What's the best way to dispose of human waste in coastal environments?

The absolute best way to dispose of human waste in costal environments is to pack the waste out using either a bag-type system or a reusable, washable toilet. Other options include using provided facilities – flush toilets, outhouses, privies, etc. – when available. If no other options are available consider using a cathole dug 6-8 inches deep at least 200 ft. from any water source.

What's best for managing pack stock at camp: pickets, highlines, portable electric fencing or hobbles?

While there is no one right answer, the Center encourages all stock users to inquire with the land management agency about the preferred method of managing stock in the areas they plan to visit. All four of these methods – pickets, highlines, portable electric fencing and hobbles – are acceptable for managing stock but the most appropriate method should be determined by the land management agency. Additionally, many areas have facilities built for managing stock in a backcountry and frontcountry campsites and points of interest. Where these exist, the Center recommends their use.

Will hanging my food in the Sierra's provide sufficient protection from bears?

Generally speaking, no. Bears in the Sierra’s (and other places) are quite crafty and have managed to obtain food from even the best bear bag hang. In many locations, bear-proof canisters are required by the land management agencies and should be used at all times to store food, trash and “smellables” such as sunscreen, bug repellent, toothpaste, etc. when in the backcountry. It is strongly recommended that you practice packing your food and smellables into the bear canister before your trip to ensure everything will fit.

Should you walk single file or spread out on cryptobiotic soils? Why?

In areas with cryptogam (cryptobiotic soil), it is vital to concentrate use on durable ground. Open expanses of rock, known as slickrock, and dry washes where no cryptobiotic soil crusts can grow, provide excellent minimum-impact travel corridors. Areas covered with dense leaf litter, such as found under pinyon and juniper trees, offer another durable surface for walking or camping. If you find yourself surrounded by cryptobiotic soil crusts, step directly in one another’s footprints as you move across the crusts to a more resistant travel path.

Is burning trash or used toilet paper OK?

We do not advocate burning toilet paper. Plan ahead to pack the toilet paper out—in a plastic bag—with you. This will leave the least impact on the area. Otherwise, use as little as possible and bury it deeply in the cathole. Attempts to burn toilet paper at the site are not recommended. It rarely burns completely, and has been the cause of wildfires. “Natural” toilet paper such as grass, sticks, and snow can be surprisingly effective, and should always be buried deeply in the hole. Always pack out feminine hygiene products because they decompose slowly and attract animals.

How do Go Anywhere (formerly Wag Bag) Restops, Biffy Bags and other systems like this work? Are these bad for the environment?

Generally speaking, bag-type systems for packing out human waste contain bags that are biodegradable. They are usually made with a blend of polymers and natural starches to break down in landfill conditions after 6-8 months, depending on conditions. There are generally two bags: one waste collection bag pre-loaded with a powder treatment used to contain the waste, and a heavy gauge bag to secure and transport waste. Most commercially available bags are approved for disposal with normal trash as group II non-hazardous waste.

What is an appropriate group size? What number does the Center recommend?

One of the primary arguments land managers use for limiting group size is that large groups have profound social impacts on other visitors. This impact can be mitigated by behavior. A courteous, well-behaved group can do wonders to minimize the potential negative issues associated with large groups. The Center recommends adhering to group size limits stipulated by the land management agency for the area you’re visiting. If the group size limit is 10, this means that your group should never congregate in a group larger than 10.

Why do I have to dispose of waste water/use the bathroom 200 feet from water?

The primary objective for disposing of human waste and/or wastewater (dish water, toothpaste, etc.) a minimum of 200 ft from water. is to minimize the impact to water sources. Water is a precious resource and recreationists should take every reasonable precaution to protect the quality of all water sources. In most environments, when wastewater is deposited on the ground, it is filtered through the organic material and vegetation before entering the soil. This process helps lessen the impact to water sources. As for human waste, the 200 ft.

What's the deal with packing out human waste?

The idea of packing out your human waste can be fairly (to completely) unpalatable but there is no doubt that it leaves the least impact on the local environment of any other method of disposing of human waste. Packing waste out of sensitive, highly used areas is likely the only realistic option for minimizing the impact on the area. The Center encourages outdoor enthusiast to give some thought to the impact (human waste in particular) that they leave behind which will undoubtedly impact other people, water, wildlife or all of the above.

What are 5 simple things that every outdoor enthusiast could do that would help to minimize their overall impact on areas they visit?

1. Properly deal with human waste in the out-of-doors. Check local regulations to make sure that proper protocol is followed (catholes, pack out, etc.). Human waste can be a significant impact and should be dealt with appropriately.
2. Properly store food and trash from wildlife. The saying “a fed bear is a dead bear” is a good mantra but remember that smaller animals can be just as impacted by obtaining and developing a taste for human foods. Check local regulations to see what food/trash storage is preferred – bear canisters, bear bags, etc.

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