Last Updated on October 8, 2020 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
If you’re a newer trail runner, a topic you may be curious about – but too afraid to ask – is going to the bathroom in the woods. How do people do it? What do you need to know? IS THIS NORMAL?
As an adult, I have discovered that there are a number of topics in our society that are considered “taboo”…even though they are something that every single one of us deals with on a daily basis. And one of those topics is going to the bathroom. Heck, as a mom of two boys, I find it difficult to even sit here and type this post without cracking some potty humor myself. But it’s a part of life, for all of us, and something that we partake in multiple times a day.
So let’s talk about it.
Specifically, let’s talk about when “nature calls” …while you are in nature.
Here’s the thing that is often a shocker to people transitioning from say, urban runs or treadmill miles, to more remote, longer distances in the woods: there are no toilets. That seems pretty obvious, of course, but it something you don’t really stop to think about…until you have to go, and find yourself desperately wishing you could find a toilet. But out in the middle of the forest, chances are high that there are no port-a-potties around.
You’re going to have to go to the bathroom in the woods.
How to go to the bathroom in the woods: A guide for Trail Runners
Personally, I spend A LOT of time out in the woods, running, training, or simply caving to my incessant wanderlust. Learning how to heed mother natures call while in the woods was certainly an interesting experience. You see, going to the bathroom in the woods can be highly intimidating for women especially, because we aren’t necessarily “built” to “go” as easily as our male counterparts. But when you’ve got to go…you’ve got to go. So here are my tips for “taking care of business” when in the woods.
Find a place to go.
Find a place that is private, safe (not on the edge of a cliff, near any poisonous plants, or any wildlife, like fire ant hills , don’t ask me how I know about that last one), and preferably downhill.
Make sure you aren’t on trail or near any sort of place other people will potentially be walking around…or worse…taking a seat to rest, like picnic areas or campsites.
And most importantly, make sure you are at least 200 feet from any water source. This is important for maintaining the natural integrity of water sources, and keeping the surrounding environment clean and healthy.
Prep the ground.
Urine has little effect on vegetation or soil, and doesn’t carry infectious diseases or parasites. But that said, animals may be attracted to the salts in urine. Urinating on gravel, pine needles, bare soil and rocks is less likely to attract curious critters.
That said, “scuffing” the ground with your feet (especially soil or gravel) can help make it more absorbent, reducing the risk of splashing.
Fecal matter, on the other hand, poses a ton of potential environmental concerns. The best thing you can do (and should do) is to dig a small hole, about 6 inches in depth, to do your business into. Again, make sure you are at least 200 feet from any water source.
This one is mostly for the ladies. And we’re going into details.
Pull your shorts or pants down to about knee level. You don’t want them any higher or lower, as you want them completely out of the way of the potential splash zone. Then, squat down, preferably facing downhill, if at all possible. While hovering in a 90 degree squat (you know, public restroom style) is often our go-to position, it can become incredibly exhausting on your muscles. Instead, try a full squat, getting your hips as close to the ground as possible.
Story time: last year, about 12 hours into an ultra, I decided to squat with my back facing downhill, holding on to what I thought was a small tree. Unfortunately, I realized too late that said “tree” was actually a large stick that had somehow landed in an upright position…and was not securely rooted into the ground. Needless to say, I went tumbling backwards down the hill with my shorts around my knees.
Moral of the story? Learn how to balance without bracing yourself on any vegetation. But if you must use something to help you stay upright, ensure that it is completely stable, before you drop your shorts.
Go to the Bathroom!
I don’t need to describe this one for you, we all know how to do it!
Pro tip for the ladies:
Grab your shorts/pants/underwear that are wrapped around your knees, and pull them up towards your bellybutton to absolutely ensure they are out of the way.
Clean up…yourself and mother nature.
I always carry a ziplock baggie with toilet paper in my hydration pack. And I use the baggie to not only carry *in* the toilet paper, but to carry it *out* as well.
Leave no trace.
It is not only imperative to carry out what you carry in for the integrity of our beautiful forests, but it’s just common courtesy. No one wants to stumble upon an amazing view, only to have it potentially ruined by the site of used toilet paper. I know trail runners can be gross, but we don’t have to be that gross.
Lastly, if you’ve dug a hole for a bowel movement, be sure to thoroughly cover it up when you are finished using the same dirt that you dug out of the hole in the first place. Use leaves or sticks to cover the hole.
I won’t lie, the first few times you heed to nature’s call IN nature, it can be a little difficult and maybe even a tad bit embarrassing. But once you embrace the fact that it’s simply a part of the territory…and something we all have to do while chasing our wanderlust through the forest and mountains…it gets a lot easier.
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.