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Staying Healthy in the Backcountry

Human waste in the backcountry

It’s important to get rid of bowel movements (waste) properly. Waste can carry germs like bacteria, parasites, and viruses that can make you sick and attract wildlife. If you do not get rid of waste properly, it can also make for a very unpleasant experience for other hikers and campers.

Camping areas usually have washroom facilities (flush toilets or outhouses). Use them and keep them clean. If there are no washrooms, then follow these backcountry procedures.

Toilet paper and menstrual products

Plan on having to pack out your used toilet paper. Parks Canada requires you to pack your toilet paper out with you. Put your used toilet paper into containers or bags that you can seal. Store all used and unused toilet paper away from any food.

All menstrual products must be bagged and carried out of the backcountry. Be sure to seal the bag properly so it doesn’t attract animals. The bag and waste can be thrown in the garbage later.

Learn how to deal with garbage in the backcountry.


Catholes are small holes that you dig into the ground that you can use to go to the bathroom. They’re meant to be used right away and only once.

To make a cathole:

  1. Find an area with soft soil that’s at least 60 m (200 ft.) from all water sources, camps, and trails.
  2. Dig a small hole about 15 cm (6 inches) deep and 15 cm (6 inches) wide.
  3. Make sure all human waste goes into the hole.
  4. When you’re done, cover the hole with soil.
  5. Pack out your used toilet paper.


Make a latrine when there are no washrooms and you plan on staying in one place for more than a couple of days. If made correctly, latrines can be used more than once.

To make a latrine:

  1. Find an area of soft soil that’s at least 60 m (200 ft.) from all water sources, camps, and trails.
  2. Dig a wide hole that is 30 cm (12 inches) deep.
  3. Make sure all human waste goes into the hole.
  4. After each use, put soil on top of the waste.
  5. Pack out your used toilet paper.
  6. Once the waste and soil are 10 cm (4 inches) from the top, fill the rest of the hole with soil and cover it with debris like needles and leaves.

Winter conditions

The best option in the winter is to pack your waste out with you. When that isn’t possible, make sure your catholes and latrines are dug away from trails, campsites, water sources, and areas where water will go as it melts and drains. Think carefully about where you go to the bathroom because it may get washed into water sources when the snow melts.

Alpine areas

Above the tree line, digging holes or moving rocks can cause long-lasting damage, so you have to carry your waste out with you. Use sealable plastic bags. Wrap your waste in 2 bags if you’re worried about the bag leaking or breaking.


Don't leave human waste on glaciers. Carry it out in a sealable plastic bag.


Always wash your hands with soap and water after you go to the bathroom or handle toilet paper. If the water hasn’t been boiled, then use hand sanitizer after washing your hands.

If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that has more than 60% alcohol. Hand sanitizer does not work if your hands are greasy or dirty, so clean them first if you need to.

Never touch any food until you’ve washed and cleaned your hands.

Learn how to wash your hands and keep clean in the backcountry.


Pets can carry diseases and leave them in their waste. Keep pets on a leash and remember to pick up after your pet. Bury or carry out their droppings the same way you bury or carry out your waste.

Current as of: January 12, 2022

Author: Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services