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Because of the intimacy and comfort of the modern toilets we are used to, this is a difficult subject to tackle... especially when it comes to the terminology! But let's not kid ourselves, this is part of the natural course of life, and every hiker has already been or will be confronted with this problem.
WE WILL THEREFORE TRY TO SHED SOME LIGHT ON THIS UNIVERSAL PROBLEM: HOW TO RELIEVE YOURSELF IN AN ECO-FRIENDLY WAY?
Let's not beat about the bush, it's a basic observation: we don't like other people's poo! It is all the more taboo in our modern societies with their shiny (or even connected) toilets.
So when the piles of toilet paper overrun the trails, on which we have come to find peace and quiet, it is like a cold shower!
While this problem is not often addressed here, it is more common in the United States, for example, where the big parks suffer from overcrowding. The major problem arises because of the high concentration of people on a particular site.
Human excrement takes at least one year to decompose.
This mark varies significantly over time and depends on the nature of the soil, the exposure to the elements, and the animal and bacterial population, etc.
20 years ago, the only question you would ask yourself before drinking water from a stream was whether there was a herd grazing upstream. The risk being that a lost sheep could have fallen into the stream and its carcass could have contaminated the water...
Today, new diseases are emerging or spreading. An example of this is giardia: infection from the eponymous parasite which spreads by faecal/oral transmission. Contamination is easily prevented by careful hand washing. In nature, the problem is that the water can be contaminated: in lake or river water, parasites can survive for several months!
When we relieve ourselves in the middle of nature, the rainwater run-off can therefore carry bacteria from our ad hoc toilets to the streams! (This problem does not occur with urine, which is sterile – except in rare cases of bladder disease – and evaporates easily.) This is also a problem for those people who live at altitude and collect spring water for their homes. During thunderstorms, the cow "dung" can get carried away by the heavy rain towards the streams, in which case they need a supply of mineral water.
To avoid these aesthetic and sanitary issues, here are some steps to follow. First of all, let's keep in mind that the easiest solution for us will certainly be the toughest for the earth.
We recommend that you always keep at least 50 metres from rivers when nature calls.
Ideally you need to dig a "cat hole" (with your foot, a stone or a small retractable shovel). There is no point in digging deep: the most effective enzymes for decomposing excrement are found in the top 25 cm of soil.
THE PAPER ISSUE: be careful not to burn it! This was the advice that used to be given, but it is now banned because of the rise in forest fires. And, of course, remember to use eco-friendly toilet paper (or paper for septic tanks which will decompose more quickly).
Bear in mind that mixing everything together will accelerate the decomposition process. And because it's best to teach children the habit as early as possible, finding a suitable stick can become a game.
Do not wash your hands in a river. Instead, use some hydro-alcoholic gel.
If you are staying several days in the same place, you should know that the method of digging communal latrines makes the excrement more difficult to eliminate, because of the quantity.
Some will opt for the "take it all" strategy and use special containers. In this case, here are three words of advice:
Test it beforehand using water to check the seal. Use steel and aluminium, which is easier to clean and which will cope with exposure to the sun better (without going into details, the decomposition process produces ethane which can cause "explosions"). However, they are not so good at retaining odours. Finally, take everything with you and do not wash your containers in the surrounding rivers or lakes.
Before concluding, let's mention a final hazard. ~
When nature calls, we are often in a hurry for fear that some other walkers will pass by. However, take time to check that there are no stinging plants in the vicinity.
In France we are lucky, nettle stings don't last too long, however those who travel the world come back with stories of unpleasant experiences getting stung by plants or insects of a more exotic nature.
And conversely, just as the environment can pose a threat to our buttocks, we can also pose a threat to it. Be careful not to trample on anthills or other burrows in your haste to find your toilet.
To explore this inexhaustible source of discussion, I recommend Kathleen Meyer's guide: "How to shit in the woods". A very complete book that deals with such topics as the diets you need to follow, techniques that use "no toilet paper", as well as the particular case of treks or menstruation in outdoor environments.
Despite all these precautions, going to the toilet in the woods will always be more enjoyable than searching for a clean public toilet in the city! And one well-informed hiker is worth two;)