Skills & Techniques

Group Poop: How to Dig a Latrine to Dispose of Human Waste in a Large Group

Guest - June 18, 2018

Boulder, CO: Whether you’re in a scout troop, trail crew, outdoor club, summer camp, or any other large group spending time in the outdoors, disposing of human waste properly is one of the most critical elements of your trip. Human waste contains harmful pathogens that risk polluting our water sources and spreading diseases to insect, rodents, and other humans visiting the area. If you’re in a large group and away from developed restrooms, you’ll need to dig a latrine to properly dispose of your human waste.


Though catholes are recommended for most situations, there are times when latrines may be more applicable, such as when camping with a large group, with young children, or if staying in one camp for longer than a few nights. 


  • Select a latrine site 200 feet (approximately 70 adult paces) away from all water sources.
  • Select an inconspicuous site untraveled by people. Examples of latrine sites include thick undergrowth, near downed timber, or on gentle hillsides.
  • Try to find a site with deep organic soil. This organic matter contains organisms which will help decompose the feces. (Organic soil is usually dark and rich in color.)
  • If possible, locate your latrine where it will receive maximum sunlight. The heat from the sun will aid decomposition.
  • Choose an elevated site where water would not normally go during runoff or rain storms. The idea here is to keep the feces out of water. Over time, the decomposing feces will percolate into the soil before reaching water sources.


  • A small garden trowel is the perfect tool for digging a latrine. You can find trowels specifically for digging catholes and latrines (like these) at any backpacking gear store.
  • Dig the hole 6-8 inches deep (about the length of the trowel blade) and 4-6 inches wide and 12 inches long or more, depending on your group size or night’s stay.
  • Each person will use the latrine when they have to go. After using, each person will cover their part of the latrine in with dirt to disguise their waste and begin the decomposition process.
  • Toilet paper should be packed out in a bag (we use a ziploc covered in duct-tape).


  • Use an identifier like a long stick or trekking pole to notify bathroom-goers if the bathroom is open or closed. This helps your group feel comfortable that they won’t get walked-in on while using the latrine.
  • Designate everyone a “poop-buddy” who will help wash each other’s hands before dipping into the chip bag or touching shared group items.
  • Have the poop talk with your group and share with them why it’s important to dig and use the latrine, and why it’s important to pack out toilet paper. Our society’s aversion to talking about human waste means impacts in the outdoors are adding up!

Enjoy Your World. Leave No Trace.

Leave No Trace’s Donielle Stevens and Aaron Hussmann are part of the 2018 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, REI, Eagles Nest Outfitters, Deuter, Thule, Taxa, and Klean Kanteen. 

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