For those of us that go backpacking frequently, some things are just more comfortable to do and to talk about than for those that are used to more front country amenities. Basically anything that happens in the bathroom is a concern for first time backpackers. After the first few trips though, you’d be amazed how often you find yourself discussing your #2’s with people you’ve just met. We’re dealing with first timers here though, so there are a few things I would recommend addressing before you hit the trail so that they’re fully prepared, and this is how I explained them to Nicole and Taryn.
Leave No Trace
It’s important to have an entire separate conversation with your new backpacking compatriots about leave no trace principles, but it comes up a lot with hygiene issues. Everything you do that is hygiene related should be happening 200 feet from water.
Brushing your Teeth
It’s difficult to avoid having an impact when it comes to teeth brushing. Honestly when I’m backpacking I’ll pretty frequently just brush in the morning. I’m too tired at night and if I’ve already hung my bear bag I’m not getting it down just to brush my teeth. To brush your teeth I recommend putting a tiny amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush, putting a swallow of water in your mouth, and then brushing, rather than wasting water by pouring it over your toothbrush. Keep that water in your mouth because when you’re finished you spray the toothpaste and water in an artful mist that distributes it as much as possible (200 ft from water).
This is one of the areas where I think it’s alright to let new backpackers have a bit of creature comfort. Nicole and Taryn were permitted to bring baby wipes (with the understanding that they would pack them out). And so they wouldn’t understand how gross I am when I backpack, I acted like I thought that was normal, but really I only bring a couple for emergencies. (I do also bring alcohol wipes because I wear contacts.)
Showering in a stream or lake should take into account your impact. Definitely don’t bring soap into the water, and keep in mind if you’re wearing sunscreen or bug spray those chemicals are going to wash off and pollute the water source as well. Revel in the dirtiness, how often do you get to do that?
Allow me to elaborate. Deodorant is nice smelling in your normal life because you wash it off every day when you shower. Think about if you never washed it off and you just kept applying layer after layer after layer. That is much grosser than your natural smell. Also after 3 days you stop smelling yourself. Scientific fact.
Finally, think about the fact that all of your scented products need to go in a bear bag because all those smells can attract bears. It’s not very helpful to hang your deodorant if you’ve been covering yourself with that smell for days.
Time for the good stuff; how to poop in the woods.
First, if you wait until you really have to go (maybe the point you would wait until if you have a bathroom available, the point of no return) it’s too late. You’re not walking into the bathroom and pulling your pants down here, from the moment you decide it’s time to the moment you’re ready, there’s a lot to do, much of it while squatting. Nothing will ruin someone’s first time backpacking more than pooping their pants.
So now you’ve decided to take the leap. Announce it to your friends. Especially if you’re sharing gear, you’ll need to collect some things: a trowel, the toilet paper, your personal tp trash bag (pack it in pack it out) and hand sanitizer. Head 200 feet away from the trail, and water sources, campsites, etc.
As you’re walking, look for a good stick to pick up, 6-8 inches, solid. Also keep your eyes peeled for any poison ivy, oak, or sumac. You don’t want to stick your derrière in that.
Now my personal advice is to find a nice place for this. Look for a view, or a really pretty copse of trees. This is going to be a meditative moment, especially if you’re hiking with a group and this is your only time alone. You won’t be walking or setting up a tent, just squatting in the woods enjoying nature, so pick a great spot. When we were on our NOLS trip people would sometimes bring their cameras with them and we’d compare great poops that we had. So don’t think of this as something you have to do, it’s something you get to do. Also pick a spot with soft soil and not a lot of roots.
Dig a 6 inch hole. Your trowel should have measurements on it. 6 inches. Or deeper. Then lay everything out in front of you. Measure out your toilet paper, set out your stick, open your hand sanitizer, open the tp trash bag. Then squat and do your business in the hole. Remember to enjoy the beautiful view, and how much more smoothly everything is flowing then when you’re sitting on the porcelain throne. Now there are several techniques for squatting….
Can you believe no one would model those for me? I had to deface my Backpacker Magazines.
When you’ve finished your business, wipe (this is a place I would sometimes use a baby wipe, cut into smaller pieces to conserve trash, I’ve also heard tell of the backwoods bidet but have never tried that) and put your folded toilet paper into the trash bag. Take your stick, and mix your deposit in with the soil to help it break down faster. Fill in the hole, sanitize your hands, pull up your pants, and congratulate yourself on a job well done. Make sure you have sanitized thoroughly. Take your trowel, trash and hand sanitizer and head back to your friends, who will probably ask how it was. Then you can tell them about your beautiful experience.