Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Doing the Duty

I recently wrote a paper explaining how to properly defecate in the woods. It's not comprehensive but I think that it's practical, readable and a good introduction. I've posted it in the comments (see below) because it is quite long.


Blogger outofdoors said...

Anyone who has spent time outdoors knows the importance of doing it right. And by “it” I mean going to the bathroom. Littered throughout our back woods are trees decorated with used toilet paper, rocks smeared with feces and water sources hopelessly polluted. In some areas, playing in nature is like tiptoeing through a disgusting public bathroom. If we desire to recreate in a pristine environment and not a public toilet, it is our responsibility to learn how to be clean outdoors. What follows is an explanation of how to do it right.

The single most important thing to understand is the importance of planning ahead. Yes, plan ahead and prepare to go poo. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re going to hold it in for a couple of days. Not only is that dangerous to your health but it’s bad for the environment. Holding it in leads to a rushed job and a rushed job is a bad job. Acknowledge that you are going to have to do your business. This way you’ll have plenty of time to follow the necessary steps.

If someone in your party refuses to go, tell them about fecal compaction. This condition occurs when a hapless hiker thinks they can “hold it in” for too long. In short, they’ve waited so long that feces has become so packed that it’s impossible to go. Hilarity ensues when your partner learns that their good friend (that is you) will have to pull the plug out with their bare hands. Fecal compaction should not be taken lightly however. It quickly leads beyond intense pain to organ damage, loss of bladder control and death. Moral of the story: Plan ahead, prepare and do it!

But don’t just do it any which way. Water quality has taken a severe beating in recent years and a huge industry has sprung up supplying water filters and other purification methods to outdoors people. These are meant for one simple thing: taking feces out of our drinking water. Let us prevent it from getting in there in the first place! Giardia lamblia is the main culprit in our wilderness water. One person can pass a million cysts a day. The trick is to realize that nearly everyone has some amount of Giardia in our intestines so we all bear responsibility for keeping it out of our drinking water. Feces travels easily into streams and lakes during runoff periods if it was not properly disposed of.

There exists an accepted set of ethical rules for outdoor recreationists. The principals of Leave No Trace govern many different aspects of how we should approach nature. The seven principals are easy to remember but somewhat hard to follow. For this topic, you only need to remember two of them. The first we have already covered: Plan Ahead and Prepare; the second is obvious: Dispose of Human Wastes Properly (http://www.lnt.org).

Walk a minimum of 200 feet. You don’t want anyone involved with your private affairs so hide it well. 200 feet is two thirds of a football field. You don’t have to stop there though. Keep going. Challenge yourself to go further than most people would. Since you aren’t in a rush, you have plenty of time to go find the perfect spot. The spot that no one else would find. Go at least 200 feet from water, your campsite and the trail. All too often people go the required distance but don’t realize that they’re 10 feet from the trail. Gross!

You’re looking for somewhere comfortable. You don’t want to be seen but you also don’t want to fall off a cliff or worse, fall into your own poo. So choose a spot where you can lean against a tree, brace against a rock, or best of all, sit across a log. At the risk of being too obvious, pull up your pants when you’re pulling them down. Pants around the ankles get peed in. Bring them up to your knees so your friends don’t laugh when you get back.

Hopefully you chose a spot with deep soil. High alpine areas have a shallow, almost sterile soil. Therefore it’s best to plan on going in a forested area where the soils are nutrient and microbe rich. Decomposition occurs much faster in the rich forest soils. Leave No Trace (LNT) guidelines teach that you should dig down six to eight inches. If, by chance you hit a lighter layer of soil a couple of inches down: stop. It’s a sign of a lifeless soil. Keep your excavation to the rich layer instead. Make the hole wide enough so that you can cover your waste with at least four inches of soil.

Sometimes the ground may be hard to dig so it’s good that you gave yourself plenty of time. To aid the process many people carry along orange shovels. These should never come in contact with feces! If you don’t have a shovel, you can use a strong stick, a rock, the heal of your boot or a tent peg to “dig in”.

Never burn toilet paper. Many a forest fire has been started by this misguided practice. Instead you have two options. If you chose a good spot far away from man’s presence in an area with rich soils, you can just bury it in the hole. If however the soil is shallow or you weren’t able to dig to the necessary depth, you’ll have to pack it out. Simply wrap the used paper in some clean sheets and stick it in a zip-tight plastic bag. Remember to double bag! It goes without saying that you shouldn’t use scented toilet paper. Try to use as little as possible as well. A huge mess of toilet paper is likely to leave a huge mess. People experienced in the out of doors often use natural alternatives to further minimize their impact. Common items include (no joke): certain leaves, rocks, sticks, snow and pine cones.

After the fact you want to hide your presence. If you wish to speed up decomposition, you can do the following. Pee in the hole to wet the toilet paper and use a stick to stir in a little dirt. The added dampness is beneficial for the microbes that will decompose what you left behind. When finished, fill the whole back in. Next, mark your territory. If you used a stick, stick it vertically in the hole. Or place a couple of rocks on the spot. This extra step will guarantee that no one goes digging there for a while. Don’t make it too elaborate because you don’t want to leave a permanent cairn everywhere you go.

There is one crucial final step. Cleaning your hands. Recent research suggests that most backcountry users contract Giardia cysts from human hands, not water. Don’t let your friends dip in to the granola bag until they’ve washed up properly. A quick cleaning can be achieved with an alcohol gel hand sanitizer. Do this right after you go to the bathroom. If convenience permits, it’s best to properly wash your hands with soap and water. Take a drop of biodegradable soap far from any water source and lather up. If available, brush under your nails with a small bristle brush. Next, rinse well with water from your water bottle. Voilá, clean hands.

As you can see, it’s easy being clean. Follow these simple steps; remember the two golden rules and we’ll all be able to enjoy nature as it should be. Clean and pure. Now that you’re an expert in backcountry business, spread the word. Tell newcomers to your adventures about how to properly go in the woods. It’s fun!

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A little on the wordy side, but over all good instructions. An item that I have found that works very well and is supper light weight is disposable rubber gloves. This prevents the issues with the nails and if they are large enough can be cleaned quickly and used again or taken off and double bagged.

2:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great entry! There is also a great product that you can use to avoid the awkwardness of using the ground. There is a company in Montana known as Cleanwaste. Their website: www.cleanwaste.com. They offer a lot of products that can be used for outdoor activities. They are especially helpful in those "leave no trace" areas. Check it out!

2:49 PM  

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