LET'S TALK ABOUT WAG BAGS! (Packing Out Your Solid Human Waste)

Mountain House waste serviceIf this bag could only tell you of the horrors it has seen! What is the most dreaded aspect of hiking/backpacking that nobody wants to talk about? Yep, you guessed it... going to the bathroom. Specifically, pooping in the great outdoors. While the topic is unpleasant and may tickle your gag reflex, we all need to play our best "leave no trace" game to keep things pleasant for future visitors. Since the spring of 2019, backpackers are required to pack out solid human waste on all overnight routes in Zion National Park, so it is important to have a good game plan ready for when nature calls during your backpacking and also day-hiking adventures.

Why Do I Need to Pack Out My Poo?

When pooping in the wild, conventional instructions have typically been to find an isolated spot at least 200 feet away from any water source, trail, or campsite and dig a 6-inch deep cathole to bury your waste. This method may still be acceptable in many other regions, but in the desert, human waste doesn't break down very quickly; in fact it often becomes petrified and lives on for years. With wilderness areas around Zion National Park becoming more and more popular, the build-up of buried human waste near campsites and other gathering spots is turning some areas into giant litter boxes. Nature can't keep up with the human impact. Gross. Seriously gross.

This has been an even bigger problem in delicate slot canyons like the Zion Narrows where secret spots are limited and the impact of human waste is much greater. (Narrows hikers have been required to pack out solid human waste for decades, but organized clean-up efforts show that many people aren't actually doing this.) East Fork of the Virgin River (The Barracks)A beautiful photo to distract you from the fact that we're talking about poo. So while most of us may have an aversion to properly packing out our own feces, we need to get over it to keep these popular magical locations clean for the next people to enjoy. It is really no fun bumping into human waste or used toilet paper when you're hiking in the supposed wilderness. With a little planning and a few simple supplies, it's actually quite easy to do the right thing.

Come Prepared with a Game Plan:

Whether you are backpacking or dayhiking, bring a "Number 2 Kit" in your pack so you are always ready for action in case of sudden emergency. A good kit can be small and light, consisting of just a few items: a gallon-sized Ziploc bag to pack out your waste and other trash, a small supply of toilet paper and/or a travel package of Wet Ones or other hand-sanitizing wipes, and maybe also a small bottle of hand sanitizer for extra cleaning ability. Alternatively, you can purchase commercial solid waste kits (affectionately known as "wag bags") like the Restop 2 or the Cleanwaste GO Anywhere Toilet Kit. Both are convenient and portable packages that contain everything you need (disposal bag with enzymes to help break down the waste, a small roll of toilet paper, and antiseptic wipes). Throw one in your pack and you'll always be ready for action!

NOTE: Some backpackers advocate wiping with random found objects like sticks, pinecones, moss, and even rocks, but you can't really get away with that in popular areas or narrow canyon environments. Bring and use your own wipes and pack them out so nobody has to accidentally encounter your smear residue.

Pro Tips:

Executing the Plan:

When it's time for nature's calling, locate a nice isolated spot away from the trail. If you've never done your duty in the wilderness before, you must find a comfortable body position that works for you. I've seen suggestions from leaning against boulders/logs in a crabwalk position to sitting far back on a log or even hanging back from a tree, but the simplest option you can do anywhere is to squat like you're a baseball catcher. (If you have seen ads for the Squatty Potty, you will know why this is an ideal position.) Removing one or both pant legs may be useful to keep your clothing out of harm's way.

Joe rappelling in the Right Fork of North Creek"Hmmm... Did I remember to pack out all of my solid human waste?"If you have the Restop 2 or GO Anywhere kit, you can open it up and wrap the big garbage bag around your bum to shoot your deuce directly into the disposal bag. Alternatively, you could drop anchor directly on the ground and then pick it up and move it into your disposal bag with the help of a few used sanitizing wipes. (Sandy areas work well because it is easy to clean up and not leave any trace amounts behind.) Remember to pack out all toilet paper and wipes along with your swamp pie. if you're not using a commercial wag bag, you may want to double layer for safety (i.e. a Mountain House package inside of a gallon-sized Ziploc bag). Whatever method you choose, think out the details of your plan before your big hike and remember to bring all the necessary supplies with you.

Thank You For Reading!

If you have made it this far, thank you for reading! This isn't the most pleasant recreational topic, but doing it properly is important. Keep the canyons, trails, and backcountry campsites as pristine as possible for the next people to enjoy!

Hiking in Zion National Park...

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