Have you ever been hiking along, enjoying the day, enjoying the views and sounds of nature…. only to suddenly come across what looks like a mini explosion of wrappers and food scraps in the woods?
Or even worse… a mine field of used toilet paper, wet wipes and human poop?
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Leaving wrappers, packaging, and food scraps (even things like banana peels and apple cores!) are not only an eye sore and annoyance to other hikers, but they are dangerous for the local wildlife too.
And not disposing of human poop properly is not only disgusting, but also leads to contaminated water sources and spreads around diseases and illnesses like giardia, e. coli, c. diff, and more!
How to deal with your waste, the Leave No Trace Way:
- Bring less trash and packaging with you into the woods in the first place. Take your food and snacks out of the bulky plastic and cardboard packaging at home and repackage them into Ziploc baggies that can then be reused as trash bags on the trail.
- Always pack out all trash and food scraps – even if you think it’s “biodegradable.” Animals will get after your trash and try to eat it long before it biodegrades, which is super unhealthy for them and can cause the animals to learn to turn to humans for food – creating ‘nuisance animals’ or nuisance bears who either need to be euthanized or relocated.
- Never bury food waste, trash, wrappers, or napkins. Again, animals will smell it and dig it up before it starts to decompose. Which just makes them sick/malnourished and creates a big mess for other hikers or volunteers to clean up.
- Never burn food waste or trash in a fire – anything processed or man-made rarely burns completely. So you’ll just be leaving food scraps and smelly litter in the fire-pit, which will attract animals to the campsite and leave a mess behind for someone else to clean up.
- Dispose of human waste properly. Be sure to pee at least 200 feet, or 80 adult steps, away from the trail, water sources and your campsite. Salty urine can sometimes attract animals.
- Always poop in a properly dug cat hole, or pack it out in Wag Bags. In most places, a 6-8 inch cat hole dug 200 feet away from all water sources, trails, and campsites is totally fine. In some places though like delicate high alpine environments, deserts, or river corridors you may need to pack out your poop in wag bags.
- If cat holes are allowed, you can bury your plain, white, unscented toilet paper in the cat hole, stirring it up with your waste and a little water with a stick. Some call this ‘poop soup’ and it kick starts the decomposition process for your waste and toilet paper. Do not bury any wet wipes, or scented or colored toilet paper.
- Pack out any used wet wipes, scented toilet paper, tampon or sanitary pad products in a designated Ziploc bag. You can cover it up with duct tape, or line the inside with a black ‘dog poop’ bag, so that you (and your hiking partners) don’t have to see your used trash. You can also crush up some aspirin and put it in there if you’re worried about the smell.
After you have all your trash in baggies in your pack, be sure to store it properly at night, with your food, 200 feet away from your campsite either hung in a bear bag or tucked away in a bear canister.
Please, please, please always dispose of your waste properly when you’re hiking, and pack out everything you packed in.
Not only for the sake of the environment and wildlife, but out of respect for other hikers and trail maintainers, so they don’t have to clean up after you.
For more details, check out these how-to posts:
If you have any questions at all about Leave No Trace, drop them in the comments below!
This backpacking meal plan will give you some more fresh ideas for meals over your next weekend-long backpacking trip.
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