How to poop in the woods: do your business right

how to poop in the woods: runner struggling
In the words of Ian Malcolm: "When you gotta go, you gotta go." (Image credit: Getty Images)

How to poop in the woods, or anywhere in the great outdoors, when you are wild camping, hiking or trail running is not the easiest topic to broach – but it is definitely one that you need to know about. Simply put, defecating in a public area and not removing or burying your waste afterwards are both completely unacceptable. 

Unfortunately, many popular areas, even in the mountains, have problems with human waste. If you think about every camper, hiker, climber and mountain biker stopping to poop, you can then see how this becomes an environmental issue if people don't behave respectfully. The good news is, there are correct ways to deal with your poop.

Why is this such an issue? Well, as well as being very unpleasant for other trail users, human waste left out in the open can contaminate water sources, potentially spreading disease. Waste carries bacteria, parasites and viruses, which can make other people and local wildlife sick. 

In this feature, we guide you on how to poop outdoors, revealing the big no-nos and the correct, acceptable practices when it comes to disposing of your waste. So, whether you're heading out for a day hike in your hiking boots or packing your best tent for a car camping trip, follow these guidelines to improve the state of our backcountry for all. 

Meet the expert

Fiona Russell
Fiona Russell

Fiona is used to wilderness exploits. As someone who has completed the challenge of conquering all of Scotland's 282 Munro summits, she knows a thing or two about handling herself in the wild. Here, she gives her expert advice on pooping in the woods.

The big no-nos: what not to do

  • It's disgusting to come across human poop
  • Make sure you never leave this kind of waste
  • Never poop or urinate close to water, such as a stream

how to poop outdoors: man hiking near stream

Never poop or urinate close to water sources (Image credit: Getty Images)

The best way to think about how to poop in the woods is this: it is disgusting to come across human poop when you are camping or hiking, so make sure you do not leave any human waste for others to discover.

The main aim is to ensure there is no trace of human faeces. Do not poop and then cover it with a few stones. This is not sufficient to stop others coming across the poop and it doesn’t aid the degrading of the poop. Also, do not poop or urinate close to water, such as a stream, river or lake.

Dig a hole

  • Dig a hole at least six inches deep with a trowel
  • Then, after you're done, cover the hole up
  • Never bury toilet paper or other products, as they won't biodegrade
  • In high alpine areas it's best to carry your waste out with you

Poop in the woods: dig a hole

Digging a hole and burying your poop is one acceptable approach (Image credit: Getty Images)

Poop will degrade best if it is buried in soil. Dig a hole at least six inches deep with a small camping trowel (yes, you should take one with you) and then re-cover the hole after going to the toilet.

Make sure you "go” away from where other people are likely to step, for example, do not poop at the side of a car park or just off a walking trail. You need to walk away from where other people will be.

Never leave toilet paper or wet wipes when you go to the toilet. They do not degrade. You could choose to wipe with a natural product, such as leaves, and bury this in the hole with the poo. You could also burn the paper but then you need to ensure you do not set light to the ground or vegetation around you.

Above the tree line in alpine areas, digging a hole or moving rocks around can do long-lasting harm. The best approach in these instances is to bag up your waste and carry it out with you.

Take it out with a poop bag

  • Another option is to carry it out in a poop bag
  • Don't forget to also take your paper and wipes out too

poop in the woods: poop bag

Take your poop bags out with you (Image credit: Getty Images)

In many cases, the best plan is to poop in a plastic bag and take it away with you. Supermarket shopping bags are idea; and if you have a second one you can double wrap the bags to prevent leakage.

Also, don't forget to take the paper or wipes home with you in a plastic bag. Dog poop bags are ideal for this, so be sure to pack a few in a dry bag or your first aid kit (see our best dry bag and best first aid kit).

For more on cleaning up behind you and respecting natural environments, check out our guide on how to leave no trace.

Fiona Russell
Outdoor writer

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favorite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing (both downhill and backcountry). Aside from her own adventures, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy getting outside and exploring, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.

With contributions from