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The How and Why of an Ecological Pee In The Woods

I’ve been peeing in the woods for many, many years. Probably since I could walk, it’s been completely natural for me to sidle up to a bush, whip the old undies down and let it flow.

For the first time in my life, though, I got disgusted by something I saw while hiking. Hopefully my little story will help us all be more conscious of the ins and outs of how to have a widdle in the woods.

Image: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / RobSnowStock

Last summer, I headed to Shenandoah National Park for a few training hikes. White Oak Canyon is one of the more famous hikes inside the incredible Virginia national park.

From inside the park, you descend into the canyon along a significant creek. Waterfalls and languid pools make the hike a spectacular day destination for teens and families. You can wear a swimsuit and splash around the creek by any of the trail offshoots – a great way to cool down during a day’s walking if it’s hot.

As I completed the two mile lead-in trail to begin the descent, I noticed white dots throughout the woods.

I tried to peer more closely, thinking it might be an ecological feature of the forest. There were literally hundreds of them. Mushrooms, maybe?

Wrong. It was used toilet paper. Everywhere.

The numerous tourists tromping along the trail to reach the falls had been leaving their toilet paper scattered in the open woods. Disgusting! It’s the last thing you think you wish to see on a hike.

If you’re thinking urine is sterile, you’re right, it is. It’s also mostly salt. However, any medications or impurities in your body pass into the environment. If improperly purified by soil, they cause contamination of the bodies of water. So, multiply your one little pee by 200,000 (the number of visitors in 2009; 2006 was over a million).

Suddenly, not so innocent a pee, right?

If you’ve really got to go, here’s how to pee in the woods – the right way:

  1. Check for bodies of water first. You want a decent distance from any water source so you don’t contaminate it. On islands, look for grass or soil for urine to drain through.
  2. Choose a spot that you can easily balance on with your pants down. Otherwise, if you’re on a hill, when you squat, be sure to aim your butt downhill. Men will obviously have more practice with their aim!
  3. Dig a hole with the heel of your boot or a stick. Try to make it at least 6 inches deep. You need to bury the toilet paper at least that far down for it to biodegrade properly. It’s also harder for little animals to dig up.
  4. When you’re finished peeing, place the toilet paper inside the hole and cover it up with dirt. Again, the deeper the better, but keep it in the topsoil level.
  5. Pack the soil down with your boot.
  6. Better still, take your toilet roll with you when you go and dispose of it properly off site.

You probably think when you pee in the woods that it doesn’t really matter that much; you’re just one person. Surely, your toilet paper won’t matter. In the case of White Oak Canyon, hundreds of toilet paper flowers speckled the forest because people hadn’t correctly buried or disposed of them.

While it’s really gross to look at other people’s hygienic products, you also have to keep in mind that if we don’t clean up after ourselves, the park services may increase entrance fees to cover the costs of clean-ups or eventually have to enforce fines to ensure people leave no trace.

As Chief Seattle once said:

“Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints.”


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