Everybody does it. Whether you’re cragging, hanging off the side of a big wall, or making your way across a glacier, poop happens. But did you know that the improper disposal of human waste can threaten access? Land managers don’t look kindly on human feces coming in contact (direct or indirect) with drinking water, other recreationalists, or wildlife. Not to mention the transmission of disease-causing pathogens from human waste. Gross, right?
The best methods for human waste disposal will vary depending on what kind of environment you’re climbing in. Follow these tips for taking care of business in a responsible way...
There are a number of readily available bag systems (or “wag bags”) on the market, including Restop, GO anywhere, and Biffy Bag. The underlying principle of all these systems is “pack it out.” Do your business, scoop it up in the bag, seal it, and be on your way. All these products do a good job of sealing off odor and can be disposed of in trash receptacles.
Note: Bag systems are generally the best option for sensitive environmental areas. They can be used in combination with poop tubes.
Select an inconspicuous site where other people are unlikely to walk or camp — at least 200 feet (about 70 steps) away from water, trails, and camps. Dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches in diameter. After doing your business, cover the cathole and disguise it with natural materials. If camping in the area for more than one night, or if camping with a large group, cathole sites should be widely dispersed. Use toilet paper sparingly and use only plain, white, non-perfumed brands. Better yet, use natural toilet paper like stones, vegetation, or snow.
Note: Do not use this method in slot canyons where it’s impossible to travel the required 200 feet from the river, in desert environments where there are no microorganisms necessary to biodegrade human waste, or in high-altitude environments where the ground can be too rocky to dig.
GALS: Do not bury feminine products. They don't decompose readily and animals may dig them up. Pack them out in a sealed bag. Pre-pack your sealed plastic bags with aluminum foil on the inside for added discretion.
A poop tube is a specially designed human waste storage container that is hauled with equipment up the climb. To make a poop tube, you’ll need PVC pipe around 6-10 inches long and 4 inches in diameter, a cap for one end, and a threaded fitting and plug for the other. This method requires the climber to do business into a paper bag, sprinkle with a small amount of kitty litter to reduce odor, and place the bag into the tube. After descending, empty the contents of the tube into any vault toilet. If you use any of the bag systems mentioned above with the poop tube (instead of paper bags), then the bags may be disposed of in any conventional garbage can, making waste disposal more convenient.
Note: In many popular big-wall climbing areas, such as Zion and Yosemite National Parks, it is mandatory to contain human waste by carrying a poop tube.
If you’re unsure what method is most appropriate at a particular climbing area, bag systems are always a good choice. When in doubt, pack it out.
Part of a local climbing organization dealing with human waste issues? Contact Amy Ansari at firstname.lastname@example.org for more human waste strategies for climbers.