Let’s face it, everyone eventually has to “go” during a hike or camping situation. If you’re lucky, there will be toilet facilities nearby. But if in fact, you are on a hiking or camping trip where there isn’t a toilet facility nearby and have to “go”, don’t despair. Or if you find yourself in a bug out situation with no available facilities, just dig a cathole.
If you aren’t familiar with this term, it’s basically a pit that you dig in the woods or other outdoor location so that you can bury your urine and/or feces.
The main purpose of a cathole is to keep the feces under cover so that other people don’t step in it, animals don’t dig it up, and the odor is contained until it can biodegrade.
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Where to Dig a Cathole
One of the important factors when digging a cathole is the location you choose for the cathole. The reason this is important is to reduce the chances that the urine and feces that you bury will contaminate the surroundings.
Always choose a cathole location that is at least 200 feet which is about 70 adult steps or more from any water source. If you bury feces or urine too close to a water source, there is a chance it could leach into the water even from underground.
The second thing you want to take into consideration when digging your cathole is the distance to the nearest trail or campsite. It’s best to make sure that you are at least 60 feet or farther from the nearest trail.
This ensures that even if you do a poor job covering your cathole, no one will stumble into it. The quicker the feces biodegrades, the better for the environment and the less likely it will contaminate the surroundings.
Look for a location that is in direct sunlight, not shaded, so that the heat from the sun can help the process of decomposition. It’s also better to dig a cathole in an area that has rich dark soil, full of organic matter, rather than light colored, sandy or soil.
The organic matter in soil will also speed the biodegradation process. An elevated area is best if you can find it so that there is little chance of standing water in the area where your cathole is located.
Once you’ve decided upon your cathole location, you are ready to dig it!
How to Dig a Cathole
The easiest way to dig a cathole is to use a small garden trowel. Trowels with a serrated edge work best in areas where soil is harder or rockier.
If you do not have one of these trowels with you, then you can use a pointed rock, a sturdy stick, or anything else that you can dig with. The depth of your cathole is important as well. This video demonstrates the proper way to locate and dig a cathole:
Some people might think that the deeper the cathole, the better for the environment but this is not true. Digging a deep cathole actually slows down the biodegradation process and increases the chance that the feces could get to and decontaminate the water table. In some locations, you may have trouble digging a cathole because of rocky or clay soil.
The safest cathole is one that is a minimum of 4 inches and no more than 8 inches deep. It should be about 4 to 6 inches in diameter. About as long and as wide as a small garden trowel if you’re using one.
In river canyon areas and arid areas, it’s better to pack out your feces if possible rather than bury it. Whenever you will be in one location for more than a day or two or if you have a group of people camping in one area, you may want to consider digging a latrine instead.
The video below shows you how to use an odor-proof bag if you are packing out the waste:
Alternatives to Toilet Paper
There are actually a variety of materials found in nature that can be used as an natural alternatives to toilet paper when you are in the outdoors during a hiking, camping, or bug out scenario.
Non-Organic Hygiene Items
If you must use non-organic hygiene items such as toilet paper, tampons, or wipes, pack these out and take them with you whenever possible. Most people bring along small zip lock or OPSAK bags to make packing these used items out easier and less messy.
To reduce odor when carrying waste out, you can put a used tea bag, a cotton ball soaked in ammonia, or crushed aspirin into the zip lock bag. If you must bury toilet paper, use unscented paper and bury it at the bottom of the cathole rather than the top.
So whether you are out on a hike or camping trip or find yourself in a bug out situation, with proper planning, there’s no need to fret about doing your business outdoors.
By being prepared with the proper tools or using what is available from Mother Nature, you’ll be able to dig a cathole and take care of business in a safe, comfortable, and sanitary manner.