Hiking Tips for Female Backpackers: Poops and Periods on Trail

Written By: Maria Watrous

Let me start by saying this- I have no shame. I started hiking and backpacking seriously with my husband when we first met. He is a dude. He was mostly zero help in the lady department. It didn't occur to me for years that I could search online for what worked for other women. I get  asked a lot of questions that I wish I had the answers to when I first started hiking and backpacking. In this series I’ll lay it all out there for inquiring minds and tell you what works for me!

Sensitive types, consider turning back now because we are gonna talk about poop and periods.

How do you poop?

The short answer is in a hole. But as anyone who knows me is aware, I could talk about poop forever. I could go on and on about finding the perfect site, the different positions you can poop in, my potty kit, what healthy poops look like…..I am also known to be a strict Leave No Trace principles follower. What this means for me is the following process:

  1. At home I pack a ‘potty kit’. It’s a zip lock bag with the following contents: A trowel our friend nicknamed “The Doo Doo Digger”, wipes for me, toilet paper for my husband, hand sanitizer spray and a ziplock bag covered in duct tape to pack out used wipes and/or TP. I like to draw a happy little poo on it.

  2. When I get to camp each night I scout out a place to dig a cat hole. It needs to be at least 200 feet from everything- the trail, camp, water sources. 200 feet is about 70 paces, if you have the room go even further. I dig a hole 6-8 inches deep with The Doo Doo Digger. The trowel should never touch waste, only dirt. The trowel gets returned to camp for the next person to use. Now I am ready to go when I need to go!

  3. When I need to go, I head to my cat hole, squat and go. Wipe with whatever you prefer- rhododendron leaves are excellent! Stir it all around with a stick to help it decompose faster, I like to call this making poo stew. Then bury it with the dirt you dug out. I use a stick so there is no chance of the trowel touching the waste. Cover it with some sticks or rocks and try to make it look as natural as possible. *I prefer natural items that can be buried or wipes that I pack out, rain and animals can cause buried TP to come to the surface.

  4. Rinse your hands and/or use some hand sanitizer and you’re done!

* Notes about peeing: I highly recommend making yourself a pee rag. I use a quarter piece of a bandana. Wipe when you pee and attach it to your pack to dry. The UV light from the sun will sanitize it. Nothing to pack out and keeps you nice and dry! There are also devices to help you pee standing up, like the PStyle, which is harder to use with leggings but still possible. And no antibacterial wipes near your V ladies!

Ok...But what about your period?

OK, if you do not know about menstrual cups do yourself a favor and google them.

I’ll wait.

Ready? These things will change your life and are another topic I could go on and on about. Nothing extra to pack in or out, you can wear them up to 12 hours, you dispose of the contents as you would solid waste- bury it. Wipe the cup with a (non antibacterial) wipe or some TP. Again, pack out the wipes, you can bury a small amount of TP if permissible in the area. There is a learning curve here so practice at home, even before your period, to get the hang of it.

Other options are of course pads and tampons. Be sure to pack them out, these items can not be buried. You can also skip your period using many regular birth control methods. Or just schedule your shorter trips around your period.