What to do, with your winter poo? In spring, the poo, once hidden from view, becomes exposed and soon contaminates nearby waterways.
In winter, it’s best to pack it out, otherwise, you’re leaving behind frozen waste for the next visitors. Leave No Trace (LNT) outlines three options for solid waste, in order of preference.
- Pack it out. This is the preferred option. Since it’s winter your poo will freeze, so you won’t have to worry about odor. Because waste is frozen in the winter, packing it out is not as distasteful as you may think.
- Attempt to find a snow-free area where you can actually dig. Unfortunately, the soil is usually several feet out of reach and hard as a rock unless you can locate a patch of bare ground or a tree-hole where a trowel can penetrate the duff.
- Dig a snow cathole. The key is, you’ve got to look at your map and make sure you’re not dumping near a creek, and keep in mind that if you choose the third option, you’re throwing LNT objectives three and four (aesthetics and decomposition) out the window. So, if you do choose the third option, do it off travel ways and away from water sources. Choose a spot with sunshine, make a hole, cover your business, and let the snow melt dilute it. Snow works well as a refreshing toilet paper
As for peeing, pee away from water sources and cover any spots of yellow snow.
Pack it Out
Many popular, high-use areas require you to pack out your waste. And some hikers pack out their poo even when they don’t have to, in the interest of trying to make as little impact on the environment as possible.
Having the proper supplies — mainly a reliable, sanitary receptacle and hand sanitizer— is essential. You have several options, from fancy store-bought bags to homemade, rudimentary containers. (Note: even if you plan to dig and bury, it’s a good practice to carry pack-it-out supplies anyway.)
WAG (Waste Alleviation and Gelling) Bag has become the overall term for any pack-it-out bag system. Wag Bags contain an inner bag and an outer for storage. It generally involves one bag with which you glove your hand and grab your business and another sturdier, sealable bag in which you deposit and seal the dump.
Cleanwaste, the company that coined the actual term “WAG Bag,” has renamed their product the GO Anywhere waste kit. It includes a biodegradable waste pickup bag loaded with Poo Powder, a “transport bag,” toilet paper and hand sanitizer. The Poo Powder works by gelling more liquid waste, breaking down solids and controlling odor. ReStop and Biffy Bags are other manufacturers of waste bag kits, powders, and supplies.
Homemade Wag Bag
You easily can create your own Wag Bag using an interior/pickup bag, pre-packed with kitty litter if you wish, which functions similar to Poo Powder, and a larger, sturdy outer bag — think freezer-weight Ziploc. Heavy-duty trash compactor bags work as a Wag Bag trash bag. If bags don’t seem sturdy enough, some people use a coffee can as their outer container. Tupperware with a snug-fitting lid that you’re certain you no longer need in the kitchen would work, too.
Rangers at Mt. Shasta offer a user-friendly homemade kit to all their hikers, which includes an 11 x 17 sheet of paper with a bull’s-eye printed on it for pickup. Just place the bull’s-eye on your poo pile and you’ll have plenty of paper to wrap around it, avoiding all hand contact. The kit also includes a one-gallon Ziploc bag and a sack with kitty litter. There are disposal receptacles at the trail head, and hikers can pick up kits there or at area outdoor shops.
Users who make their own Wag Bags should note that homemade versions can’t be tossed into landfills, as can EPA-approved commercial ones, like GO Anywhere, Biffy Bags, and ReStop.
Best practices for using a wag bag come with, well, practice. Generally, when nature calls, you grab your bag kit, toilet paper, bag for used toilet paper, and hand sanitizer and head off to find a secluded area where people are unlikely to view your bare bottom. Squat and do your business.
You then take your trusty wag kit, slip the inner bag over your hand and grab your poo pile. Be careful not to spill the poo powder or kitty litter inside (so picking up your pile with the top part of the bag is best).
Then, fully enclose the poo and make sure the powder or litter has covered it. Powders, like Poo Powder above, or kitty litter are used to solidify waste and control odors. Then, seal that bag inside the thicker, outer bag or stash inside your container of choice. Place your used toilet paper in the bag. Clean your hands with hand sanitizer. Wag complete.
A poop tube is often a climber’s preference, but hikers, backpackers, and paddlers can certainly use one, too. Use a length of PVC pipe (around 4 inches in diameter), a cap for one end, and a threaded fitting and plug for the other. (For cleaning, it’s helpful to be able to remove both ends.) What length you cut is dependent on the length of your trip and, frankly, how much you poop. Six to 10 inches is standard, though 12 to 25 inches is recommended for longer trips. Either secure it to your pack with pack straps, or use duct tape and cord to make a handle and clip it to your pack for easy access. Pack standard coffee filters, place those on the ground, and aim. Or poop into brown paper bags. Then wrap up the business, send it down the tube, and seal it up.
Whether you pack it out in a bag, a tube, or Tupperware, waste should be properly disposed of after reaching the trailhead, often that means into a toilet. Some of the commercially available bags are EPA-approved for landfills, but check rules first.
Some waste items you always pack out, no matter where you are, what the climate, is or how small an item it is. Those items include tampons, pads, and other feminine hygiene products and diapers.