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Off-Grid Bathroom Options | How To Poop In The Woods & Desert

Emily walking into the woods with toilet paper and a shovel to show to show how to poop in the woods which is an off-grid bathroom option

When I first started primitive camping (camping without facilities), I always wondered, “what if I have to go #2”? What do I do if I can’t wait till the next day when we hit a trailhead or visitor center, etc? There are definitely ways to legally get the job done without holding it. First off, if you aren’t already okay with peeing outside while camping, then you should probably disregard this whole post and maybe consider camping in a campground where there are facilities. But if you want to find out a few different off-grid bathroom options for how to poop in the woods & desert then stay tuned. 

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Best off-Grid bathroom options for primitive camping & backpacking:

First, let’s describe what primitive camping is. Primitive camping is often on public land where there are no facilities. Therefore, no toilets, showers, drinking water, fire rings, picnic tables, etc. You might find a drop toilet in some primitive areas if you’re lucky. But for the most part, you are camping in an area where there isn’t an easy place to go #2. Here are a couple budget-friendly off-grid bathroom options for how to poop in the woods & desert.

Dig-A-Hole & Bury It:

A girl holding a poop shovel and toilet paper in the forest

One of the easiest and most cost effective options is to dig a hole and bury your waste. But there are a few key rules you need to follow in order for this to be done effectively. Adhere to ‘Leave No Trace’ guidelines for this method. And remember that this method isn’t acceptable in all places and environments. Check with the local managing authority or signage if you are unsure.

First, you need to find the right spot. Human waste should be at least 200 feet from any water source, hiking trail or campsite. The hole must be 6 inches deep and toilet paper should either be buried with the poop (if it’s biodegradable) or be carried back out with you. Be sure to cover the hole back up with the dirt you took out of the hole. Don’t place a large rock on top of it, because it prevents the sun from reaching the poop. The sun is a very important process for back country pooping, because it kills the bacteria before it hopefully has to chance to reach any water source. It’s best if you just put a twig standing up to mark to other campers, don’t dig a hole here! 

The only cost to this method is to buy an ultralight shovel and biodegradable TP. You can sometimes get away with using a stick, but we’ve found that the ground can sometimes be much harder than you think once you get past a couple inches. Therefore it’s easier to dig a hole much quicker and easier with a shovel, especially when you gotta go! 

These rules are very important to follow because human waste is a bit different than other animals that just poop on the ground and leave it be. Humans have a much different diet than most wildlife. And if human fecal matter gets into drinking water it can lead to Giardia.

So the best way to take care of your business is digging a 6-inch deep hole (deeper is NOT better), away from water, campsites, and trails. Bury it with the remaining dirt/soil and just let the sun do the rest of the work. It is important not to go too deep, because then the sun can’t reach it and kill the bacteria, and assist the composting process.

A few other notes about how to poop in the woods & desert:

Dogs love digging things up! Therefore, try your hardest to find a spot away from camp where a dog off-leash won’t find it. 

Also, if you are camping in a very populated place where campsites are often taken every single night, then you might want to reconsider this method. Places will get shut down if authorities are to find too much human waste in the area that isn’t properly disposed of. While you are reading this post and learning how to properly dig a hole and bury your waste, many others don’t properly know this information and often don’t dig holes deep enough or leave their used toilet paper behind.

Therefore, if park rangers or BLM management or similar, is to find this in areas where people primitive camp, then, these places might be shut down. Especially if they are worried about fecal matter getting into nearby drinking water. So do your part and try to help other campers in your group!

Bag w/ Poo Poo Powder:

Another easy option, that isn’t quite as environmentally friendly, is to simply poop in a bag and sprinkle it with poo poo powder. Poo poo powder is a chemical that absorbs the liquids and helps mitigate the smell. We find this one of the easier options because you can just throw it out in a nearby garbage can, no extra cleaning or digging involved. But if you don’t dispose of it within a day or so of using it, it can get a bit smelly. 

You can either find pre-packaged waste kits or create your own (with this trail essentials bag kit and this cleanwaste poo poo powder). The pre-packaged kits come with a large ziplock baggie, and another larger bag inside which contains the poo poo powder. It also usually comes with TP inside the bag. Although, I always recommend having extra on hand. 

If it’s possible, it’s best to get out as much liquid on the ground before going #2 in the bag. Although the poo poo powder is designed to turn liquid into solid. 

This off-grid bathroom option is especially great when desert camping, where it is much harder to find trees or something to hide behind from other campers while you do your business.

You can also pair these bags with a pop-up toilet which you can wrap the bag around the toilet seat. And if you are set up for the weekend, you could also use this pop up tent for the ultimate privacy.

Best Off-Grid Bathroom Options for Car-Camping and vanlife:

Emily sitting in the van on the bathroom cassette toilet reading a magazine looking out the doors
Emily using the campervan toilet

If you have the budget and camping is more than just a casual hobby, then you might want to consider a physical toilet option. 

Composting Toilet:

One of the best off-grid bathroom options is a composting toilet. But this option doesn’t really fit into most peoples camping budget. A composting toilet often costs anywhere from $400 to $2000+. Now that’s an expensive poop! Composting toilets are good options for camper vans or RV’s. 

How a composting toilet works is by separating the urine from the poop. Because when these two mix together, it creates sewage. Composting is much more effective when the solids are separated.

So the urine goes into a separate jug that can be emptied in any nearby toilet. It usually holds 1.5 gallons+, so you can usually go a weekend without having to empty it. (Considering you still go outside when you can). The poop then goes into a separate compartment that is usually filled with peat moss, coconut coir, sawdust, or some other product to turn the poop into compost and help mitigate the smell. Depending on how often you use this, full-time vanlifers or RV’ers tend to only need to empty the solids compartment about every month or so.

Though, it should be noted that this method doesn’t usually create true, non-toxic compost (like you could safely put it in your garden or out in nature). The reason is that the times it takes to create nature-ready compost is longer than the average cycle of “dumping”. And also consider that users probably add new deposits everyday. Inevitably, there are going to be relatively recent deposits in there when it’s time to empty your composting toilet. So unless you have a way to empty your toilet into a place that completes the process, the waste from your composting toilet should be handled as potentially toxic.

How To Properly Dispose #2 In A Composting Toilet

As stated above #2 gets a little more complicated. Human waste can contain E. Coli or Salmonella, so it’s important to dispose of properly. One option is to dump in drop toilets, but that’s really just making it someone else’s problem. And park and recreation departments are already underfunded. Another option is to dig a deep hole in the middle of the woods, but you must dig a really large hole and might contaminate that area with E.Coli or Salmonella. 

The preferred method of disposing #2 is to use a compostable bag and dispose of it in trash receptacles, which is NOT illegal. Consider how many human diapers and dog poops are already disposed of in the trash. Waste management departments have already considered this factor into their process.

If a composting toilet sounds like a great off-grid bathroom option for you, here is a post for the Top 5 Best Composting Toilets On The Market Today.

Cassette Toilet:

Similarly to the above, a cassette toilet is a more budget friendly toilet option. BUT, it does combine the two (urine & poop), so it will likely smell. There are products, such as Walex Porta Pak’s to help break down #2 and mitigate the smell. But emptying this waste is much worse than a composting toilet (in my opinion). Plus it will need to be emptied much more often, than a composting toilet black holding tank. 

Jake and I have a cassette toilet in our camper van, but we only use it for #1.
(We use a combination of other methods for #2). Which makes emptying it not that gross. And we also only have a holding tank that is 2.5 gallons. So if you upgrade to a larger cassette toilet or have a holding tank that has wheels, you could use the Walex Porta Pak’s and hold a decent amount of waste. 

Here is our post on the Top 5 Best Cassette Toilets On The Market Today.

Pair both of these Off-grid Camping Bathroom Options with a pop-up tent and bam, you have the perfect outdoor bathroom set-up!

Park near a drop toilet: 

The vault toilet bathroom at Trona Pinnacles

Lastly, if you are really worried about it, and the above options are of no interest, or a composting or cassette toilet is too overboard for your type of camping; then the best off-grid bathroom option is to simply parking near a drop toilet. Or finding one you can easily drive to if duty calls. But these areas tend to be a parking lots at day-use areas or trailheads. And you might be taking some of their valuable parking spots. Plus if you park next to a drop toilet, you might get some interesting smells wafting through your campsite. But it also could give you peace of mind, that if duty calls, you have a toilet right there. 

Takeaway | Off-Grid Camping Bathroom Options

So these are all the ways for how to poop in the woods and desert. There are a few options to consider when you think about your off-grid camping bathroom options. If camping is just a casual hobby, then simply just digging a hole is probably your best bet. Little to no money is involved. But if camping is an every weekend hobby, then digging a hole probably wears on you a little bit. Therefore, if budget isn’t an issue than a composting toilet can be a great option. And if budget is a bit of a concern, then I suggest the bag method with poo poo powder. I hope this helps with finding the best off-grid camping bathroom options for how to poop in the woods & desert. 

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