Guide to Going Number Two

Protect and conserve climbing areas with good pooping practices

Shit happens. The average person generates just more than one pound of poop every day, according to the World Health Organization. As the number of people visiting crags grows, so do the pounds of poo left behind. This requires some strategic practices. Few things are as foul as seeing a pile of feces topped with toilet paper hiding behind a rock—plus, poor crag etiquette can endanger access and pose public health concerns. Human feces contains more than 100 types of bacteria, protozoans, and viruses that cause illness, including giardia and cryptosporidium. Still, when you gotta go, you gotta go. Here are the definitive tips for responsible defecating.

Take Advantage of the Toilet

The best method (especially for the most regular among us) is the domestic drop. Start planning for the deed before you leave home. Prior to hitting the road, get up and start moving around, eat breakfast, relax, drink coffee, and… wait for it. Having a cup of java can relax and stimulate the colon, which moves everything along in the digestive system, including that excess baggage. Go ahead, have a second cup—and make it extra strong.

Pit Toilet If the domestic drop was a failure and you missed a flushable toilet en route, then the second-best choice is a pit toilet. Thanks to the generosity of local climbing groups, hard-working volunteers, and the Access Fund (AF), there are pit toilets at hundreds of crag parking lots across the country. They’re the most effective way to manage the waste from a large number of land users. The AF has helped finance the construction of toilets at climbing areas all over, including Arkansas, California, New York, Oregon, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Utah. There are several different types; some compost the waste while others must have it removed and taken elsewhere. No matter the type, if your crag has a pit toilet, use it, even if it means taking a 20-minute hike back to the trailhead.

Dig a Cathole

If there isn’t an accessible pit toilet, if there’s soil on the ground, and if the area isn’t heavily used (like near a trail or picnic area), it’s time to start digging a cathole. Ideally, the hole should be six to eight inches deep, four to six inches across, and 200 feet from any water source, trail, or camp. (It helps to buy an inexpensive trowel; we like the GSI Outdoors Cathole Sanitation Trowel for $5.) Burying your toilet paper with your waste is acceptable—according to Leave No Trace (—but you get extra green points for carrying it out (pack an extra zip-top bag with your TP). An environmental impact study of how quickly toilet paper broke down after being buried in catholes in Tasmania showed that, after six months, toilet paper decay was “well advanced” in most environments. Areas that were driest, warmest, and least acidic allowed for the most decay. Also, unbleached toilet paper breaks down more quickly than bleached toilet paper. Tampons and other feminine hygiene products don’t break down as quickly and should be packed out no matter what.

However, the microorganisms and bacteria that live in your feces may not disappear as quickly as the toilet paper. Some studies have shown that certain pathogens associated with feces were found near the cathole a year later. That’s why it’s important to thoroughly cover the cathole when you’re finished, minimizing the possibility that another human—or animal—will come into contact with your waste and spread it.

Pack it Out

If there isn’t enough soil to dig a cathole—or if the crag is heavily used—you should pack out your waste. This goes for snow and sensitive alpine environments, too. Poop that is left in the snow will either show up again during the spring melt, or it will live on for decades—or longer—if the snow is permanent and meltwater doesn’t carry it to your nearest alpine water source. Heavily used crags have bag systems—such as Restop, Biffy Bag, and WAG bags—available at the trailhead, or you can pick some up online (whennaturecalls. com or or at your local gear shop. Stash one in your pack and leave it there in case of emergencies. Waste bags are also necessary for big wall climbing, but be sure to throw them away in an appropriate trash receptacle. Busy areas might have trash cans in the parking lot, but don’t overflow the can with dozens of poop bags. If you can wait, take it home and throw it away there.

Build your own wag bag. While the convenience and ease of grabbing a commercially made waste bag is a strong selling point, the price can really add up if you’re a prolific outdoor deuce dropper. You’ll need an interior bag or surface that can be pooped on directly—or used to pick the waste up after going on the ground—and an outer container that is durable and seals off completely. Options for an inner bag include coffee filters, butcher paper, and brown paper bags. Place it on the ground and aim, or go first and use it to pick up the poo, just like you would with a dog.

For the outer receptacle, the options need to be lightweight, durable, and tightly sealed. Think old Tupperware containers, freezer-weight, gallon-sized Ziploc bags, the infamous poop tube, or dry bags used for kayaking. The poop tube and dry bags are preferred methods for many big wallers and alpinists who need to pack out their poop over the period of several days or even weeks. A poop tube is made with a chosen length (eight to 10 inches is usually good for one person for a few days) of fourinch- wide PVC pipe, a glued-on permanent cap at one end, and a threaded fitting and removable cap for the other end. Dry bags can be found at any outdoor store; 20 to 25 liters is plenty for a few days. This method is less bulky to pack and sometimes easier to manage than the tube as you put more deposits in there. With both, don’t forget to have a cord or tether on the bag or tube so you can clip it to the outside of your haul bag. Don’t let the finished product come in contact with your food!

Do your business on the inner parts, wrap everything up tight (including toilet paper) and place it in the outer receptacle. Adding a bit of kitty litter to the bottom of the outer container will help control odor and absorb moisture. When you’re done, throw away all the innards and rinse the outer can/tube/bag thoroughly.


No waste bag? Too rocky? No pit toilet? It’s time to improvise. We’ve all found ourselves in a not-ideal pooping position when we’re out for a climb. But don’t just go under a rock and call it good. Instead, do your best to follow as many of these four principles outlined by Leave No Trace as you can.

(1) Minimize the spread of disease by lowering the chance that an animal, insect, or person might come into contact with your waste.

(2) Go far, far away from water sources to prevent pollution.

(3) Hide your waste to avoid aesthetic issues—no one wants to see evidence of feces.

(4) Encourage decomposition by covering it with any available dirt or plant matter.

Don’t Smear!

A decade or so ago, the smear method of backcountry pooping was recommended when digging a cathole wasn’t plausible. It was especially recommended in alpine and desert environments, where the harsh, dry, windy weather was thought to speed decomposition. But since the early 2000s, the smear has largely been abandoned by organizations such as Leave No Trace as a preferred method of meadow-muffin disposal. It wasn’t practical to expect people to follow the proper smearing protocol, which required spreading feces into a thin veneer on a rock or the ground. (Think icing on a cake, according to Ben Lawhon, LNT’s education director.) Scientific studies have now shown that it takes about four months for this “icing” to break down.


Previous Comments

Great article, Very informative! I have always wondered what a poop tube was but never knew. I have only ever needed to use our natural land as a dunny a few times and those times have carefully catholed it (now I have a name for it). GARD! there are some disgusting, nature abusing, bastards commenting on this page! Get a sense of respect for the natural environment that supports us you idiots! Stop shitting all over it LITERALLY! Humans have already conquered the animal kingdom wiping out many other species, overpopulating the world with people who have seemingly been capable of learning to type and make dumb comments in this forum. So here is my advice to you morons: If you don't think you have a responsibility to defecate in a thoughtful intelligent place, stay at home or in the shopping mall and save us all the wretched experience of your presence in the natural environment and lack of intelligence in the human race. Go waste oxygen elsewhere.

KrisBartram - 02/01/2014 5:44:23

I prefer the natural method! Catch a squirrel or 2 chipmunks and wipe away. those little guys are soft and get in there real good! They also eat the nuts and gorp off of each other when you are done. Mother nature will provide for all.

Dirt Baggin Tree Hippie - 10/22/2013 7:34:55

Thanks for the article. It's nice to know that someone's doing the work of imparting proper trail etiquette. Yes, poop is natural but I don't want to see yours and you don't want to see mine.

E.J. Calkn - 08/07/2013 1:10:23

My girlfriend and I just go wherever we need to. I can't remember how many times we have pooped somewhere in nature and we have never buried a single pile. It's the most natural thing in the world. To make sure nobody steps in your piles, just throw your used paper next to it and leave it there.

Paul - 07/20/2013 7:27:42

In Brasil, we have an even easyer way of dealing with that: Chicken. If one feels the urge, he\she should dig a cathole, do the deed, and leave it open. Wild chicks will feed off it, helping them keep alive and cleaning out the cathole at the same time. This might sound disgusting, but keep in mind that all animals poop, and it adds nutriets to the local biome.

Gabriel Lux-Antun - 07/14/2013 5:54:40

I suppose shitting in the city park or in your own front yard would be OK but I would hope you would know better. Pack your shit out and let everybody enjoy the same non shitty experience as you. Thanks..........

Garry Norberg - 06/28/2013 11:44:06

This is a great overview of what to do. In fact, someone wrote a book called How to Shit in the Woods about 20 years ago and it had some great tips in it on what to do and what NOT to do. Probably even more relevant today given how badly humankind has damaged the environment. Thanks for the reminder!

Straight Up Talk Education - 04/04/2013 8:34:47

I think a nice deep cathole is just fine. Get away from the beaten path obviously. If you can't, by all means pack it out. Sorry but I will leave it there just like the other mammals do if possible with proper etiquette of course.

Pop off Paul - 03/26/2013 1:02:11

If you you mean leave no trace on the trail, rocks, trees, marmots, pointless park rangers, confused Cub Scouts, and gasping trail side Texans, I thought that was what was the poop lustily licking dog was for? If you mean leave no trace in my tightie whities, then you, Stephers my dear, just dared dream the impossible!...

Pebbles Dunn - 03/24/2013 4:35:23

Peppels Dunn You completely misunderstand the entire purpose of Leave No Trace.

Stephers - 03/24/2013 11:34:10

Yes, I'm saying go anywhere on anything and anyone. All the other animals get to, and the extra Viagra might help the more endangered ones get a boost on repopulating. What if this is all just be one big mainstream media poop scare??? The Hindus crap in their bathtub and they don't exactly have underpopulation problems. And there is plenty of brown/black in nature for it to blend in with - tree bark, dirt, boot rubber, puked up Cliff Bars - maybe we should just let this one go and allow Mom Nature to do her job and gobble it all up for us. And Mr. Grubb, if that is your real name, you might want to cut back on the pesticides and preservatives.

Pebbles Dunn - 03/22/2013 11:26:22

Cap'n Pissgums, burning toilet paper is never suggested. Not by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, Tread Lightly, USFS, NPS, BLM, or DoFW. It's recommended to either pack it out, or when conditions permit, bury it.

GrubbJasonA - 03/21/2013 7:50:09

Pebbles Dunn, human feces contains pesticides, preservatives, hormones, Viagra, and a number of other unnatural substances. These pose serious threats to wildlife and water sources. Are you seriously suggesting to just "go anywhere"?

GrubbJasonA - 03/21/2013 7:47:28

Pack it all out. Every trace of your BM. It's easy to do and solves the problem.

Taiui - 03/21/2013 7:35:25

Since only people are bothered by it and only dogs eat it I see no reason not to just go anywhere.

Pebbles Dunn - 03/21/2013 7:02:42

When conditions permit, very carefully burn the paper at the bottom of the cathole. Have a water bottle nearby; don't let things get out of control. Try not to breathe the smoke. Whenever possible place a heavy rock or two over the filled in hole to prevent animals (dogs) from digging it up.

Cap'n Pissgums - 03/21/2013 4:57:36

This needs to be posted in every climbing gym in the world!

climber - 03/21/2013 12:47:53

At Frenchman Coulee in Washington, someone decided to take a poo right underneath one of the most popular 5.9s. It was covered with a rock, but that was foul.

Drock Drock - 03/21/2013 11:23:15


justyn - 03/19/2013 1:45:17

Don't bury your toilet paper for Christ's sake. How disgusting is it to see shitty toilet paper on a trail? Just pack it out.

Ryan Stefani - 03/17/2013 10:35:29