|Don's Home Recreation Hiking & Camping Toilet Paper & Catholes|
One of the main concerns of beginning backpackers is how to take care of personal business in the woods. Privies which are common at shelters on the Appalachian Trail are not that common in other parts of the country.
The most common way of taking care of business in the back country is by digging small holes (catholes) and covering them up.
Type of Toilet Paper (TP):
Some use wet wipes or a combination.
An Appalachian Trail hiker recommends cutting up paper towels, which are more durable in the damp humid east. (article at sectionhiker.com)
REI and other stores sell biodegradable toilet paper in small rolls.
Disposal of TP:
Many web sites say if you get a cat hole 4-6 in deep it is OK to bury it.
The opinion of one long time Sierra Club leader, is that the carry-out rule was instituted because many people don't bury it properly and animals dig it up making a mess.
At Badlands National Park - Backcountry Camping they say, "Since animals will often dig up cat holes and scatter the toilet paper, it is preferred that you pack out all toilet paper. If you must bury toilet paper, use a minimal amount and bury with at least 6 inches of soil."
You don't want to bury it too deep, because most of the living organisms and oxygen needed for composting are in the top 6 inches of soil.
One post at the AMC says, "Pack wet wipes instead of toilet paper--more sanitary, less waste. Above treeline, carry out all solid waste, including used wipes."
There is a discussion on whether or not it will degrade in arid climates at Science question: Toilet Paper Biodegradable? at BackpackingLight.com Forums. The conclusion was it will probably take a long time if the soil is dry.
Tom at BackpackingLight.com Forums says, "I'm a member of the burn-it-in-the-cathole club. [This was a common practice now discouraged. Ed.] Very little left when you get through. If fire danger is a concern, hold off on emptying your bladder until after burning is complete(an un-natural act, I admit) and then quench the embers. This is SOP for me in the backcountry. In desert areas it would have the added benefit of providing moisture to get the decomposition process started."
Technique for getting it done:
Try to remove the top chunk of soil like a piece of turf to place back in place.
Then just squat above it. This is the part novices fear the most, but actually results in much more natural and healthful elimination than sitting at a 90 degree angle on your home toilet. There are a couple of pointers - make sure you're really out of sight; squat with your rear downhill; hang on to a tree or your hiking stick for balance; and make sure your shirt or coat is lifted up in the back. After wiping with TP, get yourself even cleaner back there with moist towellettes - reduce chances of chafing and later discomfort.
At the Appalachian Trail Conference, Backcountry Sanitation Manual they say, "For the cathole method to be effective, users must break up wastes with a stick, mixing them thoroughly with duff within the cathole before covering with a mound of leaves and duff."
If there are a lot of rocks around, placing one over the hole may discourage an animal from digging.
See the links below for more.
One book says in rocky soil where you can't dig a cat hole to use "smearing" wipe feces on the side of rocks where the sun will dry it out and rain will wash it off. I don't know anyone that does this.
My rule is that you should always be prepared to carry it out in case the soil is too rocky to bury it properly or there is evidence that animals are digging it up.
Site selection is the same as for catholes. Downwind from your kitchen is also a good idea.
A good way to speed decomposition and diminish odors is to toss in a handful of soil after each use.