Accustomed to the intimacy and comfort of our modern toilets, here's a difficult issue to address ... especially in terms of the terminology to use!

But let's not hide it, this is the natural course of things, and every hiker has been confronted with this problem.

So we're going to try to shine a little light on this universal problem: how to relieve yourself while remaining ecologically correct?


Let's not beat about the bush, it's a basic observation: we don't like other people's poo! This is all the more taboo in our modern societies with their gleaming (even connected) toilets.

So when mountains of toilet paper fill the paths where we've come to seek serenity, it's like having a bucket of cold water thrown over us!  

This little-discussed issue is more common in the United States, for example, where the major parks are very heavily used. The major problem comes from the over-concentration of people on the same site. 


Human waste takes at least 1 year to decompose.

This footprint is highly variable over time depending on the nature of the soil, exposure to the elements, the animal and bacterial population, etc.


Twenty or so years ago, the only question you'd ask before drinking water from a stream was whether a flock was grazing upstream. The risk being that a lost ewe might have fallen into the stream and contaminated it with its carcass...

Today, new infections are with us or are spreading. Take Giardia, for example: an infection from the parasite of the same name that spreads by faecal/oral transmission. Contamination is easily prevented by careful hand-washing. The problem out in the wilds is water contamination: in the water of lakes and rivers, the parasites are able to survive for several months!

When you relieve yourself out in the wilderness, rainwater runoff can carry bacteria from our improvised toilets towards the watercourses! (The issue doesn't arise with urine, which is sterile - except in rare cases of bladder diseases - and easily evaporates.) The problem also affects people living at altitude using spring water for their homes. After thunderstorms, it's cow dung which gets carried away by the heavy rains towards streams, and the use of mineral water then becomes necessary. 


To avoid these visual and health problems, here are some behaviours to adopt. Before anything else, keep in mind that the easiest solution for us will certainly be the hardest for the earth.

We recommend that you always make sure you stay at least 50 metres from streams when nature calls.

Ideally, dig a hole (with your foot, a stone or a small retractable shovel). There's no need to dig deep: the most effective enzymes for degrading human waste are found in the top 25 centimetres of soil.

AS FOR THE PAPER: don't burn it! Previously recommended, this is now off limits because of the upsurge in forest fires. And of course, remember to pack eco-friendly toilet paper (or special septic tank that will degrade faster).

It's worth knowing that mixing it all up causes it to degrade faster. And as we need to instil the right behaviours in children at the earliest possible age, the search for suitable sticks can become a game.

Don't wash your hands in a watercourse, but instead use a blob of alcohol-based gel.

POINT SUR LE PAPIER : attention à ne pas le brûler ! Auparavant préconisé ce geste est désormais à proscrire à cause de la recrudescence des feux de forêt. Et bien entendu, pensez à emporter du papier toilette écologique (ou spécial fosse septiques qui se dégradera plus rapidement).

Il faut savoir que le fait de mélanger le tout permet une dégradation plus rapide. Et comme il vaut mieux inculquer les bons réflexes aux enfants le plus tôt possible, la quête de bâtons adéquats peut devenir un jeu.

Ne vous nettoyez pas les mains dans un cours d'eau, préférez une noisette de gel hydro-alcoolique.


If you stay in the same place for several days, you should know that the use of common latrines makes the waste more difficult to get rid of, due to its massification.

Some people opt for a strategy  of "take it all with you" and use special receptacles. Here, we have 3 pieces of advice: test it beforehand with water to make sure it's watertight. Choose steel and aluminium which are easier to clean and more tolerant of exposure to the sun (without going into detail, the decomposition process produces ethane which can cause "explosions"). On the other hand, they're less odour-proof. Finally, take it all away with you and certainly don't wash your receptacles in the watercourses or nearby lakes. 


Before finishing, let's raise one last alert. In this kind of situation, we often rush for fear of having other walkers come along, but we still need to take time to check that there are no stinging plants around.

In France we're lucky, as nettle stings are quite fleeting, but globe trotters have worrying tales to tell of stings from more exotic plants and insects.

And conversely, in the same way the environment can be a threat to our backsides, we can be a threat to it in return. Watch you don't trample on ant hills or other burrows in your rush to find a "WC".



Despite all these precautions, answering a call of nature in the woods will always be more pleasant than looking for clean public toilets in the city!

And a forewarned hiker is a forearmed hiker ;)


To continue this inexhaustible source of debate, I recommend the guide by Kathleen Meyer: "How to shit in the woods". A very complete book which also deals with what diets to follow, "no toilet paper" techniques, and the particular case of trekking or menstruation in outdoor environments.