By Amy Harff, 2018 Fall Education Intern
Carrying out your waste might not be glamorous, but if you enjoy winter hiking or backpacking, it is an important part of your adventure when facilities like an outhouse aren’t available. Actually, packing out your poop in the winter isn’t so bad, as the cold temperatures help eliminate odors and freeze the waste. This makes the process quite clean and easy to manage.
Outhouses and Thunderboxes are ideal for both winter and summer use. If those aren’t available, catholes are a common alternative, but they only work when the ground is soft; frozen or snow-covered ground makes digging a cathole nearly impossible in winter. In warmer months, waste buried at 6-8 inches is decomposed by microorganisms in the soil, but when buried in the snow it has no way of breaking down. There are also major health detriments to burying waste in snow: animals might eat it, spreading disease among themselves, and then when the snow melts the human waste can pollute water sources. This puts hikers at risk of contracting intestinal illnesses like Giardia. Furthermore, no one wants to run into poop left by winter hikers. This raises the question: if catholes are so difficult in the winter, what are the alternatives?
1. Cleanwaste WAG Bag or Biffy Bags
These bags make carrying out poop an easy and painless process. The bags contain a powder that neutralizes odors, gels waste and begins the decay process, so you won’t notice any unpleasant smells. Both products include a sanitary wipe and toilet paper.
2. The “Poop Tube”
If you are hiking for multiple days or weeks, the Poop Tube is a great option. It is compact, lightweight and inexpensive.
To make your own, choose the appropriate length of four inch wide PVC pipe (eight to ten inches is usually good for one person for a few days). You will also need to glue on a cap at one end and a threaded fitting and removable cap for the other end. If you attach a cord or tether to it, you can clip it outside your pack.
To use the Poop Tube, do your business in a plastic bag, put the toilet paper in with it, tie the bag, and then place it in the tube. Adding some kitty litter to the tube can help control odors.
Some campsites have Thunderboxes or outhouses that eliminate the need to pack out your poop. Privies and other back-country bathroom structures are preferable to other methods because they are designed to deal with high volumes of waste. If you find options one and two uncomfortable, research your hiking route beforehand to know where you can find the nearest privies. This can help ensure that you have a worry-free hiking adventure while also keeping yourself, your fellow hikers, and the environment healthy.
As you plan your next winter adventure, don’t forget to prepare for how you will dispose of your poop responsibly. By cleaning up after yourself, you are protecting wildlife and the hiking experiences of other adventurers. The Adirondacks are your land too, and you can help to preserve the Park’s health by packing it out.
Amy Harff interned with the Adirondack Mountain Club in Fall 2018. She attends Hamilton College where she is double majoring in Environmental Studies and Studio Art. When not working, Amy can be found in the art studio or outside hiking, skiing and slacklining.