Home / Special Content / Bathroom Etiquette in the outdoors

Bathroom Etiquette in the outdoors

As a group, we outdoor enthusiasts have devised a code of etiquette that guides our behavior in the outdoors. Reducing human impact on the environment is at the forefront of this code. While some of the code may be well known or just plain common sense, such as picking up after yourself, there are some concepts or things that people may have a hard time finding information on or may be embarrassed to ask. If you are going to enjoy the outdoors, you owe it to yourself to understand how your actions can impact the environment and also how you can take steps to minimize those impacts. One on Montbell’s Seven Missions is protecting the environment, so we find it especially important to educate others regarding ways we can individually take to limit our impact on the environment.

Bathroom Etiquette in the Outdoors

There are many ways to enjoy the outdoors. Hiking, camping, climbing, kayaking, fishing, trail running, the list goes on and there is no shortage of things to do outdoors. However, when enjoying the outdoors, there are ethics and rules that we all strive to follow. One of those important rules is the idea of leaving the outdoors better than the way we found it. We all strive to pack out the trash that we brought with us and most of us go the extra mile to bring anything extra that we find that may have been forgotten. Responsibly dealing with all categories of human impact are necessary for preserving the outdoors for others to enjoy.

Trash is a relatively easy aspect of human impact to deal with. Candy bar or energy bar wrappers can simply go back into your pack until you get home. Often times, dehydrated meals have a resealable opening, so after a meal these one use items can serve another purpose as a miniature trash bag. However, if you have trash that may possibly leak into your backpack, it may be worth considering a dedicated waterproof sack for trash collection. Some trash bags are designed to be compact and can also be attached to the outside of your backpack. Dedicated waste collection bags are also handy for another aspect of impact; human waste.

Let’s face it, everybody has to use the bathroom. And if you are recreating outside, it is very likely that you may have to use the bathroom when there isn’t a bathroom around. Recently, thoughts on how to manage human waste has changed. Below we'll discuss two common methods, but be sure to ALWAYS check local regulations before you "go."

Method 1: Packing it out

Until very recently, digging a hole and burying human waste (method 2, described below) was the most commonly recommended way for mangaing human waste in the great outdoors. Previously, only areas that received too much traffic mandated packing out human waste. However, an increased usage of our outdoor spaces in recent years is quickly changing how experts think about waste management. Packing out your waste is now becoming the more commonly recommended way of dealing with human waste.

Although this is the method that most people have an aversion to, it is definitely the method that leaves the least amount of impact on the environment. Packing it out has always been the preferred method of waste removal when areas are too delicate and the burial method can disrupt the natural order, or in cases where it may be physically impossible to bury waste because you are above tree line or on snow.

In these scenarios, waste kits that allow you to pack it out make life much easier than trying to figure out a DIY method. The contents of most waste removal kits include a bag designated for receiving the waste, a gelling or dehydrating agent to dry out the waste, and a resealable bag to prevent leaks/seal in odor. Techniques for using these types of products can vary. You can roll down the sides of the waste bag and step on it with your heels when squatting down. This helps prevent it from flying away in the wind or sliding around on uneven terrain. Or for the adventurous, you can place it over your hand and use it as a glove to catch your waste. With the waste in the bag, the gelling/dehydrating agent is added on top of the waste to dry it out. Then all that is left is to add used toilet paper, push out as much air as possible, tie the bag and then put in the resealable bag.

Method 2: Going in the outdoors, but reducing impact

Traditionally this method was developed and recommended when usage of the outdoors was lower. Even then, studies indicate that human waste doesn't break down nearly as quickly as was originally believed. It would not be suprising if we see this method get phased out by land managers in the very near future.

This method relies on digging a hole and then burying your waste. Since this requires digging, a dedicated digging tool is convenient since digging with sticks or tent stakes, while possible, takes longer than a hand trowel or shovel. On the plus side, hand trowels these days weight practically nothing.

First thing to do is select a site for your outdoor toilet. When selecting your site, your goal is to minimize impact to the environment. But another thing to consider is minimizing the possibility of contamination. You want to be at least 200 feet away from camp, the trail and most importantly water. Loose, rich soil with exposure to sunlight will aid in decomposition. Soil composition is important from a convenience aspect as well, because soil with lots of roots or lots of rocks can be difficult and frustrating to dig in. If you have stopped for the day, pre-digging a hole saves time.

Another thing to consider is terrain. Even if you have observed the necessary distance from a water source, choosing a spot on a hill may not be wise because rain water could become contaminated and then run downhill, contaminating the water source you were trying to protect in the first place.

After choosing your site, use your digging tool to dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches in diameter. If you have an idea of the dimensions of your digging tool, it will be a lot easier to ascertain the size of your hole. With the hole prepared, it awaits your use. When you are done, fill in the hole with the soil you just dug up.

You may also consider leaving a marker behind to alert others to the presence of feces or cover your site with a rock to discourage animals from digging it up. Some animals eat waste so it is important to limit animal access as much as possible. For example, we don’t want flies having access to your waste because those flies could make their way back to camp and land on someone’s food. By burying, we are helping to limit animal access and thus reduce possible contamination.

Using natural materials (leaves, pinecones, even snow!) will have less of an impact than toilet paper, toilet paper may be buried if it is biodegradable and area regulations allow it. Since biodegradable toilet paper still takes longer to breakdown, it may be wiser to just pack out the toilet paper. Again, this is where a waterproof trash bag comes in handy. Stick used toilet paper into a resealable plastic bag (or several) and then store in the trash bag. The ability to attach your trash bag to the outside of your pack also provides better piece of mind than keeping it inside your backpack.

O.D. Roll Paper Kit

Set of carrying case and water soluble toilet paper.
Case can be hung around the neck and used as shown in the illustration. The case's flap has a pocket for holding a lighter or other small items. The wrapping and roll of paper are water soluble.

※For replacement rolls of paper, purchase "O.D. Roll Paper"

O.D. Pocket Tissue Kit

This simple solution to a common problem can be stored in your pack or worn on your arm for convenient access at critical times.

※For replacement rolls of paper, purchase "O.D. Pocket Tissue"

O.D.Toilets Kit

Lightweight, compact for easy portability.
Includes a water-absorbing polymer that dehydrates solid wastes within 1 minute.
Includes a waste storage bag with two seals for containing odors.

*Three pack set also available "O.D. Toilet Kit Set"

O.D. Garbage Bag 4L

The garbage bag can be stowed easily inside your backpack or can attach easily to the outside when full. Use it to pick up your trash or to pick up any litter that others unfortunately left behind.

Pop-up Blind

A pop-up tent that can be set up and taken down quickly. Perfect for outdoor events, tours or in times of natural disasters. It is also the perfect size to be combined with an O.D. toilet seat and used as a temporary restroom.

Handy Scoop

Lightweight, strong, and handy!
This lightweight trowel will help you get the job done.