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How not to pee in your boots, packing it out, and other lessons for going in the woods

A remote toilet on a hiking trail near Mount Baker.
Geoffrey Redick
A remote toilet on a hiking trail near Mount Baker.

This story originally aired on June 8, 2019.

In 1989, a young woman named Kathleen Meyer published a book called "How to Shit in the Woods."

For a book whose name can't be said on the radio, it has done very well. The book is now in its third edition, with 2.5 million copies sold. Meyer says it has been found on a coffee table in a nunnery, at a bed and breakfast in Scotland, and in the library at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. 

Kathleen Meyer's book how to shit in the woods
Kathleen Meyer's book.

Meyer says she felt the book was needed because increasing population meant increasing stress on outdoor areas — leading to unsightly and unsanitary dumps of toilet paper and human waste all over the backcountry. She wanted people to know how to go outdoors in a way that avoids spreading disease, maximizes decomposition, and leaves nature unspoiled.

In this interview, Meyer offers a few tips on how to relieve oneself when a toilet is far away, including how to dig the most ecological hole, how to make sure it decomposes quickly, and how to make pooping in the woods an enjoyable part of the hike.

She also shares her method for peeing in the woods without splattering her feet. "I finally discovered that if I was sitting on a rock or a log and then I had another rock or a log that I could put my feet up on, then I wasn't watering my shoes," Meyer said. "But that took me a couple years to figure out!"

Check out some of the products mentioned in this interview, and learn more tips for packing it out here.  

Posey Gruener is a former KNKX producer who worked on All Things Considered and Sound Effect.