How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art

How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art

by Kathleen Meyer


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How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art by Kathleen Meyer

It’s the feisty third edition of How to Shit in the Woods, jam-packed with new information for outdoor enthusiasts of every stripe. Hailed in its first edition as “the most important environmental book of the decade” by Books of the Southwest, and in its second as “the real shit” by the late, great, outdoor photographer Galen Rowell, this bestselling guide is often called the “backpacker’s bible” and has sold more than 2.5 million copies in eight languages. Author Kathleen Meyer continues to pioneer the way with her inimitable voice—at once humorous, irreverent, and direct—examining the latest techniques for graceful backcountry elimination, and answering a desperate cry from nature concerning environmental precautions in our ever-shrinking wilds.
World changes come fast and furious, and in the backcountry it is no different. The practice of “packing-it-out,” adopted to protect high use areas and fragile eco-systems, is here to stay. We are now often urged to haul our poop home. Or with increasing frequency, the whole business is mandatory. To assist with all this responsible human waste disposal, Meyer’s new edition features the latest in product innovations, from classy high-tech to inexpensive do-it-yourself. She covers the most current solutions to the health risks of drinking straight from wilderness waterways; presents a raft of natural substitutes for the purist swearing off toilet tissue; and offers a wealth of new recommendations for ladies who must make do without a loo.
This down-to-earth guide has been employed as a training aid for scout troops, outdoor schools, and wilderness programs for inner-city youth; for rangers with the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management; as well as for whitewater rafting guides, backcountry outfitters, and members of the military.
In rowing hundreds of urbanites down whitewater rivers, Meyer honed her squatting skills and found she “wasn’t alone in the klutz department.” Her delightfully shameless discussion of a once-shameful activity, her erudite examination of its associated vocabulary, and her unapologetic promotion of its colorful vernacular make How to Shit in the Woods essential and vastly entertaining reading for anyone who’s ever paused at the edge of the forest and pondered: “Where do I go to go?”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781580083638
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 03/15/2011
Pages: 136
Sales rank: 262,928
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

A graduate of San Francisco State University, KATHLEEN MEYER is a longtime environmental activist. She was the founding editor of Headwaters, published by Friends of the River; her travel essays have appeared in the Travelers’ Tales anthologies; and her adventure memoir Barefoot Hearted: A Wild Life Among Wildlife was released by Villard in 2001. A sailor, sea-kayaker, and whitewater rafting guide, Meyer has also traversed three Rocky Mountain states in a restored horse-drawn covered wagon. She makes her home in Montana’s breathtaking Bitterroot Valley. Visit her website at

Read an Excerpt

1    Anatomy of a Crap
Bowels are not exactly a polite subject for conversation, but they are certainly a common problem. . . . Please think of me again as the urologist’s daughter. . . . It may disgust you that I have brought it up at all, but who knows? Life has some problems which are basic for all of us—and about which we have a natural reticence.
—Katherine Hepburn, The Making of The African Queen
In the mid-1800s, in the Royal Borough of Chelsea, London, an industrious young English plumber named Thomas Crapper grabbed Progress in his pipe wrench and with a number of sophisticated sanitation inventions leapfrogged ahead one hundred years. T. J. Crapper found himself challenged by problems we wrestle with yet today: water quality and water conservation. Faced with London’s diminishing reservoirs, drained almost dry by the valve leakage and “continuous flush systems” of early water closets, Crapper developed the water waste preventer—the very siphonic cistern with uphill flow and automatic shut-off found in modern toilet tanks. T. Crapper & Co Ld, Sanitary Engineers, Marlboro Works, Chelsea (as his name still appears on three manhole covers in Westminster Abbey) was also responsible for the laying of hundreds of miles of London’s connecting sewers—and none too soon. The River Thames carried such quantities of rotting turds that the effluvium had driven Parliament to convene in the early morning hours to avoid a vile off-river breeze.
For the Victorian ladies who complained of the WC’s hissing and gurgling as giving away their elaborately disguised trips to the loo, Crapper installed the first silencers. Such pretenses as “pricking the plum pudding” or “picking the daisies” were foiled when a lady’s absence was accompanied by crashing waterfalls and echoing burbles. Among Mr. Crapper’s other claims to fame were his pear-shaped toilet seat (the forerunner of the gap-front seat) designed for men, and the posthumous addition to the English language of a vibrant new word: crapper!
Clearly, T. J. Crapper was ahead of his day. Progress and time, nonetheless, are peculiar concepts. Some things in the universe—pollution, the use of euphemisms, sneaking off to the bathroom to tinkle silently down the side of the bowl, to name a few—seem to defy change, even from century to century. But there’s been one glaring reversal in regard to crap. Our advanced twenty-first-century populace, well removed from the novelties and quirks of the first indoor WCs, finds itself having to break entirely new ground, as it were, when relieving itself outdoors. Ironically, shitting in the woods successfully—that is, without adverse environmental, psychological, or physical consequences—might be deemed genuine progress today. Take Henry, for instance (a namesake, perhaps, or even a descendant of old King Henry VIII).
All the stories you are about to read are true (for the most part), having been extracted from dear friends and voluble strangers on various occasions, sometimes following the ingestion of copious quantities of Jose Cuervo or Yukon Jack. Only the names have been changed to protect the incommodious.
High on a dusty escarpment jutting skyward from camp, a man named Henry, having scrambled up there and squeezed in behind what appeared to be the ideal bush for camouflage, began lowering himself precariously into a deep knee bend. Far below, just out of their bedrolls, three fellow river runners violated the profound quiet of the canyon’s first light by poking about the commissary, cracking eggs, snapping twigs, and sloshing out the coffee pot. Through the branches, our pretzel man on the hill observed the breakfast preparations while proceeding with his own morning mission. To the earth it finally fell, round and firm, this sturdy turd. With a bit more encouragement from gravity, it rolled slowly out from between Henry’s big boots, threaded its way through the spindly trunks of the “ideal” bush, and then truly taking on a mind of its own, leaped into the air like a downhill skier out at the gate.
You can see the dust trail of a fast-moving pickup mushrooming off a dirt road long after you’ve lost sight of the truck. Henry watched, wide-eyed and helpless, as a similar if smaller cloud billowed up defiantly below him, and the actual item became obscured from view. Zigging and zagging, it caromed off rough spots in the terrain. Madly it bumped and tumbled and dropped, as though making its run through a giant pinball machine. Gaining momentum, gathering its own little avalanche, round and down it spun like a buried back tire spraying up sand. All too fast it raced down the steep slope—until it became locked into that deadly slow motion common to the fleeting seconds just preceding all imminent, unalterable disasters. With one last bounce, one final effort at heavenward orbit, this unruly goof ball (followed by an arcing tail of debris) landed in a terminal thud and a rain of pebbly clatter not six inches from the bare foot of the woman measuring out coffee.
With his dignity thus unraveled along sixty yards of descent, Henry in all likelihood might have come home from his first river trip firmly resolved to never again set foot past the end of the asphalt. Of course, left to his own devices and with any determination at all unless he was a total fumble-bum, Henry would have learned how to shit in the woods. Eventually. The refining of his skills by trial and error and the acquiring of grace, poise, and self-confidence—not to mention muscle development and balance—would probably have taken him about as long as it did me: years.
I don’t think Henry would mind our taking a closer look at his calamity. Henry can teach us a lot, and not all by poor example. Indeed, he started out on the right track by getting far enough away from camp to ensure his privacy. Straight up just wasn’t the best choice of direction. Next, he chose a location with a view, although whether he took time to appreciate it is unknown. Usually I recommend a wide-reaching view, a landscape rolling away to distant mountain peaks and broad expanses of wild sky. But a close-in setting near a lichen-covered rock, a single wildflower, or even dried-up weeds and monotonous talus, when quietly studied, can offer inspiration of a different brand.
The more time you spend in the wild, the easier it will be to reconnoiter an inspiring view. A friend of mine calls her morning exercise the Advanced Wilderness Appreciation Walk. As she strides along an irrigation canal practically devoid of vegetation, but overgrown with crumpled beer cans, has-been appliances, and rusted auto parts, she finds the morning’s joy in the colors of the sunrise and the backlighting of a lone thistle.
Essential for the outdoor neophyte is a breathtaking view. These opportunities for glorious moments alone in the presence of grandeur should be soaked up. They are soul replenishing and mind expanding. The ideal occasion for communing with nature is while you’re peacefully sitting still—yes, shitting in the woods. The rest of the day, unless you’re trekking solo, can quickly become cluttered with social or organizational distractions.
But back to Henry, whose only major mistake was failing to dig a hole. It’s something to think about: a small hole preventing the complete destruction of an ego. A proper hole is of great importance, not only in averting disasters such as Henry’s, but in preventing the spread of disease and facilitating rapid decomposition. Chapter 2 in its entirety is devoted to the hole.
More do’s and don’ts for preserving mental and physical health while shitting in the woods will become apparent as we look in on Charles. He has his own notion about clothes and pooping in the wilderness: he takes them off. Needless to say, this man hikes well away from camp and any connecting trails to a place where he feels secure about completely removing his britches and relaxing for a spell. Finding an ant-free log, he digs his hole on the opposite side from the view, sits down, scoots to the back of the log, and floats into the rhapsody that tall treetops find in the clouds. Remember this one. It’s by far the dreamiest, most relaxing setup for shitting in the woods. A smooth, bread-loaf-shaped rock (or even your backpack in a pinch in a vacant wasteland) can be used in the same manner—for hanging your buns over the back.
This seems like an appropriate spot to share a helpful technique imparted to me one day by another friend: “Shit first, dig later.” In puzzlement, I turned to her and as our eyes met she watched mine grow into harvest moons. But of course, “shit first, dig later”—that way you could never miss the hole. It was the perfect solution! Perfect, that is, for anyone with bad aim. Me? Not me.
Unlike Charles, there’s my longtime friend Elizabeth who prizes the usefulness of her clothes. While on a rattletrap bus trip through northern Mexico, the lumbering vehicle on which she rode came to a five-minute halt to compensate for the lack of a toilet on board. Like a colorful parachute descending from desert skies, Lizzie’s voluminous skirt billowed to the earth, and she squatted down inside her own private outhouse.
Occasionally it is impossible to obtain an optimal degree of privacy. Some years back, my colleague Henrietta Alice was hitchhiking along the Autobahn in Germany, where the terrain was board flat and barren. At last, unable to contain herself, she asked the driver to stop and she struck out across a field toward a knoll topped by a lone bush. There, hidden by branches and feeling safe from the eyes of traffic, she squatted and swung up the back of her skirt, securing it as a cape over her head. But Henrietta’s rejoicing ended abruptly. Out of nowhere came a column of Boy Guides (the rear guard?) marching past her bare derrière.
Another version of Henrietta’s story needs to be kept in mind when hiking switchbacks. I was all settled once, well off the path, completely shrouded with low-hanging branches, pants down, a soft mullein leaf in hand, when smack at me came three hikers, all men, stepping smartly along on the previous bend in the trail. Only the footway’s ruts and roots, which held their attention, and my holding my breath like a startled squirrel saved me.
There are many theories on clothes and shitting, all individual and personal. In time you will develop your own. Edwin, our next case study, has a new theory about clothes after one memorable hunting trip; whether it be to take them off or keep them on, I haven’t figured out.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      viii
Third Edition Preface      xii
Original Preface      xvi
Author’s Note      xviii
Chapter 1  Anatomy of a Crap       1
T. J. Crapper • Our Inhibitions • Learning Technique • Style • Getting Comfortable • Cautions • Preserving Dignity
Chapter 2  Digging the Hole      13
Why an Environmentally Sound Hole? • Transmission of Enteric Pathogens (Intestinal Diseases) • Giardia: Symptoms, Spreading, and Roaring Debate • Cryptosporidium • Actual Digging: Trowels, Soil Types, Security vs. Decomposition, Locating the High-Water Line, and Stirring • Peeing Is Different • T.P. • A Latrine • Ocean Disposal, or Not?
Chapter 3  When You Can’t Dig a Hole      33
Misery Loves Company • The “Soggies” • Extreme Adventure • Sensitive Ecosystems • High-Use Corridors • Packing-It-Out: History and Regulation • Enema Man • Group Shitarees: Discussion of Design Features • Washable-Reusable Carry-Out Toilets • Porta Potti • Do-It-Yourself Soil Can • Rentals
Chapter 4  Plight of the Solo Poop Packer      57
Higher Inspiration: Junko and Jim • Becoming a Poop Packer • Discussion of Solo Containers • Solo Poop Packer Systems • Do-It-Yourself Poop Tubes • Frosting a Rock/Smearing Curtailed
Chapter 5  Trekker’s Trots      73
Diarrhea and Prevention • “Disinfection,” “Sterilization,” and “Purification” • Waterborne Enteric Pathogens: Protozoa, Bacteria, and Viruses • Mechanical Field Water Filtration Systems • Ultraviolet Light • MIOX Purifier • First Need Matrix • The Halogens: Chlorine and Iodine • Rehydration Formula
Chapter 6  For Women Only:H ow Not to Pee in Your Boots      83
Penis Envy! • Women’s Stand-up Peeing • Pants vs. Skirts • Crotch-Accessible Clothing • Secrets of Avoiding Splatters and Showers • Born a Frontierswoman • Pee Rags • Managing Menstruation in the Wilds • Feminine Funnels or FUDs: Washable-Reusable and Disposable
Chapter 7  What? No T.P.? or Doing Without      97
Pinwheel, Prune Conserve, and Cowboy Schottische • My Mr. Neanderthal • Wilderness T.P. Alternatives: Various Cautions • Leaves (sticky, scabrous, prickly, hispidulous) • Snowballs, Sticks, Stones, and Pinecones • The Water Wipe • Road Apples/Eating Like a Horse
Definition of Shit      105
Afterword      111
About the Author      113

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How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This little gem,100+ pages, should be in everyones library whether one camps hikes kayaks, climbs or whatever one does away from the convenience of our bathroom.The stories that Meyer tells to make her point are downright funny and to the point.We can all relate to them in one way or another. Great 'bathroom' reading while you're taking a s---,c---,d---,or whatever you do in the woods.I laughed so hard I almost fell off the pot!Try it,you'll like it.It's worth it.10 stars
Guest More than 1 year ago
Monday, January 10, 2000. HOW TO SHIT IN THE WOODS, By Kathleen Meyer. I admire a woman who's not afraid to call a thing or process exactly what it is, that way we all know, for sure, what we're talking about. If the title makes you uncomfortable, peruse the glossary starting on page 73 and you will learn that the author is right on he money in using the S-word. It is the exact, correct word to immediately describe this essential biological function. If we don't defecate, the end products of metabolism (toxic waste material) will poison us to death. Therefore, when we venture into the pristine wilderness, we better know how to be clean with our poop or we'll further pollute our precious dwindling wild lands, and no one will be able to enjoy the little that's left. Ecology minded, responsible hikers and campers should read this book before packing. In addition to the title subject, this book is replete with information on how to keep one's gastrointestinal system healthy while roughing it in the great outdoors. And did you know there's a dozen natural items one can find on the trail and use for t.p. (toilet paper). And there's, even a chapter devoted to the delicate problems we women face when using raw mother earth for a toilet. Plus, last and equally important is the humor, which serves to keep things in perspective and down to earth. I shall make sure my grand children read this book before going away to camp.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Wow, the book hit the spot. I once had an emergency in the woods and lets just say it was not a pretty site. I used the closet shrubs i can find, but little did i know it was poison ivy!! I then decided to buy this book which teaches the proper techniques and mechanics behind taking care of business in the woods. Damn, i left the woods feelin about 10 pounds lighter. Once i was done, i told all my friends 'don't go over there for about 35-45 minutes, yadateee!!!'
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hi kathleen so i was in Nova Scotia in the horses shoeing school Rog i got your book and all that has read it , it great so do know who this is . talk to u in Mt. When birthday man had go up to the Mt.I hope this get to u Take care ROG ! I got the First edition sign by u !!!