Best practices in the outdoors are always evolving, along with the way we use the land and our understanding of our impact. So is it time that we start packing out every poo we do in the bush?

A trowel is your trusted friend in times of need, until it’s not. A snapped trowel, one that won’t quite break the rock or dirt mixture near camp to get you the recommended 15cm deep into the ground, or a frosty morning, can have you dancing around when nature calls.


Long Live the Poo Tube! – Why It Might Be Time We Start Packing Out All of Our Turds, tim ashelford


There’s an alternative to digging catholes to do our business in, but as a species that doesn’t have much experience dealing with our own waste, it may be confronting to think about packing out our number 2s.


Long Live the Poo Tube! – Why It Might Be Time We Start Packing Out All of Our Turds, tim ashelford


But there’s also no doubt that more and more people are heading out and embracing the outdoors. How does this affect hiking hygiene? Can the environment really process all of our poos? Of course stumbling upon human faeces is unsightly, but what are the environmental impacts on these ecosystems? Let’s dive in.

Is burying our waste as effective as we think it is?

I asked Celsey, an Environmental Project Officer with the Victoria Government, what her thoughts were on traditional waste disposal. She pretty quickly explained the negative impacts catholes can have on outdoor places.

Human faeces consist of pathogens, high concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen, and sometimes microscopic plastic particles. What we often don’t consider with catholes is how when human waste is buried in the soil (regardless of how deep it is buried), these fragments will leach into the soil, and eventually into waterways.


aidan howes, how to poo in the bush, illustration, list, leave no trace, pack it out

Is it time we start retiring this friendly little scenario?


The decomposition process is also important to understand when we bury human waste. Once we place it beyond the ground, we likely won’t think about it again. But the environment sure does, estimates state that it takes approximately a year for human waste to fully decompose, with colder climates prolonging the decomposition process for catholes.

During that decomposition process, these fragments have the potential to introduce and spread exotic plant species to sensitive areas, and this can already be observed around regularly used campsites. Little campsite critters also get involved in this process of spreading diseases at an accelerated pace when they unintentionally dig up the faeces.

Key takeaways are that not only do high volumes of buried faecal matter cause environmental impacts via soil leaching, but it can also contaminate valuable drinking water and make trail users very sick – not an ideal situation when your journey back to civilisation could take a few days.


Read more: Our original How To Poo In The Bush piece was written way back in 2017!


The Magic and Majesty of Mutawintji National Park, Craig Pearce, gorge, man, waterhole

Please don’t poo here, photo by Craig Pearce

‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’ Isn’t Cutting It Anymore

Given the increasing number of people heading into the backcountry, there’s sufficient evidence indicating that burying our waste is an outdated and rather inefficient way to deal with it.  Especially if our goal is to avoid polluting waterways, minimise the risk of spreading disease, and quickly breaking down the waste.

State Parks & Wildlife Service’s budgets only go so far in maintaining our parks and reserves, they can’t put toilets in everywhere, so how can we as adventurers become more responsible for managing our waste in new ways? Outdoor etiquette is changing, and the best way to leave no trace might actually be leaving no trace, but how hard is it, and is it really necessary?

I’ve Seen The Problem Develop First-Hand in Tasmania

Over the three years that I’ve been in Tasmania I’ve personally seen this problem develop. We’re incredibly lucky to have 51% of the state’s land dedicated to national parks and reserves, which gives us adventurers a massive playground, but even we haven’t been able to escape the issue.

Although many of the more popular areas have some form of a toilet system for day hikes, many areas further from civilisation don’t have these facilities. Lake Rhona is a great example of this – a relatively accessible hike that boomed in popularity over the last few years, meant large numbers of people were coming through to this alpine lake and doing their business wherever. You couldn’t walk along the beach without noticing toilet paper in close proximity to the lake that many people swim in and rely on for drinking water.


Lake Rhona is a Beach Escape in the Tassie Wilderness, Lauren McMahon, mountain, beach, lake, camping, tents

Lake Rhona | @lauren_m_mac


A friend of mine, recognising the issue, opted for a Backcountry Cuisine meal packet as her DIY pack-it-out option. Dehydrated food packets are resealable and opaque, a great option when in a pinch! There has since been a composting toilet added to the area to accommodate the number of people heading here, but this just won’t be the case for every walk we want to experience (especially if we’re trying to preserve its natural state).

Another option, loved particularly by gatekeepers, is to keep spots on the down-low, restrict numbers and generally make it harder to access these places. This only postpones the issue, it’s not a solution. But changing the culture and educating outdoor enthusiasts on packing out our poo, that might be.

Many Outdoorsy People Are Already Doing This

It might sound shocking, but many people already are ‘packing it out’ and have been for a while.

Back in 2017, Jess was on a 10 day, 13-person unsupported rafting trip down the Franklin River. The group made the decision that they would pack their food in and pack their poo out so they didn’t contaminate the pristine river. When needing to use the loo, they’d quickly take off all of their paddling gear and head to higher ground, away from the river, to do their business.

How did they manage all that waste? Compost bags, and a contraption called a Groover. A Groover can best be compared to a thin treasure chest, lined with a thicker compostable bag that’s sealed up each day. As we know, going to the loo can be a bit taboo, regardless of how natural it is, but this group rid any unwary feeling associated with solid waste. At first, members from the group would discreetly hide their individual poo bag crafted out of a compostable bag, in a pocket or behind their back for the trek back to Groover, but by day three, they each were holding their bags with pride, even comparing mass as they embraced one of the most natural aspects of life.

Whether you get to this comfort level with your friends or not while out on a trip, keep in mind that if this crew could strip all of their paddle gear off and do the right thing, you probably can on your local trails too. Jess mentioned that, although uncomfortable at first, packing out their waste ensured that the camp spots along the Franklin remained pristine and not disrupted by the sight of human waste or trowel holes. Post trip, the group emptied the Groover into the Strahan dump point and said sayonara to their Franklin River bush poos.

If you are planning a longer trip like this, contact the Operations department of the local council and see what they recommend for disposal of excrement.


A Groover set up. Friends who groover together, stay together


WAE writer Kate Donald is another legend when it comes to all things outdoors. She’s been using the pack it out method for a while in her local area, including the Main Range in Kosciuszko National Park. This area is a remote alpine zone, so everything, including human waste, has to be packed out as standard. The area is covered in snow for many months of the year, and human waste that’s only buried in the snow becomes very apparent once the temperature warms and the snow melts, causing not only an unpleasant experience for other visitors, but also major impacts on the fragile area.

Kate’s preferred method is a compostable bag for the waste. She then adds this to a black dry sack before attaching it to the outside of her pack to avoid contamination for the remainder of her trip.

Pre-Covid, New Zealand’s Abel Tasman National Park used a combination of septic tanks and toilets that needed to be emptied, totalling 90,000 litres of sewage aboard a barge annually. I asked my mates that live in NZ and venture to Tongariro National Park for plenty of winter alpine trips about their set up and they were quick to recommend a poo pot. With crampons on their boots and their ice axes handy for these trips, adding a poo pot to their outdoor kit has become second nature high in the alpine with cold temperatures, frozen ground below many layers of snow.

Now that you get the basic pack it out principles and why we may be quickly in need of a shift towards this method, let’s look at how to DIY and make my favourite solution, a poo tube!

There’s been a major shift towards using pack-it-out options, particularly in sensitive alpine regions, or highly trafficked areas where the ground is becoming a minefield of human waste. Ultimately it’s unsightly, smelly, and devastating to the environment.


Friends that pack it out, Long Live the Poo Tube! – Why It Might Be Time We Start Packing Out All of Our Turds, tim ashelford that pack it out


Remember, I told you the initial reaction might be confronting… Carrying out your own poo may have plenty of objections, I know, but stay with me.

How To DIY and Make Your Own Poo Tube

Gather your fellow adventures and make your individual poo tubes in each other’s company. Friends that understand the impacts of human waste and both hold each other accountable to pack it out are surely friends for life.

Check out this video resource by Leave No Trace on how to create your own poo tube with PVC pipes. If you’d prefer to read a step by step process in a written format, Wikihow has you covered.

There are a few ways to go about getting your solid waste into the poo tube when using compostable bags. Hold your bag to catch the dropping while try to keep your balance, or open up the bag, lay it on the ground and go for gold before then tying it off and adding this into your poo tube. If neither of these seem feasible, do your business on the ground and then think about picking it up like a dog’s doo doo, place your hand in the compost bag, pick up the turd, flip the bag inside out and tie it off.

The Dry Bag Option

If you’re wanting a simpler process, think household compost bags in combination with a dedicated dry sack. Similarly to the previous option, take your pick on how you want to get your human waste into the compost bag, tie it off, then add into a dry sack. I highly recommend choosing a dry sack that’s a different colour than the rest of your dry sacks and label the outside of the bag. Just make it nice and clear, you don’t want to get this dry bag mixed up!


Long Live the Poo Tube! – Why It Might Be Time We Start Packing Out All of Our Turds, tim ashelford



Depending on the length of your trip and as such, how much waste you’ll be packing out, the size of the dry sack that you take may need to vary – just make sure it’s tough! You can even use old plastic containers or bottles, and use tape to cover up any clear sections. If this still doesn’t seem quite up your alley, look into a waste alleviation and gelling kit (WAG Bag). These bags are sanitary, safe, and address the environmental issues through a portable toilet solution that encapsulates, deodorises and breaks down waste with a NASA-developed gelling agent. These can then be disposed of as general waste. Nifty hey?


Long Live the Poo Tube! – Why It Might Be Time We Start Packing Out All of Our Turds, tim ashelford

Items to Have in Your Poo Kit


  • Poo Pots
  • If you’re in New Zealand, check in with your closest DoC Visitor Centre, many sell Poo Pots. These pots (essentially opaque jars) come with cornstarch bag liners, hand sanitiser and instructions for use


Oh Sh!t, I Forgot my Pack it Out Set-up: What can I use?

  • Dehydrated resealable bags
  • What did you pack your snacks in? If you used plastic bags, empty your snacks and then wrap this bag in duct tape (hopefully you have some in your first aid kit) to make an impromptu poo bag

These Times They Are A Changing

There are many more of us heading outdoors and using the loo. Rather than letting this become an unsightly and environmentally detrimental problem, let’s get on the front foot and start taking the initiative upon ourselves to keep the outdoors undisturbed.

Start talking to your friends that you head out with, talk to your parents, ask at visitor centres, or rangers you see along the trail. Every conversation you have will help make this a more commonplace conversation, increase education about the topic, and allow us to continue enjoying all of the natural places we venture off to.