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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Yesterday, Someone googled...

How to go to the bathroom on an expedition.

They were led to this blog post, which unfortunately for them didn't answer the question. Since it is a very common question - literally the first question my sister asked when I returned from my first Alaska trip - I decided to write a post about it.

One of the certifications I have acquired over the years is 'Leave No Trace - Master Educator', and I follow strict LNT rules when in the back country. Here is the LNT process for going to the bathroom.

Here is the short version:

200 feet from fresh water, dig a cat hole - six inches across, six to eight inches deep - Deposit waste in the cat hole. Refill the cat hole and disguise the site. I was taught that toilet paper must be packed out, but the LNT site currently says that non-colored, non-perfumed toilet paper can be buried along with the waste. I don't pack any toilet paper on expeditions. More on that later.

I like this for digging my cat hole as it works well and keeps BPA laden bottles out of the landfill.

Urine is a non-issue as it is sterile and has very little effect on the environment, but it should still be 200 feet from fresh water. It can sometimes attract animals due to the salt it contains, so urinating on gravel, pine needles, or soft soil will help prevent this. You can also dilute it with fresh water.

Notice all these descriptions say fresh water. The concern is contaminating ground water, which we then end up drinking. As a sea kayaker I am not terribly worried about contaminating the sea as there is a massive amount of bacteria that helps biodegrade anything that might get into it, but I am still digging my cat hole away from the ocean. Though I will urinate in the intertidal zone.

So why don't I pack in toilet paper? There was a time where you weren't allowed to bury toilet paper, and if you used it you had to pack it out. Let's be honest, no one is packing out used toilet paper. You can't burn it because the paper will burn, but the feces will not. My toilet paper substitute of choice is rocks. I will generally grab three or four rocks from the water line before heading off into the brush. These should be rocks that have lived a long time in the water, and are nice and smooth and rounded. Nothing with hard or sharp edges. I use them and simply drop them into the cat hole when I am done. I have also used moss, pine cones, and various other natural items. But I like rocks the best.

I am not a hygiene fanatic, but a lot of back country ailments can be traced to dirty hands, and so I do carry a small bottle antibacterial gel for preventing for keeping hands sanitary. In the front country I think antibacterials are a bad idea, as they are breeding more robust bacteria that will be harder to kill in the future. But in the back country where it is very hard to wash your hands effectively I think it makes sense.