Need the toilet outdoors?

Whilst out walking on Glyder Fach a couple of weeks ago we thought we had found the perfect lunch spot only to find a human poo and a pile of toilet paper right in the middle of our perfect sheltered lunch spot. Needless to say, we found somewhere else to eat our lunch.

As Mountains Leaders I think it is really important to talk about going to the toilet outdoors. For many people we lead in the mountains the idea of going to the toilet outside is totally appalling. If however, people are keeping themselves adequately hydrated it is fairly likely that they will need to have a wee at some point during the day. If they are unlucky they may even need a number two. This issue will definitely crop up when taking people camping.

Conversations to have before setting out for the day
With certain groups it is a good idea to broach the subject of toileting before heading out. Women especially, want to use toilet paper but unless we are happy for this to be left strewn around the mountain side we will need to advise people to carry a ziplock bag to pack out their toilet paper and any sanitary products. This doesn’t need to be a lengthy embarrassing conversation- just a quick mention will do.

People like to feel re-assured that a private spot can be found. I have had female groups find it very entertaining to provide shelter for each other using a group shelter. For these groups it doesn’t seem to matter that everyone knows what they are doing, but rather there is no chance that they can be seen!

In certain places we must pack out everything, such as in the Cairngorms. The Poo Project was set up in 2007 by Cairngorm Mountain Ranger Heather Morning. The aim is to reduce the amount of human waste left in the hills by making special pots and bags available for people to carry their waste out. The pots are water tight and air tight, and the bags are made of a special material which allows them to break up when they are treated in the Cairngorm sewage system. So you just need to do your business, bag and pot it, then return the bags and the pots to the Ranger Base at Cairngorm.

What should we advise when someone needs a poo?
• Downstream and well away from a water source, path or bothy.
• Buried 15cm if possible, if not left in open rather than under a rock so that it decomposes quicker.
• Toilet paper burnt or packed out.
• If there is snow on the ground and it is not possible to dig a hole into the ground waste should be packed out. It is then useful to carry a winter poo kit: Newspaper/magazine to poo onto, plastic bag to pick it up and wrap it and a sealable container to avoid any nasty surprises when unpacking later on!

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland has produced a leaflet to highlight toileting issues in the outdoors.