We've all heard the call of nature on a ride, and know it's not always possible to wait until you get to a restroom. But if you're relieving yourself outside, there's some basic etiquette you should be following. We spoke with Jason Grubb, the Education Programs Manager at the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, for advice on ethically and sanitarily doing number two in the great outdoors.
"Any time you're thinking about disposing of waste, there are four objectives to keep in mind," he explains. "You want to accomplish as many of them as possible. One, eliminate contamination of water sources, so make sure it can't get washed into a lake or river. Second, maximize decomposition rate. Third, minimize the spread of disease—don't let wild animals get into it and then go into campsites and get into people's coolers. And the last thing is the aesthetic impact, keeping people from seeing it or smelling it."
Here are Leave No Trace's top tips for poo disposal.
"Our first recommendation is to try to use the facilities that are available, like trailhead restrooms, and plan around that," Grubb says.
"Do a bit of homework before you head out on your ride, know who owns the land you're riding on," Grubb says. "A land manager will recommend different things if you're riding in Moab versus British Columbia. Things like moisture levels, soil types, sunlight—those all dictate the ramifications of solid waste disposal."
Leave the Road or Path
Public indecency charges can get, um, messy, so obviously you want to be out of sight of people and cars. But how far is enough? "We suggest being 200 feet—about 70 paces—away from people, the trail, and water sources," says Grubb.
If you're just peeing, do your business. Otherwise, "the safest bet is to dig a cat hole, six to eight inches deep," says Grubb. (In the desert, it can be a bit shallower—4 to 6 inches.)
Bring It With You
Some land managers require that all waste be packed out. "Sometimes, the land manager provides the bags for free," Grubb says, or you can buy your own waste bags (with a powder to gel up any liquids) and bring them on your ride. "This is ideal if you can't dig a cat hole, which can be hard in places, like riding on slick rock." Get ready to never look at your hydration pack the same way again.
To TP or Not to TP?
If you are going to use toilet paper, don't leave it behind unless it's buried in the cat hole and is unbleached and unscented. Grubb suggests bringing a Ziploc baggie with paper towels or TP in it on your ride and stashing the dirty paper in there until you get to a trashcan. To avoid that bit of unpleasantness, leaves are a more sustainable option and can be left behind. (Just make sure they're not poisonous.) No matter your method of disposal, bring a small container of hand sanitizer for quick clean-ups.
If you frequently find yourself searching for a restroom during rides, your diet may need some tweaking; avoiding fiber before you head out may help. If eliminating certain foods from your pre-ride routine doesn't solve the problem, it's probably time to see your doctor. In the meantime, plan routes with easily accessible public bathrooms—or try making yourself poop before you head out the door.