To Shit in the Woods: Theory and Practical Application


At long last, Barky has shat in the woods! Archivists take heed for History trembles, prostrate to the deeds of great adventurers. 

To put this momentous occasion into perspective, Barky has spent numerous multi-day excursions in the backcountry – trips that include lots of coffee and carb-heavy food. Yet, until April 2017, at the tender age of 30, Barky had never taken a shit of any kind in the woods.

It became a joke. I laughed for want to weep, watching Barky bolt to the nearest toilet as soon as we returned from the woods to our civil comforts. One Christmas, I gifted Barky a roll of toilet paper, an orange-plastic trowel, and a copy of Kathleen Meyer’s seminal masterpiece, How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art. Coincidentally, that was the very day that I met the woman whom Barky would wed. I am uncertain whether she found the gift humorous or thought that Barky should invest in new friends. Either way, we’re still friends and I feel that my encouragement has added experience to Barky’s life.

Shitting in the woods is a practical and perfectly human skill. Humans have popped backcountry squats for tens of thousands of years before indoor plumbing and the first flush toilet ushered our bumbling species into the modern-era. Pooping is a natural function of the natural world. I shit. Therefore, I am.

Yet, Barky’s scatological habits have opened my eyes to the silent majority of Americans who – aside from their diaper years – go through life without once shitting outside. To most, outdoor shittery is inconvenient and (scientifically speaking) icky. I disagree. Sure, it’s icky if you are ignorant to the craft. But, I think, the fear of outdoor shittery hints at the popular apathy with which conservationists must contend. (Yep, I just made that leap! Because of course this post couldn’t just be about poop…)

We cling to our civil conveniences. Yet, conservationists ask people to act in inconvenient ways – be smarter about your purchases and product consumption, recycle and dispose of waste responsibly, coexist with carnivores that balance ecosystems, challenge those who seek short-term gain that benefits the few in exchange for long-term loss to the detriment of many, and speak-out against injustice. Most importantly, get out of your comfort zone and take action. Conservationists ask a lot but that effort is necessary for the greater good. 

So, you think you’re equal to the challenge? You, too, hope to join the ranks of Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, and George Washington? You, mere mortal, hope to shit in the woods?

Here’s how…

  1. Bring toilet paper, water and soap (or hand sanitizer), and a belt.
    • Pro Tip: You may also want to bring a trowel.
  2. Get off the trail — far off the trail — and at least 200 feet from any waterways.
  3. Find a tree that is sturdy enough to withstand your weight when you lean against or tug on it. Make sure that you are hidden in sufficient cover so that no passers-by will see because, seriously, no one wants to see this.
  4. Dig a hole with your trowel or a stick.
    • Pro Tip: Your hole should be roughly one to two feet from the base of the tree and 6 inches deep.
  5. Drop trou.
  6. Wrap your belt around the tree’s trunk and hold the belt in each hand as though you were holding a horse’s reins.
  7. Squat and lean back — way back — so that your feet, legs, and trousers are out of firing range. Your posterior should hover over the hole. The following is an artistic representation of proper form: Drawing1
  8. Commence scatolations.
  9. Wipe and bury all waste in the hole.
  10. Wash/sanitize hands and move on with your life.
    • Pro Tip: Some backcountry areas in the United States strictly prohibit human waste of any (ANY) kind. To raft certain rivers, for example, you may be required to use a waste can. (Hey, it’s what they say, “Pack in. Pack out.”) Do your research and ensure that, whenever and wherever you do, you do right.

If you spend enough time outdoors, you will eventually have to shit outdoors. It’s inconvenient but necessary or else something vital will rupture.

Conservationists ask you to shit outdoors and they want you to shit responsibly. So, though I’m not suggesting we choose the earthen hole over the porcelain throne, maybe give it a try some time. You never know how a good poop in the woods can alter your perspective.

Interesting Stuff…

How to Shit in the Woods, 3rd Edition: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art by Kathleen Meyer


2 thoughts on “To Shit in the Woods: Theory and Practical Application

  1. Another pro tip: To follow all principles of Leave No Trace, you are supposed to pack out toilet paper. This prevents animals from digging it up and spreading it around to the disgust of fellow wilderness seekers. However, there is a nifty trick to avoid sprouting “white flowers” or hauling brown, smelly tp. Simply add some liquid to the hole once your shitting is done. It may be from your internal bladder or a generous squirt from your hydration bladder. Either way, use a stick to stir the tp, shit, and liquid along with some soil into a nice soupy poop mix then cover well. This breaks down the tp leaving nothing obvious for critters to unearth once you are whistling your merry way down trail.


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