Human Waste Disposal

Pack it in - Pick it up - Get over it

Human Waste - the cold hard facts!

Historically New Zealand was blessed with two great attributes; a lot of backcountry and not many people. Disposing human waste was never much of an issue; you just went off into the bush and did your business. However, with the increasing use of walking tracks and climbing routes, giardia and unsightly remains are an increasing addition to the New Zealand experience - just try sniffing around the camp site at Lake Alta in the Remarkables or at the top of the Ramp on Mt Aspiring. While toilet facilities are available at huts, often people are unfamiliar with how to dispose of waste when there are no facilities. If you are caught out between huts or camping where no toilets are available, there is a right way and a wrong way to dispose of fecal waste. Unfortunately even the "right way" is often not a very good option but with a little preparation there is better alternative.

At best, following advice from the Department of Conservation and burying waste 50m from a water source is often impractical. Even if you did have a means of digging a hole (got a shovel?), finding anything 50m from a water source in a rain forest can be next to impossible. At popular camping or rest stops, people tend to look in the same places to relieve themselves creating a significant land mine hazard. On climbing routes or in scree the only option is a few hastily placed rocks. On glaciers, holes dug in the snow quickly melt away leaving a turd trophy protruding from the snowpack. At the worst (and what usually happens), people are unprepared when the urge strikes and they make the best of a bad situation - a hasty scrape with the heel of your boot and a quick sprinkling of dead leaves over last night's dehy Chicken Tikka Masala.

A far better method is to not leave any waste behind at all. Apart from eating a large block of cheese for breakfast, the best method of doing this is to simply carry the waste to the nearest toilet and deposit it there. This is the point where most people recoil in horror, but if you are prepared, proper crap carting is simple.

Packing out waste is nothing new overseas and many different systems have evolved. In the New Zealand context, usually there is a hut (long drop) toilet in your short term future. The vast majority of climbing or tramping trips are based out of huts. Of course if you are doing far-flung bushwhacking in the Dingwalls or pushing a new variation on the Maximillian Ridge, there is nothing wrong with leaving your crap sitting on a rock with a little Aussie Flag planted on it. But for everyone else, if there is a toilet within the next days walk, you definitely should be packing out your waste.

There are many systems; most are designed for storing waste for longer periods using metal or plastic containers. In New Zealand a light weight temporary system will work in most cases. Here is the method we have been using at Wild Walks for the past 6 years with no nasty accidents. You will need: compostable bags (two per comfort stop); a dry bag; a small container of waterless hand sanitizer is optional but not a bad idea even if you are not a turd transporter (see below for details).

Step 1

Lay a compostable bag flat, use small rocks to hold the bag down if it is windy.

Step 2

Make your deposit using your best aim to hit the centre of the bag. Avoid including urine in the bag, urine is relatively sterile and in small amounts does no environmental harm.

Step 3

Lift the bag by its four corners and place into another compostable bag (include toilet paper). Take care to cleanly transfer the material into the new bag and tie the second bag shut with tight knot. It will take up less volume if you press the air out before tying the bag shut.

Step 4

Place the tied compostable bag containing "the package" into airtight dry bag and seal. Clip the dry bag to the outside of your pack if you are nervous about placing it inside. The dry bag will stay clean if the compostable bags are sealed well.

Step 5

When you can, deposit the compostable bag into the nearest long drop toilet or campground dump station (if you are out of the hills). Rinse out your dry bag with diluted bleach to remove any odor.

If you are prepared, packing your poo out is simple. For most people this will be a seldom used emergency procedure. Unless you live exclusively on Pam's instant pudding, the added weight is negligible. Plus you can always enjoy the look on your mate's face when they find the drybag in their pack.


The issues surrounding biodegradable and compostable plastics are complex. Suffice to say that there valid concerns associated with all forms of packaging. Bags made from corn starch are the quickest to breakdown and leave the cleanest residue. They come in many different sizes but bags at least 40cm square or bigger are easiest to use. They are available in New Zealand from the suppliers listed below.

Dry bags come in many types of material and sizes but all rely on a folding closure to be airtight. Dry bags need to large enough to hold the contents and still get at least three closing folds to be absolutely airtight. 5-10 litre bags are good for a group of 2-3. For larger parties it is preferable to use more small bags rather than one large one.


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