How to Pee Outdoors (and Poop too!): Hiking Bathroom Etiquette

More people than ever are spending time outdoors thanks to the pandemic. Along with the traditional woodsy types, many folks who don’t spend much time outside are flocking to our public lands. While it’s wonderful to see so many people discovering the joys of nature, this influx inevitably leads to a few growing pains. A big one is bathroom etiquette, or more specifically, how to poop and pee outdoors.

If you’re not a very experienced outdoor person or just have no idea how to properly poop and pee outdoors, don’t fret. This article will walk you through everything you need to know so you can relieve yourself in the woods like a pro.

Where shall I pee outdoors? A hiking trail with a rustic sign that reads
Where shall I pee outdoors?

What NOT to do: Don’t pee outdoors the wrong way

Before diving into the details of how to properly pee outdoors, lets talk about what NOT to do.

As I’ve been exploring National Parks and hiking trails this year, I keep seeing the same thing over and over: wads of toilet paper tucked behind a tree or a rock or a large shrub. It doesn’t take genius to figure out what happened there – a hiker (probably of the female variety) had to pee outdoors and found a private spot to relieve herself. Usually I just see toilet paper, but sometimes I’ve seen tampons, wet wipes, dirty diapers, soiled underpants, and even piles of human poo.

Ew! Gross. That is what NOT to do.

The #1 outdoors bathroom mistake is treating the wilderness exactly like a flush toilet. After concluding their business, some folks walk away and leave a clearly visible mess behind. It’s a mistake to think that the toilet paper will biodegrade or magically disappear before someone else notices. Trust me, the next person who comes along *will* notice.

When we go to the woods or other wilderness areas, we are there are there to commune with nature and breathe in the fresh air. We don’t want to see garbage or evidence from other people who were previously there – especially not dirty toilet paper.

This can’t be overstated so I will say it again: if you go the the bathroom outdoors and leave toilet paper behind – or worse, a pile of poop on the ground – you are doing it wrong.

If you go to the bathroom outdoors and leave toilet paper behind – or worse, a pile of poop on the ground – you are doing it wrong.

If you are guilty of this behavior, this doesn’t make you a bad person. We were all novice outdoorspeople once and made mistakes as we went. Consider this a learning opportunity and continue reading to find out just how easy it is to properly pee outdoors.

A rock with some toilet paper not very cleverly hidden under it. This is the wrong way to pee outdoors.
Hmmm… what do we have here? Toilet paper?

How to Pee Outdoors

It’s a lot easier for guys to pee outside than ladies, so most of this advice is for hikers of the female persuasion. That being said, some of these tips apply to guys too.

Obviously the first thing to keep in mind when peeing outdoors is to find an out-of-the way spot where you won’t be seen by anyone else. Sometimes this is more difficult than others, especially in areas without much cover such as in alpine regions or in the desert. In that situation, you may just have to ask your hiking buddies to turn around. Be sure to find a spot that is at least 200 feet away from streams or other bodies of water.

When I pee outside, I like to find a private spot (preferably on a gentle slope that is out of the wind) and simply pop a squat. Sometimes it can be nice to hang onto a tree or a rock if there is one nearby as it can take some of the pressure off my knees.

Here are a few tips:

  • Squat as low as possible. This will minimize splashing onto your shoes or pants.
  • Pay attention to the ground slope. If you’re standing on a hill, make sure your feet or pants are not directly downhill from the pee stream.
  • Be mindful of the wind direction. Peeing outdoors on a windy day can be challenging. Make sure you’re peeing away from the wind rather than into it.
  • Pack out your toilet paper. Bring a Ziploc or doggie poo bag to pack out used T.P.
  • Use a pee rag instead of toilet paper. This is especially important for longer hikes or backpacking trips. I always use a pee rag such as a bandana, although some of my friends swear by the Kula Cloth. Simply tie the rag to your backpack afterwards to dry.
  • Consider other alternatives to toilet paper. There are other alternatives to toilet paper besides a pee rag. Some women prefer to simply shake dry. Leaves or other natural materials (including snow) can also be used as natural toilet paper – just be wary of certain plants such as poison oak or stinging nettles. Still other women employ a squirt bottle to rinse things off and keep extra clean.
  • Try using a female urination device. Some women like portable urination devices because it allows them to pee while standing up, which is easier on the knees. I haven’t used one before but the Pibella female urination device seems to be pretty popular with my hiking friends.
  • Consider wearing a hiking skirt instead of pants. I love wearing a hiking skirt because it makes peeing outdoors so much easier. Also I can easily pull it down to cover my bits in case anyone else wanders by. My favorite is the Purple Rain Adventure Skirt. If you prefer hiking pants, consider an option with a full-length front-to-back zip fly such as by Zip Hers.

Be aware that in some alpine areas, mountain goats can be attracted by salt found in urine and have been known to dig up fragile vegetation. In these cases, it is better to pee on durable surfaces or rocks if possible.

A roll of toilet paper in a tree, useful for when one is going to pee outdoors.
To toilet paper or not to toilet paper? That is the question!

How to Poop Outdoors

Once you’ve mastered the art of peeing outdoors, the next step is pooping. In most instances, the best solution for dealing with poop is to bury it. To do this properly, dig a cat hole that is 6″ to 8″ deep and at least 200 feet away from streams, lakes or trails. Don’t dig a hole in the middle of campsite – find a spot away from where people are likely to hang out in the future.

After you’ve finished your business, cover the hole with dirt and pack out your toilet paper. While there is some debate among the outdoors community on whether or not it is ok to bury toilet paper, most people advise against it. Animals have been known to dig up cat holes and spread the toilet paper around. Burning toilet paper is also not recommended as it can start a forest fire. I always pack out my used toilet paper and I recommend that you do too.

Here are a few tips:

  • Bring a trowel to dig the cat hole. I prefer The Deuce ultralight trowel because it is super lightweight and does a great job.
  • Use wet wipes. I always bring wet wipes along to keep things extra clean and to prevent butt chafe.
  • Pack out your toilet paper. Bring a Ziploc or doggie poo bag to pack out used T.P.
  • Use leaves or rocks instead of toilet paper. Some people prefer to use leaves or rocks (or even snow) as natural toilet paper – just be wary of certain plants such as poison oak or stinging nettles.
  • Consider using a backcountry bidet. Leave the toilet paper at home and clean with water instead. I actually haven’t tried a backcountry bidet yet but some of my friends swear by it so I’m planning to give it a whirl one of these days.
  • Dig a cat hole in advance. Sometimes the urge to poo can strike quickly. If you’re a morning pooper like me, it can be helpful to dig a cat hole the night before so you don’t have to worry about it in the morning. Just make sure it’s in spot where no one will accidentally trip on it.
  • Mark your poop spot afterwards with a stick. Many hikers place a small stick in the spot where they pooped after the hole has been covered up again with dirt. This discourages other hikers from using the same spot in the future.
  • Don’t poop on the ground and cover it with a rock. That’s gross. Someone will inevitably find your little present later and wish they hadn’t.

Be advised that there are some instances where burying your poop is not allowed. This mostly applies to alpine regions or other sensitive or protected areas. I’ve also heard that this is the case in Ontario but I’ve had yet to confirm this (if anyone does know, I’d love to hear about it). Regardless, before heading into the wilderness, you should check with the local land management agency and follow best practices about dealing with human waste in that area.

If this applies in your situation, then you’ll have to pack your poop out with you. Don’t worry, it’s not that big of a deal! The easiest way to solve this problem is to bring a WAG bag – simply poop in the bag and then throw it away when you return home again.

A lightweight trowel, roll of toilet paper and wipes along with a quart-sized Ziploc baggie.
My outdoors poop kit

Menstruation Outdoors

For the ladies, menstruation is another issue to consider when heading to the wilderness. Women who menstruate should always come prepared in case they start their period during a trip to the wilderness.

Here are a few tips:

  • Bring no-applicator tampons. If you’re a tampon user, bring a non-applicator tampon brand such as o.b. tampons to minimize waste.
  • Pack out your used tampons and pads. Put them in the same baggie with your used toilet paper.
  • Consider using a menstrual cup. Many hikers use a menstrual cup such as a Diva Cup instead of tampons. This eliminates need to pack out used tampons.

A Diva Cup

Bathroom Hygiene in the Outdoors

The last step to properly peeing or pooping outdoors is cleaning up afterwards. While it can be hard to keep clean in the wilderness, it’s important to wash or sanitize your hands after pooping as giardia can be spread from fecal matter.

Here are a few tips:

  • Bring a small bottle of biodegradable soap. I prefer to use Dr. Bronner’s Unscented soap, although I typically repackage it into a small 1-ounce (or smaller) bottle.
  • Don’t wash your hands in a stream. I usually wash my hands well away from lakes or streams using water from my water bottle.
  • Bring a small bottle of hand sanitizer. It’s nice to have *both* soap and hand sanitizer with you so you have a few options for keeping clean.
  • Avoid touching other hikers’ hands. When sharing food, pour snacks directly into their hands rather than letting people grab directly out of your food bags.
How not to pee outside: a pile of toilet paper sits on the ground next to a protected Redwood tree.
A whole bunch of nope going on here, and next to a protected Redwood tree no less.

Additional Resources on how to Poop and Pee Outdoors

There are a ton of great resources out there on how to Poop and Pee Outdoors. Here are a few of my favorites.

Further Reading

You may also be interested in these blog posts about hiking and camping outdoors:


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2 thoughts

  1. I take TP with me when I go backpacking, but mostly use it to wrap the cool rocks I find. When I do poo in the wilderness, I try and find a large flat rock, move it out of the way, and do my business where it was and then put the rock back when done. And instead of TP I like moss. There are few leaves where I’m at as I go above tree line, but lots of moss. I would not recommend it in an area where lots of people go because it grows slow, but where i go I am probably the only person in the area most years. I’ve used rocks but they don’t work very well although it depends on the rock. I’ve also used snow and while it works, it’s not very fun. And water is not easy to use unless you are close to water which is a no no for going in the wilderness. I spent three weeks with NOLS backpacking up here and have gone on many shorter trips on my own. I love being outside, but this aspect of it I don’t love quite so much.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Brian! You have a lot of outdoors experience so it’s nice to get your perspective Yeah pooping outdoors isn’t my favorite either. I have been known to hike miles out of my way to use an outhouse lol! Ah well. Pooping under a rock isn’t recommend in busier areas but you are in such remote wilderness up in Alaska that it’s probably fine! Good point about being careful when choosing moss.

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