Leave No Trace

Pooping Like a Pro on the A.T.

Sanitation tips to help protect the Trail, volunteers, other hikers, and wildlife.

There are usually only two options on the Trail for when nature calls: using a privy or digging a cat hole in the woods.


Privies (sometimes called outhouses or latrines) are small outbuildings near shelters and campsites that use different systems for containing and composting human waste. Privies are especially useful at high-use overnight sites along the A.T. since they help concentrate waste to one area rather than spreading it over a larger area.

There are several kinds of privies used on the A.T. and which kind used at a particular campsite or shelter often depends on many factors including: how many people use the area each season, what resources are available to build the privy, and what resources are available to maintain the privy throughout the hiking season. Privies with special instructions for use will have a sign on the door or inside – so keep an eye out!

The important thing to remember about privies is that no matter what, only human waste and toilet paper should ever be put into a privy. Baby wipes, tampons, pads, wet wipes, socks, etc. do not decompose in privies and will either be stuck in the privy forever or need to be packed out by the person maintaining the privy. Even wipes labeled as biodegradable or compostable do not compost in a privy, no matter what the packaging claims. Food trash thrown in privies can also attract wildlife, so it’s always best to pack out all trash to help keep wildlife, other hikers, and privy maintainers safe.

Cat Holes

Privies may not always be at hand when you need one on the Trail, and they might sometimes be closed by land managers for maintenance, repair, or closure orders. Sometimes the best course of action is to dispose of your poop in the woods using Leave No Trace principles by digging a cat hole; a small hole in the ground at least six inches deep that you poop in.

Below are some guidelines for dealing properly with poop, toilet paper and hygiene products in the backcountry.

Bury your poop away from the Trail

Leaving uncovered poop and toilet paper along the A.T. is not only gross — it’s a public health risk that could spread viruses and parasites (including coronavirus).

And be sure to actually bury it! Putting a large rock or log over your poop doesn’t properly cover it and chances are someone else will come along and try to pick up that same rock or log, especially in popular areas. Gross!

Bring a poo kit

Come prepared with 1) a trowel, 2) hand sanitizer, 3) toilet paper, and 4) plenty of disposable storage bags. This kit should come with you on every A.T. hike — from an afternoon stroll to a thru-hike.

Don’t pee near the Trail

You may walk away, but the smell lingers. Peeing near campsites, shelters and water sources is also a health risk for others.

Become a “cat hole” expert***

Burying your poop in a cat hole limits germ exposure and helps with poo decomposition. Cat holing for poop disposal may be used from Georgia to Maine except above tree line — see below.

Only poop and toilet paper should go in your cat hole

Baby wipes, tampons, pads, wet wipes, socks, food, etc. should always be packed out. Even materials labeled as biodegradable or compostable are not made to compost in a cat hole.

When in doubt, pack it out

Hiking above tree line? Don’t want to dig in the dirt? You can also carry “WAG bags,” which allow you to safely carry out and dispose of poop in a trash receptacle off-Trail.

***How to dig a proper cat hole:

  1. Go before it is an emergency. Digging a proper cat hole is much more difficult when the pressure is on. Don’t leave your food or gear unattended in bear country (aka, the whole A.T.) — bring everything with you.
  2. Get off the Trail: Walk at least 200 feet from the Trail and stay 200 feet from water sources to prevent contamination.
  3. Dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep and at least 5 inches wide, and save the dirt you dig out. You can measure the depth of your cat hole using two methods:
    • With your trowel: Many trowels have measurements on the side, while others are the same length as a properly-dug cat hole (see below).
    • With your hand: A properly-dug cat hole should be deep enough for your extended hand to fit in up to the wrist.
      Pro tip: make sure to do this before completing step 4.
  4. Do your business. All poop and used toilet paper go in the cat hole. DO NOT bury wet wipes or feminine hygiene products, as they don’t decompose — carry them out in the spare storage bag.
  5. Fill it in. Refill your cat hole with soil. If you don’t feel comfortable stepping on your filled cat hole to pack it down, then it is not deep enough.