Ranger Kathryn's Arches

April 30, 2011

Wilderness bathroom etiquette

Have you ever been upset by the sight of cigarette butts dropped or strewn in public, wondering what madness — or laziness — possessed the owners? Do they think that the butts are not litter, or that nobody will see them, or that nobody will care? Do they want to avoid the bother of disposing of them properly? Gr-r-r-r-r…

Not a pretty sight.

I saw something today that made me far more angry, that no hiker wants to find. Just off a social path in a national park lay a ridiculous pile of toilet paper strips, about fifteen feet worth, next to a large heap o’ poop. Someone had broken all the bathroom rules. Even it if was an emergency, not a single effort had been made to clean up or disguise the site.

Having nothing with which to pick it up and pack it out, I had little choice but to leave it in place to disgust the next hiker who finds it. I’ll carry a ziplok bag and rubber gloves from now on.

Let’s talk a moment about this, shall we? Pooping in wild places is a fact of life. It happens often. It takes but a minute to familiarize oneself with two simple rules of bathroom etiquette, and no hiker should be ignorant of them. Here’s what we teach for the Utah desert:

POOP. The proper disposal, if you’re not packing it out, is in a 4-6” deep cathole which you’ve just dug. (You can use your hand, boot, or a stick to dig it.) Poop in the cathole and bury it. Just like cats do. Easy.

TOILET PAPER. The only proper disposal for your toilet paper is to pack it out as garbage. While in some places you may be allowed to burn it, too many wildfires have resulted locally, and here it is forbidden. You simply place your used t.p. in a sealable bag and pack it out. It takes a long, long time to degrade in the desert, so burying is not the solution.

Follow these two rules and you can feel smug knowing that five days, hours, or minutes later the next hiker passing by will never know what you left in the backcountry.


  1. in your second sentence you mentioned social path. maybe the person that did this was one…..

    Comment by john — April 30, 2011 @ 10:09 am | Reply

    • I thought of linking “social path” to a definition, since it’s not a term most people normally use, but forgot. Now, thanks to you, I’ll never be able to use it again without cracking up. Way to go, bro.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — May 1, 2011 @ 1:33 pm | Reply

  2. In an area like NE MN, another precaution is to avoid leaving solid waste products close to any stream or even seasonal watercourse (which can fill in a heavy rain)to avoid contaminating the water. TP degrades fast in this climate but I agree, the next hiker/camper/fisherperson does not want to encounter it!

    Comment by chris youngman — April 30, 2011 @ 4:59 pm | Reply

    • In any climate — don’t poop by water!!!

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — May 1, 2011 @ 1:37 pm | Reply

  3. Good for you to speak out on this one!
    I have had about two weeks worth of your blogs to read up in one night, and feel I am just now coming up for air! Wowee! Some fantastic discoveries and adventures!
    The cave find reminded me of a trek we went on in central Tanzania a few years ago…the wall drawings in ochre and charcoal black were fantastical pictures of people and wild animals. I share in your excitement of coming upon something so ancient and the wonderment of what their daily experience might have been like.
    Fun to catch up with you again.
    I have a hunch these next weeks will zip by pretty quickly for you!

    Comment by Joann — April 30, 2011 @ 9:22 pm | Reply

    • Love hearing about rock art in other countries. It’s about as universal a form of expression as I can think of.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — May 1, 2011 @ 1:36 pm | Reply

  4. How Graphic!

    Comment by Ed Oak — May 1, 2011 @ 1:32 am | Reply

    • You’ve seen far worse…

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — May 1, 2011 @ 1:38 pm | Reply

  5. Thanks for the useful info…ya never know when it might come in handy!

    Comment by kathy lewis — May 1, 2011 @ 1:44 pm | Reply

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