Home / For Beginners / Uh-Oh! by Kathleen Meyer

Uh-Oh! by Kathleen Meyer

Why is Shitting Outdoors So Difficult?
Yooou? A friend?

. . . well, let me confess, it’s me! At one time. Of course, I wasn’t organized enough then to think this far ahead, to pause at the trailhead and ponder What do I do when I have to go? Or you would have glimpsed only a streak, as I fled to my comfy couch—adjacent to the little room with the flushing apparatus and the solid door that locks.

Etched into my memory are some colossal disasters in this department, but the mental file of my first attempt remains irretrievable. Probably a case of grand suppression. I’m supposing what registered right off was an across-the-ages, helpless alienation from my hunter-gatherer ancestors and then a deficiency in the adept squatting muscles of even the clumsiest bear. My agility for assuming such a position was well atrophied—as is most everyone’s nowadays—a side-effect of our refined lifestyles, roosting on porcelain thrones. Toss into the mix a second handicap, which sticks with me to this day: lack of even a rudimentary sense of balance. I think I missed that gene. Surfboards? Skateboards? Walking a straight line? No point in trying. And so it was, my acquisition of outback squatting skills took place slowly, over decades, by trial and by error. Indeed, a lot of the miserable latter. In How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art, many of my misadventures are offered up for mirthful scrutiny (alongside those of numerous, stout-hearted, anonymous others), all for the instruction of still others. So, the word is “Take heart!” If someone as bumbly as I can master woodsy squatting with a bit of grace, you can too.

Wee warning: In the broader sense, managing human waste in the wild has evolved into a complexity that requires acquaintance with a range of spiffy products—as in, trowels and bags and tubes and funnels—a raft of wilderness sanitation ethics, and varying regional regulations, not to mention an ability to read landscape and understand soil types. Yet putting all that aside for now, closer in is an important little thing called technique. So I’m grabbing Philip’s gracious invitation to blog today, as opportunity to pass along a few tips.

On Pooping in General

Bad aim? Can’t ever hit the hole? Try: shitting first/digging later. (Right beside it and rolling it in, with a few leaves or a clump of dirt or t.p. against your trowel to keep it free from soiling.)

Or, employ a pack-it-out bag that you can spread out and not miss.

Before – Position the Bag and Fire Away!

To steady yourself, plunk one bun on a handy rock or log. Or hold onto a sturdy branch.

After - Bagged and Ready to Pack Out
After – Bagged and Ready to Pack Out

The three double bagging systems currently on the market contain a poo powder patterned after the substance used in NASA’s shuttles, which allows for disposal of the bags in the regular trash.

Help for Mother Earth

With so many of us tramping the backcountry, our Mother (not to mention the next person down the trail) would love it if, in dropping our drawers, we also kept her in mind. To that end, we’re obliged to learn the art of stirring, originally devised by the National Outdoor Leadership School.

Preparing a One-Sit Hole
Preparing a One-Sit Hole

OK, you’ve dug your one-sit hole, 6–8 inches deep, in soil with lots of humus, and 200 feet from any waterway or dry wash. You have in your hand your trowel and a stick you picked up on the way to your place of easement. Next, scrape the sides of the hole to loosen some dirt that, after you finish squatting, you will—now, buck up!—stir into your turd, sort of like mixing crumbled crackers into meatloaf (using the stick, which you can drop in the hole). Conclude by covering it all over and tamping it down like a good gardener planting a tree. A robust stirring brings soil bacteria into greater contact with your deposit and thus speeds decomposition, which otherwise takes over a year. Lastly, salute our Mother, give yourself a big pat on the back, and don’t forget to pack out your t.p.

Hints for Women-in-the-Woods

Yep, we’re more in need of backcountry assistance than men. It’s a cultural and physiological phenomenon: girls rarely grow up hunting and fishing with dad, and then we lack that dandy appendage, designed (sorry guys, skip the rest of this sentence) for keeping your socks from yellowing.

Feet up, out of the splash zone. Tinkle away!
Feet up, out of the splash zone. Tinkle away!

So, dear sisters, to insure a comfortable, relaxed pee, get a head start in locating a rock and a log (or two rocks, or two logs, or a rock and a hillside; you’ll soon be getting creative at this). Then perch toward the front of one—kind of hanging your cheeks on it—and prop your feet on the other.

Glorious FUDs
Glorious FUDs

What’s more, actual “pointers” for women have recently blossomed. If, after practicing in the shower, you just can’t get the hang of stand-up peeing on your own, as women in many poorer countries learn in childhood, then employ one of the nine or more FUDs on the market: Female Urinary Directors, or feminine funnels. They come in a jolly selection of colors and shapes, as throwaway or washable-reusable, and sometimes equipped with extensions to partner perfectly with bulky winter clothing. I love mine for cross-country skiing.

Everyone now—ready, set, go? No more finding yourself riveted to the bank, while a flotilla of rafts swing into the current, or stalled-out at the trailhead, musing Where would I go to go?

Go? Go revel in the wide-sky world of wonders.

About Kathleen Meyer

KATHLEEN MEYER is a longtime outdoorswoman and the founding editor of Headwaters, published by Friends of the River. Her travel essays have been included in the Travelers’ Tales anthologies A Woman’s Passion for Travel: More True Stories from a Woman’s World and Sand in My Bra and Other Misadventures: Funny Women Write from the Road. Her adventure memoir Barefoot Hearted: A Wild Life Among Wildlife was released by Villard in 2001. Whitewater rafter and canoeist, sea-kayaker and sailor, she is also a draft horse teamster, having traversed three Rocky Mountain states by horse-drawn wagon. Ever the nontraditional spirit, Meyer resides in an old, rather unrestored, dairy barn in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley and is available for interviews. Visit her Website www.KathleenintheWoods.net and hop onto her blog Shooting the Shit.

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  1. So yea, it’s funny….but really folks…great lesson to be learned. I hear so often that “hey, it’s not THAT much…” but in the end, or out, with the ever growing number of folks adding to the, piles, we really do need to think beyond stop, drop and plop. Thanks for sharing this critical but difficult…..matter. I too, not number, just….too, learned from it!!

  2. Hilarious! And interesting, I guess I need to work on aim! Wish me luck!

  3. Plop and stir or bring a baggie. It’s all here or read the book.

  4. The White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire has 7 million visitors per year. That’s more than Yosemite. If they all took shits wherever they felt like it in the park, we’d have to name new mountains. Please, please bury you waste in a cathole so it can decompose and carry out your toilet paper. Just because it’s a wilderness area, that doesn’t mean you can shit anywhere you want. You wouldn’t want random people shitting on your front lawn would you? Why is shitting in the park any different?

    Before you leave the house, make sure you are prepared for a shit in the woods by bringing a small trowel or tent stake, toilet paper, and plastic bag for your used TP with you. Plan and prepare. It’s not that hard. Thanks.

  5. As a fellow non-squatter I appreciate your comments and suggestions and will follow through on my next outdoor adventure. The pictures were beneficial too, thanks.

  6. Kathleen Meyer is a fantastic writer. Her information is welcoming….and discussed in such an unintimidating manner. I always smile when I read her words. Thanks Kathleen!

  7. Its about time that somebody had the guts to talk about the messy things in life…not only helpfull, but organized and time saving…when I think about all that scrunching around to get in the right position and then it doesn’t work well anyway…

    Where was this book when I needed it….enough!!!!!

    Should be on the NY Times best seller list…everybody needs this how too…especially the planet…

    Thanks so much!!!

    • How to Shit in the Woods has sold over 2 million copies and the 3rd edition was just released, so it’s as up to date and relevant as ever. I’m very grateful that Kathleen guest posted here! She’s one of my outdoor heroes.

  8. As a woman with irritable elimination functions, I walk thru the woods on constant alert for the next potty prop. The upside is I get to see a lot of wildflowers up close and personal. Thanks for raising the awareness on how not to make a mess in the woods.

  9. After a few of our early trips with Scouts, we now make the “How to” lecture a mandatory part of our pre-hike agenda with the Troop. Several of the younger scouts will typically get the giggles, but they get the message and since most have no experience with the backcountry, it is a huge help. It also eliminates the “paper blossoms” we saw near our campsites on early trips.
    Since we meet at a church, I usually ask a scout to hand me a pew bible, and tell them we are going to start with a bit of scripture. That gets very strange looks. Then I solemnly start reading Deuteronomy 23: 12-14: “Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement…..” 2000 year old LNT instructions are a great way to grab their attention!

    • DripDry, I love your handle. Environmental!

      Deut 23:12-13 is actually the epigraph for How to Shit in the Woods. When I was once stuck in the town of Truth or Consequences, NM, getting new brakes on my old pickup—not a bad place to be for three days with all the hot springs—I met a man soaking, who said he use my guide for a teaching tool in bible camp. Used it the same way you do! I never cease to be amazed at this book’s travels.

      • I gave a copy of HSITW to my brother for Christmas a few years ago- I think I need to pick up my own copy and reread it!!!

        Thanks for a great post Kathleen!

  10. Kathleen,

    Thanks for the tips! I have never been good with the aim! It usually runs down my leg(s)


  11. wimmmen have all the fun!! This is why the dewdZ are always left making a mess of the toilets inside and OUTside our world

  12. Come out of your fog, buster. We’re not following you down the sewer.

  13. I could have used those FUDs when I was in China years ago. At some places they have those “Turkish” style toilets: a hole where you squat. Nice post, Kathleen!

  14. I’m glad this blog has covered this topic on more than one occasion now! Thanks for the tips, your post was very…informative!

  15. As always new and great information to increase our comfort in the out-of-doors. Thanks for helping keep us and the environment clean.

  16. I just checked in several versions of the Bible,for Deut. 23:12-13. I just had to see for myself how clear the message was. I like the simplicity of the instructions. Somehow I’d I missed seeing that reference in “How to Shit in the Woods.”

    Amazing, So the answer can be “Just do what the good book says!!!” Both books!

    Thanks to Kathleen, for your insight and careful instruction.

  17. Fantastic work, Kathleen! I love your writing, and I’ve learned so much from you that I never, ever would have figured out on my own!

  18. OK guys, where are you? You’d think this was a women’s guidebook! Perhaps it’s that women just are more forthcoming on such gnarly subjects? I don’t think so! I know you’re sitting out there taking in all the legs and pink paraphernalia. Time now for some of “your” stories. We’re all ears!

    Here’s a little incentive. The man with the funniest poo story (you have to keep to the high road of eloquence) will receive a signed copy of How to Shit in the Woods and a How to Shit T-Shirt (in M, L, or XL). Postage on me. And I’m the judge!

    So get going—that is, get composing.

    (Preface your comment with STORY. The rest of us will continue to chat.)

  19. Again, a glorious read. Having had to have a double in one morning in knee high grass I appreciate these contributions.

  20. I love your opening picture…I immediately knew I was in for a laugh or two, along with all the good advice.

    Thank you for all the information. When advising women on how to pee with an FUD, please advise them of an alternative, which works well for me. That is to wear a skirt without underwear. When needing to pee, just lift the skirt a little above the knees (to keep the privates private), spread the legs, and be sure not to aim on a rock or hard service. No mess, no fuss, and requires little time.

    • For sure! I talk about trekking in skirts without underwear in my women’s chapter “How Not to Pee in Your Boots!” I got the tip years ago from Robyn Davidson in her book “Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback [with her camels}.” Stand-up peeing can also be accomplished in a pair of wide-legged shorts, or a swimsuit like mine that’s so old it’s lost all it’s elasticity. A friend of mine jumps out of her car on the side of the highway, turns her back, and pees with the abandon of a well-equipped male. A steady fountain comes easily to some women, and for others it requires practice. Women’s weeing anatomy is individually designed, just as with our ears and noses. There are further tips in my women’s chapter.

      Happy strolling in skirts. We’ll know each other when we meet on the trail!

  21. I’m not usually one to recommend specific products, but … Just spent a week using the woods. Sometimes digging those little holes through the web of small roots in the forest floor can be pretty challenging, and one of our party brought a camp trowel that actually worked really well. Coleman exponent camp trowel. It’s metal, so not sure how much it weighs (we were canoeing, so not quite so crucial).

    • Challenging digging, I’ll say! Thanks for validating my not being a weakling. Even with a trowel, it can sometimes feel like a backhoe would be nice. That’s usually when packing-it-out is the better choice.

      The trowel in the 4th photo is the folding, stainless steel U-dig-it. Not to one-up Cheryl Strayed or anything (I loved “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail”), but my U-dig-it was one of the very first, came with a leather sheath. You can dig fire lines with these things.

  22. Hey,

    I spent the day walking/swimming in a remote area of Lake Superior.

    Interesting recommendation; “OK, you’ve dug your one-sit hole, 6–8 inches deep, in soil with lots of humus, and 200 feet from any waterway or dry wash.”

    Much of the summer Health Departments monitoring the Great Lakes have posted e-coli ‘No Swim Warnings’.

    They appear to no longer publish warnings in my local rag, preferring to post no swim flags in populated areas. Much of the country continues to allow property developers to build on 50 foot lots and install/place septic and drain fields toward the streams and lakes. Many of these waterfront properties are not 100 feet deep.

    My daddy always said, “Build on the high ground boy.” As the water flows toward populated areas, well what can one say?

    Word of advice ladies; when using FUDs, stay away from electric fences!

  23. Great blog Kathleen. Love the pictures (of course) and I have learned more information that I will share with my Girl Scouts. My daughter still has some things to learn on the art of peeing in the woods…this will help.

  24. I’ve been sh***ing in the woods for a long time. I was a Boy Scout (Eagle, Order of the Arrow), and hiked extensively as a teen and thru college. And I’m 55 now. So I can’t even remember any good stories, other than knowing that, more than once, I…uh, messed up my shoes (damnit).

    The funniest thing I can remember is a few years ago, when I was in Maine, renting a small cottage for most of the summer, hiking and kayaking. Mostly alone. A putative girlfriend from NYC decided maybe she would come up and visit. She was, shall we say, a City Girl. I had designs on her, but I was (and always have been), a “gentleman”. So I gave her the bed and set up on the floor, and we were fine. If both wanting more….

    So, second day, I take her hiking. This is not her thing, but she declared she could do it. About 2 miles into a fairly serious ascent, she started losing it. She confessed… she had to go. And… she needed help. So, I whipped out my Poop Gear, found a spot for her, and dug a little hole etc. Told her what to do, and wandered back to the trail.

    Eventually she came back to the trail. Terrible defeated, embarrassed, horrified. She had “missed” and gotten it all over herself. She, um, smelled. Etc.

    I laughed, gave her a warm smile, and told her it was ok, no big deal, it happens to everyone, etc. Took her back to the cabin. And, well, let’s just say, it was a real ice breaker. That “down to earth” openness and honesty can really bring people together.

    It’s years later now, and I’m married to someone else and have two children (we’re all heading out backpacking this weekend). But my old friend and I stay in touch, and are still quite close, in a totally “platonic” way. I think sometimes we’re “best friends”. And it all started with a messy poop in the woods.



    • Mark, good morning,

      I must have just missed this last night. What a sweet story! Thanks so much for sharing it.

      If you go to my Web site and send me an email with your address and t-shirt size, you’ll be getting a package in the mail.

      There ended up being three stories and they all win! For “First & Most Soul-Baring,” for “Funniest,” and for “Sweetest.” All important stories.

      Happy Trails

  25. Hurrah! One gentleman’s story showed up on my blog site (to read it, go to the Shooting the Shit link above) and this dear man definitely deserves a book and a t-shirt! If other stories come aboard yet, then I’ll pick names out of a hat for another round of prizes.

  26. Nice work Kathleen. You’ve inspired us all. Now we’ll be telling “Poo” stories at the Sunday dinner table. Gee thanks! I’ve also posted something on your blog page about one of my stories. Hopefully though, you won’t refer to me as a “gentleman,” that would ruin my self-esteem.

    Your book is a great one, we even have a copy in our hiking library at the ATC Florida. If you’re ever in the Sarasota, FL area, do drop by on any third Wednesday, Sept thru May. A potluck dinner proceeds the meeting. It’s open to the public and you can find out more at atcflorida.org. Maybe we can con you into being a guest speaker there sometime.

    Well, gotta run, I feel natures urge comin’ on…

    • Dennis, yikes, what a story! I just posted it on Shooting the Shit.

      And thanks for the invitation. I don’t often get to Florida, but potlucks with poo stories are my favorite!

  27. OK all you Poo Peeps, I know the West Coast hasn’t really checked in yet, but I’m heading for the hay. Stories that still roll in before midnight—on my Blog, I think Philip’s is on auto-pilot—will be included. I’ll check there, and here, in the morning.

    It been peachy! I’m glad to know you’re all out there taking care of our precious wildlands.

  28. Finally a topic of interest ….

  29. Hey! We’ve all been there, and fallen on that! If only I looked that sexy when it happend! Thanks, Kathleen for illuminating an unspoken but vital function! Everyone should buy your book and use the info when nature calls.

  30. LOL, “Try: shitting first/digging later” I laughed like school boy.

  31. Hilarious… love it! Not only entertaining but useful info… thanks for sharing!

  32. Ha, I love your photos. They are fabulous and hilarious. There is highly entertaining but useful info in here. Thanks! It kind of reminds me of a live action version of the “The Art of Peeing in the Woods” cartoons by Roam the Woods.

  33. Good article, Kathleen!

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