Hiking Hygiene

Hiking HygieneOne of the major things that hikers must be concerned about is proper hiking hygiene.  You don’t want to get caught with diarrhea on the trail because someone didn’t wash all the soap out of the cookware or didn’t wash their hands properly after using the bathroom.

Here are basic tips for adequate hiking hygiene to help both you and the environment:

Urination:

  • Urinate at least 200 feet away from the trail and from any water source.
  • Urinate on non-fragile plants (rocks, thick soil or leaves is good)
  • Animals are attracted to the salt content of Urine and may dig up any plants that have urine on them.  So, don’t urinate on any plants.  If you can spare it, pouring water over the spot after you are done to help dilute the salt concentration could help keep the animals away.
  • For the females out there, there are funnel like products that can assist in urinating in the woods. (like Go Girl)

Feces:

  • Because Feces is considered contaminated, there are two basic goals you must keep in mind when dealing with its disposal:
  • Keep it away from water sources, other hikers and animals.
  • Decomposition if you bury it.
  • There are two proper ways (for most environments) to dispose of fecal matter:
  • Bury it in a hole (often referred to as a cathole).  The proper cathole is 6 to 8 inches deep and about 4 to 6 inches around.  You can use a trowel to dig the hole. It should be located 200 feet from the trail, any water sources as well as any water drainage channel.  If you can, try and pull the top layer of soil out as a “plug”, set it aside so that you can put it back on top after you have finished.  Once you have had your bowel movement, take a stick and stir it, mixing it in with the soil.  This will help it decompose faster.  Then replace all of the soil and then the plug on top.  This technique is for the typical soil environment.  There are locations, the beach, marsh, frozen tundra or rivers where this system cannot be used.  There are also areas that require you to process your waste in a specific manner (including having to pack it out).
  • Pack it out.

Toilet Paper: I would say always pack it out, but some people will bury it in their cathole.  If you do bury it, make sure it is wet when you cover it up.  This will help it decompose faster.  Also, get toilet paper that is biodegradable with no dyes or perfumes.

Tampons and Pads: These are always packed out.

Wastewater: There is always wastewater from cleaning.  If you are cleaning pots after dinner, strain off the large particles with either a strainer or a piece of cloth, like a bandana.  Put the food waste in a plastic resealable bag and pack it out.  Either scatter the water around or dig a sump hole, similar  to a cathole and pour the water in it, in either case, 200 feet from a water source.

Always wash your hands with either soap and water or an anti-bacterial hand sanitizer.  Always wash out your pots and pans with soap and water.  Make sure that you get all of the soap out of your cookware or you may end up with diarrhea.

These guidelines are very basic and doesn’t cover all of the requirements.  Before going out, find a book or article that discusses this in great detail.  Hygiene and waste disposal on the trail is extremely important.  There are entire books written on hiking hygiene.  Always follow the land manager’s requirements for all waste disposal.  The major ideas here are to protect the environment, other people, your health and the health of animals.  No one wants to walk along the trail seeing toilet paper on the ground or smelling any improperly disposed of waste.  Stay clean and stay healthy.

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