For some time this spring, I kept a pile of shit next to my desk. I'm not talking about the tax receipts and unfiled story notes that normally litter my office. I'm talking feces. My feces.
Amazingly, my shit didn't stink. Yeah, I know, we all say that, but in this case it's true because the pooh was encased in Restop 2 waste-disposal bags. I was researching a story for Backpacker's June issue about the increasing use of carry-it-out waste bags on public lands, and I decided to save a long weekend's worth of my own production to see how much space and weight it might occupy in a hiker's pack. For some reason, the squeamish editors at Backpacker cut this part of the story. For the record, the pile of pooh bags, like foil-wrapped burritos, weighed 23 ounces and filled less space than a stuffed down parka. Your production may vary.
Pooping in a bag and then, worse, putting the bag in your pack seems bizarre, and I don't know if it will catch on. It's a lot easier for us dog owners, who are already used to picking up crap. Truthfully, the Restop 2 bags are good at odor retention, though it's hard to get past that squishy feeling of the bags when the contents are fresh. WAG bags, the other "popular" brand, stink a bit more, but they are more compact and come with less packaging. Good on the front end, not so good on the back end. Both bags can safely be tossed in any garbage can after use.
As I reported in Backpacker, more land managers are looking at these bags to reduce the impact of backcountry travel, especially in spots where hikers tend to congregate but are not suitable for a traditional pit toilet. The bags are now all but required on Mt. Whitney, Paria Canyon, and other popular destinations, and rangers will be pushing their use this summer in Rocky Mountain National Park and Grand Teton National Park.
I'm sort of half sold. I can't see becoming a zealot on this—in remote settings the traditional cat hole still seems like the best method for human waste disposal. Yet I have started carrying a bag in my cragging pack. Every climber knows how disgusting the ground can be 25 feet from the base of a popular cliff. In high-use settings like these, carrying out your poop is just the right way to go.