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The 5 commandments of a restroom visit on the way

toilet cabin outdoors

Ah, restroom visits… A topic that raises many questions when I talk about my hiking adventures. And quite rightly so: trail organizations announced in 2023 that human waste and toilet paper are one of the biggest problems they currently face!
There are quite a few unwritten rules associated with ‘answering nature’s call’ in the great outdoors. These are mainly related to ‘leave no trace’ principles because, let’s face it: if we all freely left droppings on marked hiking trails, these trails… well, wouldn’t be so pleasant to walk on anymore.
So, once and for all: the 5 commandments of a restroom visit in nature!

1. Thou shalt dig a hole
Seeing loose human waste lying on the ground; that is, to put it mildly, far from appetizing. But there’s more to it: waste carries a lot of bacteria with it. Types of bacteria that animals cannot tolerate. So, by not taking the time to dig a small hole, you are literally putting the local fauna at risk.
So, start digging! Make sure the hole (which should be in the ground, for clarity) is 15-20 cm deep and 10-15 cm wide, and that you carefully close it again after relieving yourself. Afterward, give nature a helping hand by taking a stick and stirring it in your freshly dug hole; this will accelerate the composting process.

“But I was so urgent, and really didn’t have time to dig a hole!” A common and well-known phenomenon is the instant need for relief that sometimes comes with the trail. Keep in mind that you can always dig a hole afterward :).

There are shovels on the market specifically designed to take on a hike. Small and very light! Here you can find my favourite.

2. Thou shalt not contaminate waterways
Ensure that you are at least 60 meters away from waterways. Due to rain and the natural flow of groundwater, bacteria spread quite quickly. If you are not far enough from water, they can end up in streams and lakes. This is detrimental to the environment (and other hikers), as some may drink directly from these waterways.

3. Thou shalt be relieved in the sun
The heat from the sun aids in the composting process. So, help nature along by choosing a sunny spot. AND it’s pleasant! Win-win.

4. Thou shalt not scatter toilet paper around
We’ve likely all seen it: clumps of toilet paper, found in bushes, verges, and forests. Not a pleasant sight, but more importantly, it poses a significant danger to local wildlife (because, all together now: they are not immune to the bacteria from human waste, remember?). So, try to use as little toilet paper as possible, always bury it. If you want to do even better: take your used toilet paper with you.

Don’t be swayed by other hikers, and do NOT burn your toilet paper! This can lead to a bush fire. Catastrophic, indeed.

stream outside

5. Thou shalt not leave behind menstrual products
This goes without saying: tampons, pads, wet wipes – even if they claim to be biodegradable – do NOT compost in nature. So, take them with you. If you use a menstrual cup, always empty it in a hole in the ground.
Tip: use the resealable bag from freeze-dried meals as a waste bag. This can be neatly sealed, and in this way, it won’t cause any unpleasant odors along the way :).

There you have it, now you know once and for all how to responsibly relieve yourself on the hiking trail (or, well, next to it, rather)! Feel free to share these tips with hikers you meet along the way because from my own experience, I’ve noticed that not many people are aware of these unwritten rules. Here’s to poop-free hiking trails!

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