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Staying Healthy in the Backcountry

Human Waste in the Backcountry

​It’s very important to dispose of bowel movements (waste) properly. Waste can carry germs (e.g., bacteria, parasites, viruses) that cause diseases and attract wildlife. It also makes for a very unpleasant experience for​ fellow hikers and campers.

Plan on having to pack out your used toilet paper. Bring containers or bags that you can seal to put the used toilet paper in. Store all used and unused toilet paper away from any food.

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 containing more than 60% alcohol. Remember that hand sanitizer doesn’t work if your hands are greasy or dirty.

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

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.

Catholes

Catholes are small holes dug 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, find an area with soft soil that’s at least 60 m (200 ft.) from all water sources, camps, and trails. Dig a small hole about 15 cm (6 in.) deep and 15 cm wide. Make sure all human waste goes into the hole. Cover the hole up with soil when you’re done. Parks Canada requires you to pack your toilet paper out with you.

Latrines

Make a latrine when you plan on staying in one place for more than a couple of days and there are no washrooms.

To make a latrine, find an area of soft soil that’s at least 60 m (200 ft.) from all water sources, camps, and trails. Dig a wide 30 cm (12 in.) deep hole. After each use, put soil on top of the waste. Once the waste and soil is 10 cm (4 in.) from the top, fill the rest of the hole with soil and cover it with debris (e.g., needles, leaves).

All feminine hygiene 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.

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

Winter conditions

The best option in winter is to pack your waste out with you. When that isn’t possible, make sure catholes and latrines are dug away from trails, camp sites, water sources, and areas where drainage water will run. Think carefully about where you go to the bathroom because it will 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.

Pets

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

Current as of: July 12, 2019

Author: Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services