Mountain Manners: The Poop Talk

Mountain Manners is a partnership between several local organizations aimed at helping folks learn how to take care of our lands here in the Gunnison Valley so that they are as wonderful for our future citizens and visitors as they are for us. More information on Mountain Manners can be found at any of the Visitor Centers in the valley.

I know this sounds a bit childish, but let’s talk about about poop.  As an outdoor educator and Leave No Trace Trainer, I’ve talked about poop a lot, to a lot of different people. Most likely to someone just like you. Because, as we all know, everybody poops, and #2 is becoming our #1 issue in the backcountry.

A lot of people come to the Gunnison Valley to recreate in the outdoors. We have a huge playground full of trails, campsites, streams, and mountaintops to explore. Two million acres of public land. If you spend any amount of time in the outdoors, you are at risk for poop emergencies, which are becoming more common as more people visit.

There is an easy enough solution though. Poop properly by following these foolproof steps:

Anticipate the Poop

no surface poops

Go at home or at the Trailhead if there’s an outhouse or portapotty. Don’t be that guy squatting behind the Deadman’s Gulch Trailhead Sign as was witnessed last summer.

Make sure you bring supplies for an emergency poop. At the very least you need a stash of toilet paper inside a Ziploc bag. If you create these bags beforehand, they can live in your backpacks (I know I have several) until you need them. A shovel is a great tool to have in your pack as well. We’ll get to why in a minute.

The ideal location

You haven’t anticipated and now it’s time to go. Your poop should be far away from any trail, campsite, and definitely any water source. Pooping above tree line is also a bit of a faux pas. The extreme nature of the landscape prevents your #2 from decomposing for years.

Use the rule of 2 No-See-Ums. One no-see-um is the point where you can no longer see the campsite, trail, or water source that you are trying to avoid. The second is when you can no longer see this in-between point. Then it’s nice to find a sturdy tree to use as a backrest or hand hold.

Make a home for the poop

Your poop’s home should be spacious and deep (at least 6-8 inches) and set back 1-2 feet from your tree. Think about it this way: if you wanted to stash a small coffee can full of money how deep and wide should that hole be? If you don’t have a shovel use a stick, a rock, or your boot heel.


Feel free to get creative with your position. The most important thing is that everything goes in the hole. If you’ve missed your mark, grab a stick and practice your putt. Make sure that your TP makes it in your Ziploc bag and then into a trashcan when you leave the woods.

Cover it up

Your poop does best when left in a moist dark environment. This is another reason your hole should be big, so everything has a good layer of dirt on top when you’re done. Once you’ve covered everything, it’s nice to find a log or rock to put on top to keep the critters from digging things up.
mountain manners poopAnother way to help out and keep the forest clean is to pack out your dog’s poop, too. A great way to do this is to carry a Nalgene or similar wide-mouth bottle and draw a huge skull and crossbones on it. Never drink from this bottle, but keep some doggy bags in it and use it as a containment vessel for your dog’s #2 when you’re in the backcountry. Use this as your emergency toilet paper container, too.

Earn extra credit for pooping in the outdoors by using natural toilet paper like leaves, sticks, rocks, and snow. Just make sure you bury that, too. It may not be double-ply, but our ancestors have been doing it for years.

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