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How to Deal with Trash and Human Waste While Camping and Hiking

When I tell people I run a camping blog, I usually get one of two responses.

The first is positive, but the second is reserved for those who imagine camping to be a bug-ridden, sweat-covered, pee-in-the-woods kind of experience.

And you know what? They’re right. There are bugs, there is sweat, and doing your business in the woods is sometimes a part of the game.

Camping can get gross, and it’s important to know how to manage the trash and human waste you’ll produce for the benefit of yourself, others and the environment.

Food Trash

When you’re packing for your trip, make sure you eliminate any unnecessary food packaging. Say you’re bringing a cup of just-add-water noodles, but the cup comes with a cardboard box around it. Leave the box at home. Better yet, dump the contents of the bowl into a reusable, sealed mug that you can use again for your morning coffee.

You may still have to bring some packaging, so it’s a good idea to bring a trash bag with you. It doesn’t have to be heavy-duty — it could even just be a grocery sack. Place any food-related trash in the bag to make sure your gear doesn’t become messy or attract animals.

Be sure to hang your food at night or use a bear canister so unwanted guests don’t start digging through it. When you’re done with your bag, toss it in a designated trash can or dumpster.

When it’s time to wash dishes, scrape uneaten food into your trash bag, then find a place well away from water sources and campsites to do the washing. You may wish to use a portable kitchen sink to conserve water, but definitely use biodegradable soap; here’s my favorite. Quick-drying and reusable camp towels will help ready your pots and plates for the next meal.

Plain Ol’ Trash

There are some items you may take camping that come in packages, like batteries and new gear. My advice is the same as before: leave all unnecessary packaging at home. Should you actually need to bring it, it won’t have to go in the food trash bag, but you should never litter. Always throw away trash in designated areas.


It’s a good idea to keep your personal hygiene standards up to par, especially when it comes to your teeth. You don’t want to leave globs of sweet-smelling toothpaste in the woods, however, spit into your trash bag.

Human Waste

If you’re car camping or RVing, you’ll have access to a bathroom, but if not… this is where things get icky.

Going #1 is the easiest, and guys typically have no problem with this. Ladies, however, may want to invest in a funnel or find a few rocks or logs to elevate themselves to keep from squatting. If you do squat, however, make sure you’re not above any kind of poisonous plant!

For wiping, you can use a wide range of natural materials, or you may want to bring some toilet paper or baby wipes. If you go with these products, keep them in a small bag and take your toilet paper off the roll so you don’t waste space with a cardboard tube. Bring a baggie to isolate the waste from the rest of your gear, and pack out the used paper. My #1 favorite way to handle pee on the trail is Kula Cloth!

Do your business well off the path and far away from any water sources; this will protect your privacy and leave the environment uncontaminated.

Going #2 is tricker for everyone. If you feel the urge and you’re an ultralight toilet paper-free kind of person, start collecting good cleaning materials immediately.

You have two options for proceeding: either pack your poop out with you, or bury it. If you pack it with you, there are products like bags and tubes that will keep everything sanitary, or you can just double or triple bag it. If you decide to bury your waste, find a spot well off the beaten path and dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep with a trowel.

Do your business in the hole by squatting over it, and then refill the hole with dirt. Either bury the toilet paper in the hole or pack it out.

Ladies have the extra-fun hurdle of dealing with waste produced through menstruation. Pads and tampons really do produce a lot of trash, so make sure to pack everything out with you. Never bury or burn any of these items or their packaging. Of course, there are reusable, sustainable methods of handling menstruation, like Diva Cups.

When you finish your business, make sure you thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer.

Remember to leave everything as you find it for the enjoyment of other campers and hikers — and the benefit of the environment. Any other tips? Leave them in the comments.

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This trowel is used to dispose of human waste on the trail

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