Behind the Scenes: Pooping in the Wilderness

Unsure of what to do with human waste outdoors? Learn how to responsibly recreate and help keep our mountains clean.
Katie Tishler Katie Tishler
Former Member Services Representative
August 03, 2019
Behind the Scenes: Pooping in the Wilderness

By the end of the day, I was finally able to look squarely into the camera and say, “poop” without laughing. Our film team let out a collective sigh of relief. We were officially finished with one of the most challenging storytelling tasks of the Backcountry Impact Series film project: human waste.

When humans travel in the backcountry, we leave a mark, even when we try really hard not to. One of the greatest impacts on our wilderness areas is human waste. While it’s natural for adults and kids alike to giggle when talking about “going potty” in the woods, this is a conversation we need to have. That’s why The Mountaineers are happy to be partnering with KEEN this year to produce the Backcountry Impact films, a five-part series translating the ethics of Leave No Trace into easy-to-remember skills for backcountry travelers.

Capturing the essence of these skills on film was no easy feat. Jokes aside, handling human waste in the backcountry is very serious business. Packing out your own waste is hardly glamorous, and can leave a terrifying mess if you aren’t careful. But properly disposing of human waste is important to protect the outdoor experience for everyone.

As we traveled over snow, dirt, and crossed streams to film the waste video in the series, we considered our different options for disposal. In the end, our group found only one way to truly handle waste in the backcountry: plan ahead. Maybe you encounter snow where you thought there was none, or you find yourself needing to go and your friend with the shovel is in a different group. But if you planned ahead, you’ll have no problem grabbing your WAG bag before seeking solitude, and you’ll always be prepared to pack out your toilet paper. These skills are precisely what we want our Mountaineers to take with them on every outdoor adventure.

Our day filming on the trails was enjoyable, but we saw reminders of the need for this project at every turn. At the Snow Lake trailhead, WAG bags coated the floor and exterior steps leading up to the door of the outhouse, as the trailhead is unmaintained in the winter. As we progressed along the trail, we saw a couple of abandoned doggy bags. Although it is common for folks to pick these bags up on their return trip, our group was a little put off by a bag of waste sitting alongside an otherwise picturesque walk. Why not just carry it with you? Preserve this wild place for the next traveler. Getting outside is a critical part of the human experience and a major contributor to enjoying these places is practicing responsible recreation.

A group of four adults passed us while we were filming and stopped to learn more. One woman was excited by the project. She and her teenage son had just completed a weekend of trail work and were actively seeking more opportunities to get outdoors as a result.

At The Mountaineers, we hear stories like this a lot – and we love them. As an organization, we are continuously working to make outdoor recreation and conservation a more inclusive space. I hope exposing new members to the Backcountry Impact Series will give people some additional tools to feel like they belong in the outdoors.

Check out our inspiring Backcountry Impact Skills videos. They cover how to responsibly travel, camp, eat, and, yes, poop in the outdoors.

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2016 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.