Wondering how to teach kids to poop outside while camping? We have all been there before. You’re camping in the woods, or you’re backpacking in the backcountry, and your kid suddenly HAS TO GO.
Leaving human waste or used toilet paper just anywhere isn’t ok. It’s not good for the environment, it’s against leave no trace principles and it’s gross. But don’t worry, we’ll teach you the easiest and cleanest ways to follow camping etiquette and answer the call of nature while in nature.
So, do kids poop in the woods? Only if you teach them to!
The first step is to prepare yourself with knowledge, tools and skills for pooping outdoors. If you are nervous about it yourself, your kids will pick up on that.
Also be aware of the area you’re camping in. There are places up north in Minnesota where the ground soil is so shallow that you’ll have trouble digging a hole 6″ deep, so you’d need to be prepared to pack everything out.
There are also places and situations like the desert, mountains, frozen ground and swampy areas where you’ll need to learn to use a WAG bag (Waste Alleviation and Gelling) or bring a portable camping toilet. Check local regulations or the National parks website for more information about the area you’re going to.
You also want to know if your campsite will have access to flush toilets or pit toilets. Either of those are much better options than pooping in the woods, especially if it’s raining. If you’re car camping, it’s likely you’ll have access to one or both of those.
We always pack toilet paper. We’ve been in many scenarios where the toilets were plentiful but the toilet paper was not. I’m not a big fan of trying to find smooth rocks or soft leaves, so I always have a spare roll.
Learn the rules
The simple rules of pooping in the woods are:
- Stay 200 feet away from water sources
- Dig a hole 6″ deep
- Do your business
- Wipe and pack out TP
- Stir the contents of the hole
- Bury everything, including the stir stick
- Cover the site with leaves/dirt
So, go find an area 200′ from your campsite and any water source, then dig your hole. Be sure to stay aware of your surroundings as you don’t want to get lost.
A hole for pooping into is commonly called a cat hole. Make sure the hole is AT LEAST 6″ deep and probably 4″-6″ wide. Squat over the hole and poop into it. If you miss, you need to move the poop and the dirt you pooped on into your cat hole. Leave no trace.
Wipe yourself, if you use leaves or rocks to accomplish this, those go into the hole. If you use toilet paper or other wipes, pack those out in a ziploc bag. Use as little toilet paper as possible so you have less to pack out.
After you’re finished pooping into the hole, stir the contents of the hole with a stick. (It’s called making “poop soup”. You can decide if your kids are better knowing that or not.) Leave the stick in the hole and bury it all. Cover the hole with leaves or sticks so it looks like the natural environment it was before.
After that wash your hands with biodegradable soap or use hand sanitizer. (You should have hand sanitizer with in your first aid kit)
The next time you need to go, pick an area away from your first area, you want to minimize the amount of human waste in any one area.
Tools For Pooping Outdoors
If you’re really about being ultra-light and leave no trace, you can poop in the woods with zero tools. Dig a hole with a stick, wipe with leaves (or rocks?!) and bury the whole thing as described above.
For the rest of us, we’ll need a few tools and supplies. Here is what to have in your camping poop kit.
You will need:
- A trowel or shovel
- Toilet paper
- Ziplock bag
- Hand sanitizer
You can bring extras like doggy poop bags to pack out ALL poop and used toilet paper, or a combination of WAG bags and a portable camping toilet to make it easier for little ones to poop while camping. Wet wipes are always on our packing list, so we bring those along just incase.
NEVER bury OR flush any wipes. Always pack them out.
If you’re going to teach kids to poop while camping, you’re going to have to try out some of these positions yourself. It’s important to show your kids how to position themselves properly, no one wants poop in their pants or on their shoes.
If you have strong enough legs, squatting down is the easiest position because you don’t need any other logs or rocks to support yourself. Dig your hole, squat over it and do your business.
You can keep your feet nice and wide and only pull your pants down to your knees, this keeps everything away from the drop zone.
Squatting is the best anatomical position to properly poop in anyway.
If you can find a small log, you can dig your hole near it, sit down, hang your backside over and bombs away. Just be very sure you’re not actually pooping on the side of the log, it’s not ok to get human feces on some animal’s home.
If you find a nice sturdy tree or rock you can dig a hole at the base of, you can do a wall sit and poop that way. Be sure you can actually dig the hole first, a lot of trees have tough roots at the base.
If you have a strong tree branch or willing friend, you can dig your hole and then squat back/lean over it while holding onto something sturdy. This works well for kids, you can hold their hands to prevent them from squatting too far down or falling.
- Holding it
This is the option Daddy Critter opted for once while camping with scouts, it is NOT recommended. Not only is constipation nothing to mess with, hiking and enjoying yourself becomes increasingly difficult if you’re actively trying to not poop your pants.
Preparing Kids to Poop Outside
Now that you know how it’s done yourself, you can start teaching your kids to poop outside.
Some kids actually take to pooping outdoors before you go camping. They’ll be playing outside and pop a squat behind a bush rather than run back inside. For those kids, this will be easy. (Teaching them to not poop in the front yard while your neighbor is looking will be the issue.)
For other kids, the thought of going poop in the woods is anxiety inducing. The best way to start is to talk about it with your kids. Explain that when you’re on a long hike or camping away from toilets, occasionally pooping outdoors will be necessary.
Talk about how you’ll dig the hole, demonstrate squatting or sitting positions and talk about how much help they might need.
Set rules for how much help you will be providing, as for young kids doing all the steps themselves will be tricky and you want to avoid a meltdown while there is a bathroom emergency about to happen.
Where Do You Poop When Camping?
When it comes to pooping while camping, you have a few options. The best option is a porta potty or bathroom building. The next easiest is a portable camping toilet. The trickiest to master is actually going poop in the woods.
Port-a-Potty or Pit Toilet
When our son was little, he was nervous about using the pit toilet near our campsite. The first time I helped him straddle the seat backwards so he had a little more support. After that he was more comfortable and he was able to sit with minimal support from me.
Talking about this option with kids is a good idea, because the outhouse is often a large source of anxiety.
Also bring your own toilet paper, you don’t want to walk down to the latrine only to learn that they’re out of TP.
Portable Camping Toilet
You can make your own outdoor bathroom area with just a few simple steps.
Mounting a toilet seat onto a 5 gallon bucket works pretty well. From there you can place a plastic bag inside and fill it with kitty litter. This works amazingly if you’re car camping and have a truck bed to carry the garbage bag home in.
If that’s too large for your set up, you can purchase a small travel potty chair. Many pack flat so they’re easy to take literally anywhere. All you need is solid waste bags and you’re set to go.
Having a small seat is great for kids who need a minute when pooping. Helping them sit in a squat is all well and good until they’re going to take 20 minutes. This potty chair packs flat, only weights 1.5 pounds and is even perfect for going in the tent if you’re camping in cold or rainy weather.
There are a lot of camping toilets that actually break down human waste with liquids and things, but we honestly avoid those. Rinsing them out is never a fun job. It’s much easier to grab one of the many portable camping toilets that are pretty much just a toilet seat over a WAG bag or a dog poop bag and deal with that later.
Some people use them in the tent for middle of the night emergencies, others get a small pop-up tent to use as a bathroom and sometimes you just gotta find as much cover as you can and do your business behind a bush. Be careful using a potty chair in any kind of tent, tents aren’t easy to clean, so be sure to have your waste receptacle secure.
Pooping in the Woods
When you feel the urge, make sure that you grab your camping poop kit and find a spot that at least 200 feet (66 yds, 60 m, 80 steps) from the trail, water sources, and your camp. The last thing you want to do is smell up your campsite, risk someone stepping in poop before getting into the tent or have human poop near a water source.
Be sure to dig your hole at LEAST 6″ deep. Yes, that’s pretty deep. No, you cannot just dig a small divot and attempt to cover your poop with more dirt or rocks.
Fecal pathogens getting into a water source from solid human waste can be a big deal, so please respect nature and your fellow humans and go far enough away and dig a deep enough hole. (Always boil water you get from a natural source unless you’re using a really good filter)
Potty Training while Camping
A lot of families start to go camping when one of their children is in the potty training age. That leads to a frequently asked question, how is potty training done while camping?
The answers aren’t really too interesting, just do what you’re doing at home. If your child has a portable potty chair, it’s best to bring that. They’ll feel more comfortable going to the bathroom outdoors if they’re on the chair they’re used to.
If you’re using a timer method at home, do that same thing on your camping trip. Set a timer for whatever interval is working for you (typically start with 15-20 minutes) and then increase it to slightly longer intervals.
If you do rewards for success in the potty, be sure to bring those along or find a fun camping alternative treat!
Frequently Asked Questions
So now that you’re prepared with the rules and the tools for pooping outside, you’ll never fear the phrase “I gotta go!”
I’m Molly Foss, aka Momma Critter. I’ve been camping since I was 9 years old and I always wanted to be Robin Hood and live in the forest when I grew up. I’m excited to share my love of camping with my son as he grows up. My favorite thing to do while camping is roast marshmallows over the fire.