position utilizes the tree you’re squatting in front of like a balance bar. Simply hold on to the tree to improve your balance while you defecate.
While urinating is straightforward for men, women need to consider a few factors lest they drench more than the ground under them. Experienced women will advise that you find a soft area to pee on, specifically to prevent splash back. Squatting is only advisable if you can spread your legs far apart, mainly to prevent splashing your boots. If squatting, make sure you have enough height to prevent splashing your clothes. If you have a female urination device, which is probably the best option you have as a woman, you can use it to urinate while standing. Ladies should be aware that these methods are expected to be practiced. If you’re a woman and urinating in the wild for the first time, it is a fairly common practice to bring an extra pair of drawers, just in case.
It should be noted that urination does not require the same responsibilities of a #2. The only rules that remain consistent is that you do your business 200+ feet away from trails, water sources, and shelters.
The myth of attracting animals
Animals are not attracted to human waste, though there are some exceptions. There are some animals that are attracted to the smell of drenched plants and the salt in your urine. Your biggest risk of attracting animals stems from products that exude a certain fragrance like soaps and even sprays. While human feces do not attract animals, animals are sensitive to the feces of their own kind. When camping, be wary of exposed animal droppings nearby and know what scented products are safe for hikers.