leave no trace

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I’ve been writing this blog for almost ten years, and somehow there’s never been a post about pooping in the woods! How is this possible? Pooping in the woods is a hiker’s favorite topic (that’s an indisputable fact). So it’s time for me to right this wrong, and share Guthook’s Secret To A Happy Butt in the Woods™. Have you heard?

The Backcountry Bidet

Oh yeah. It’s the bidet. For those of you not in the know, the bidet provides a watery alternative to toilet paper, for a wash rather than a wipe. Sound weird? If so, you’re probably not from Italy or Japan. But if you’re willing to be bold, to try something new, read on!

First, though, you may be asking: why would I use a bidet on the trail when toilet paper has been treating me fine for my entire life? It’s a personal preference, of course, but there are some definite advantages to the watery approach.

  • It’s a better Leave No Trace practice than burying your toilet paper (I don’t object to TP properly buried in a good cathole in the right environment, but this avoids that decision altogether).
  • There’s less risk of getting butt-bacteria on your hand because there’s no hand-butt contact at all!
  • It’s much gentler on your bum than even the softest toilet paper. If you have a need for really soft TP, you’ll know what I mean.
  • I’ve found the bidet even helps cut down on butt chafe on long hikes. As they say, a clean butt is a happy butt!

The Backcountry Bidet is pretty simple– it’s a 4 fluid ounce squeeze bottle with a flip-top, which I found in the miscellaneous water bottles section at REI many years ago. You could use any kind of squeeze bottle that can produce a high-powered jet with a one-handed squeeze. For reference, I can get a good 20-foot jet out of my bottle (not that I test that every chance I get…).

I’ll assume you already know about digging catholes (if not, ask Sectionhiker). If you would normally bring your toilet paper, trowel, and hand sanitizer, just replace the TP with the bidet and a water bottle. Keep the bidet and water bottle within reach in front of you while you squat over the cathole. Once you’ve taken care of business, fill the bidet from the water bottle, then reach behind with the bidet and let loose. You’ll be aiming blind, but use the Force and you’ll be alright. Remember to keep the bidet (and your hand) back far enough that there’s no splashback. And since one spray will definitely not be enough, refill the bidet from the water bottle and repeat. I go for the full liter each time– because why not? If you’re going to poop, you might as well spend the time to make sure you do it right.

High-velocity is where it’s at!

Now, there are a few downsides to the bidet in the woods, including:

  • Hiking in the desert makes bidet-fuel scarce
  • Bidet use in an outhouse is not a good idea
  • Carrying extra water is heavy, so you’ll want to be within a moderate distance from a water source (remember, don’t poop within 100 yards of a water source!)
  • It takes a little more time than the TP method, which means you’ll get some good squatting exercise.
  • Your friends will probably laugh at you (until they realize you’re a frickin’ genius).

I won’t go into any more gory detail– you can figure out the finer points of the operation. You could also do some more research to find other methods of bideting it in the woods (I’ve heard of plenty). But for now, consider your horizons expanded. And if you ever become a full-fledged convert, you can even get these things in your own home! Whoah.

Note: A reader pointed out that there are some pretty nice travel bidets on Amazon that may work a bit better than random squeeze bottles like mine. A bit more expensive, but lightweight (2.6 ounces for this one) and effective!

Bad behavior leads to consequences for the hiking community.

Bad behavior leads to consequences for the hiking community.

If you’ve been following social media about the Appalachian Trail over the past year, you’ve probably heard about problems caused by hikers behaving badly in towns or on the trail. It all culminated last fall when Baxter State Park Authority, the managing agency responsible for the northernmost 14 miles of the Appalachian Trail, sent an open letter to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy railing against behavior by many through-hikers. If you haven’t read the letter, you should, but here are a few of the issues it outlined:

  • Camping outside of designated sites, and/or avoiding the overnight camping fee in the Park, fully knowing that this isn’t allowed.
  • Bringing dogs into the Park, despite clear restrictions against them. This includes counterfeiting Service Animal registration in order to trick Park employees into letting the pets into the Park.
  • Flooding the summit of Katahdin in groups upward of 30 people (the Park’s group size limit is 12 people).
  • Drinking or doing drugs on the summit.
  • Carving names or initials into shelters and signs within the Park.

None of this behavior is acceptable. You’ve probably already heard that, because I’m not the first to say it. What I want to discuss is the reaction from the community at large.

The reaction from the hiking community has generally been split into three camps. The first set of reactions sounds like “we need to teach new hikers how to respect the gift that is the Appalachian Trail”, which I’ll call the “educators”, since their approach assumes the hikers with poor behavior just need to better understand the issues. The other reaction sounds like “we need to stop the hikers who are behaving badly”. I’ll call the second group the “enforcers”, since their approach is to fight against the behavior. The third sounds like “kids these days act like they own the world”, which I’ll call the “curmudgeons”. These viewpoints are very well displayed in the Spring newsletter from ALDHA (see the Letters to the Editor on page 8).

In person, you’ll usually find my reactions more on the “enforcer” side, but I try to keep a solid footing in the “educator” side, too. Enforcers and educators are both important in changing the culture of through-hiking, first by educating the hikers who don’t know that a certain behavior is harmful, and then by enforcing rules when someone continues with the harmful behavior regardless. Baxter State Park essentially threatened enforcement in their letter by stating they would consider closing the Park to through-hikers if behavior doesn’t improve.

The type of response to the new trends that has no place in the discussion, however, is the curmudgeonly response. When someone starts a complaint with “when I hiked the Appalachian Trail…” it’s usually about how things were better before lots of people started hiking the trail. As I pointed out last month, the number of people using the Appalachian Trail has been growing a lot, and it will never go back to the way it was. Just like people who wish for the days before computers and Internet and globalization, you can wish in one hand, shit in the other, and see which hand fills up first.

The other common complaint of curmudgeons is the “hikers today have too much of a sense of entitlement.” These statements let the accuser dodge any responsibility, though the problem is really a cultural shift that has evolved over decades. If you want to get people to feel like they’re no more special than others, maybe you should stop treating them that way by giving them rides into town, free food, or places to stay. But it doesn’t matter what you do individually unless you influence other people as well. Otherwise, you’re just a complainer. Complaining doesn’t often influence anyone in a useful way. This is why the education component is so important.

I’ve mostly sworn off hiking on the AT during peak season because I know the crowds aren’t going away, and I don’t enjoy them. There are plenty of other places to go that are just as nice and have fewer crowds. And if I happen to see a through-hiker acting like a twit, I’ll be first in line to knock him down a peg or two, but until that time, that hiker is no different from any other hiker– whether he’s going 20 miles or 200 or 2000.

So I’ll say this to the curmudgeons who want to continue railing against a sense of entitlement or too many people on the trail: Find a way to fix the problems, or find another place where they don’t exist. You may enjoy yourself a lot more. Embrace change, and move forward.