Catholes: Proper Disposal of Human Waste

Perhaps the most widely accepted method of backcountry human waste disposal is the cathole. The advantages are:

1. They are easy to dig in most areas.

2. They are easy to disguise after use.

3. They are private.

4. They disperse the waste rather than concentrate it to enhance decomposition. f It is usually easy to select a remote location where you can be certain no one is going to casually encounter the cathole.

Selecting a Cathole Site

1. Select a cathole site far from water sources; 200 feet (approximately 80 adult paces) is the recommended minimum range.

2. Select an inconspicuous site untraveled by people. Examples of cathole sites include thick undergrowth, near downed timber, or on gentle hillsides.

3. If camping with a group or if camping in the same place for more than one night, disperse the catholes over a wide area; don’t go to the same place twice.

4. Try to find a site with deep organic soil. This organic material contains organisms that will help decompose the feces. Organic soil is usually dark and rich in color. Refer to the jars used to demonstrate decomposition. The desert does not have as much organic soil as a forested area.

Digging a Cathole

1. A small garden trowel is the perfect tool for digging a cathole.

2. Dig the hole 6 to 8 inches deep (about the length of the trowel blade) and 4 to 6 inches in diameter. In a hot desert, human waste does not biodegrade easily because there is little organic soil to help break it down. In the desert, the cathole should be only 4 to 6 inches deep. This will allow the heat and sun to hasten the decay process.

3. When finished, fill the cathole with the original dirt and disguise it with native materials.

A Note About Urine

Urine does not hurt plants and soil directly. Sometimes, the salt in urine may attract wildlife. Animals can defoliate plants and dig up soil to get at the salts. It is best to urinate on rocks and in places that will not attract wildlife.