I saw this article recently. I also know that human solid (not sure about liquid) waste is collected in buckets on river trips down the Grand Canyon.

What are some basic guidelines for determining when it is not okay to leave feces behind as they may pose a sanitary hazard and disturb the ecosystem equilibrium?

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    People on Everest should be packing out their poo, but it's such a harsh environment that even just packing yourself off the mountain is a difficult task. I imagine that soon enough there will be stricter regulations about it.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 22:53
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    Poo is the least of the problems on Everest, there's hundreds of kilo's of rubbish and oxygen cylinders on that mountain. The amount and type of people climbing Everest has been a problem for years and it's only getting worse.
    – user2766
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 14:01
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    @Liam - Poo is the biggest health problem, you aren't going to get sick and die on Everest because of spent 02 tanks, fuel canisters and food wrappers. There are organizations that have been packing trash off Everest for a while now (see savingmounteverest.org). You are right though, it's becoming a bigger problem, but Westerners pay big bucks to have a guide take them to the summit of Everest, tourism is actually Nepal's #1 industry, it generates more revenue than anything else in that country. They can't afford to not let people climb Everest.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 18:18

2 Answers 2


Leave no Trace

The basic guideline is do not leave your feces anywhere that it can be discovered or uncovered in the future.

As far as upsetting the ecosystem equilibrium, good luck with that, there are much bigger things than you in the woods are that are indiscriminately defecating on the ground and in watercourses. It's less of a sanitary hazard to the environment than it is to other human beings.

When disposing of your human waste in nature it's important to consider how frequently the area you're in is traveled, and whether or not your waste will break down where you leave it, or affect near by water sources.

In areas where lots of people visit regularly, it's unethical to leave your gastointestinally processed meals on the side of the trail or anywhere someone might step in it, see it, or smell it, or worse–ingest it by drinking from a violated water source. Specific rules may differ region to region, but always be considerate when toileting in the woods, if you have no other option, bury your business a good 60m away from any watercourses, trails, or gathering areas.

Mountaineers spent a lot of time in harsh climates (alpine, desert, arctic) where your waste is more likely to be preserved than it is to break down. In these areas, your petrified protein-rich poo could linger for years, and it's necessary to carry it out (or find a deep crevasse to drop it in–in places where it's still acceptable to do that). Visiting these areas requires planning on how to dispose of your waste prior to your excursion. Rock climbers will pack a wag bag, biffybag, or poop tube, appropriately sized for the length of their climb, and also plot out waste disposal sites where they can "lighten their load" (dumpster or outhouse at camp site they plan on passing by).

The biggest concern with human feces is exactly what that article you linked to was pointing out, that having too many people visiting an area, and not regulating their bowel placements, will eventually leave a place unfit for humans to visit. For the sake of preserving the beauty of nature so that many more people may enjoy it just as much as you have, leave it as natural as you found it, and leave no trace.

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    Camping rule #1 Leave it better than you found it.
    – Mazura
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 4:15
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    I follow these ethics (bury far from trail) when I backpack, but I also backpack in many places where horses are allowed on the trails, and giant piles of horse crap are visible for miles. Which gets me thinking: why is horse crap OK but the human version isn't? Horses are wild animals (or domesticated at least), but so are we to some extent. Poop is poop, isn't it? I agree that human crap all over trail would be bothersome (as is the horse crap I see), but human waste left far from trail unburied seems maybe not any worse than a wild animal's? Still, I bury mine.
    – The111
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 7:52
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    Horse poop is hugely less likely to be a risk to human health than human poop since they're highly unlikely to carry human pathogens. Horse droppings are also more nutritionally useful to a range of animal species since horses are not ruminants they pass a large amount of still-digestable material. Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 9:35
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    @The111 - The difference is that we've been growing our food out of horse poop for thousands of years, and continue to use it to fertilize our fields and gardens. Whereas human poop has been the cause of more plagues than anything else. Lots of predators instinctively bury or cover their poop, which gives me reason to believe that there's an evolutionary advantage to that behaviour. If you're a fan of human geography, you'll notice that the highest death rates on earth are in countries with poor sanitation.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 16:25
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    @The111 - Sewage and waste management is the primary reason that human beings are able to live and thrive in large populations. Take a look at what London England was like before they finally engineered a proper sewer system.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 16:29

The only time I'm aware when you shouldn't leave feces behind is near bodies of water (within 200 yards of a body of water), which is why the feces are packed out of the Grand Canyon. (This is taking things too far in my personal opinion.)

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    Considering the number of people that visit the grand canyon, I don't think it's taking things too far.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 18:28

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