We all have to go, so let’s make sure we go the right way
I certainly poop. I’m willing to bet that you poop, too. We all poop because pooping is just a natural part of being a human. When we recreate in natural areas like the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, it means that there might be a time that we end up having to poop in the great outdoors. It’s important that when this happens you know how to properly deal with that side effect of being a human, so I am going to walk you through how to do that and why exactly it’s important.
So, let’s say you’re planning an excursion, perhaps a backpacking trip into the Sawtooth Wilderness. Here are a few things you should know about dealing with the times of your trip when nature calls. For starters, do not do your business near water, you need to be 200 yards—or about 100 big footsteps—away from any lakes, ponds, streams, etc before popping a squat. The waters in the Sawtooth area are naturally nutrient-poor, and human waste is chock full of nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon. The introduction of nutrients into an environment, especially the water, can impact the environmental processes and potentially result in things like changing the color of the water due to microorganisms like algae and bacteria being washed downstream into the very water you will be drinking. No one wants to change the current color of these gorgeous lakes nor drink poop water.
Now, before you actually do your business you need to dig a hole that is about 6-8 inches deep. This is about as deep as the shovel end of a trowel that you should bring out to dig with. You can also make the hang loose sign with your hand and use that as a measurement for how deep to dig, hence our catchy saying, “hang loose, take a deuce.” This gets the poop out of sight and away from people and animals. I imagine that you don’t want to walk up on someone’s pile of poop while out and about in nature in the same way that no one wants to walk upon your pile of poop. Additionally, by burying human waste you allow it to decompose and the soils help filter out the nutrients, and bacteria. Every time it rains on a surface poop it is washing it into our waterways.
Okay, so you’re 200 yards away from water, you pooped in your 8-inch deep cat hole, and you’re ready to cover it up and bury it, you might be wondering, “does the toilet paper get buried with everything else?” And the answer is NO! In other natural areas you may be able to bury all the evidence, but the Sawtooth area is just way too dry to do that, so the toilet paper will take years to decompose. Squirrels and other rodents love to dig things up and toilet paper will be no exception, so burying toilet paper will result in beautiful sites being littered with used toilet paper that wilderness rangers will eventually have to pack out; the only thing worse than packing out your own toilet paper is packing out someone else’s. A double bag zip lock bag or doggy bag works great for toilet paper. These can be taken to the next level by reinforcing them with duct tape making them sturdier and opaque. These bags can also be used for packing out all feminine products. Smell should not be a problem as the zip lock bags do a great job at preventing the small poop traces on toilet paper from smelling. However, you choose, be sure to pack out all paper products, whether they are “biodegradable toilet paper,” wipes, wetones, tissues, any and all paper products cannot be tossed, buried, or burned. Pack it in, pack it out: this is a rule in the SNRA that must be followed.
This whole process can actually be avoided with a neat little thing called a WAG bag. These are essentially on-the-go human litter boxes that you poop into. WAG stands for Waste Alleviation and Gelling. Inside there is a powder that clumps and deodorizes the waste. You can throw your toilet paper in it, and you can use it multiple times! Of course, these bags must be packed out with you, and can then be disposed of in a trash receptacle. WAG bags or similar items can be bought from Amazon, REI, CleanWaste (WAG bag manufacture), or even at the Redfish Lake Visitor Center.
I know that talking about poop with strangers as an adult can feel a little awkward, but it is a really important topic to talk about to ensure that you, and the people who come here after you, have the most enjoyable experience possible. Luckily, you now know what to do next time you are out in the Sawtooth area and it is time for you to poop. As you’re getting ready for your next trip out here, add poop to your list of prep items to make sure you bring the necessary items to deal with that!
Jacob is a naturalist for SIHA. He really likes insects, and you can often find him flipping over logs and rocks to look for critters. When he is not on the hunt for bugs, he enjoys spending his time hiking and exploring new areas