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Does a bear crap in the woods?
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Jeff Black
(thehikingdude) - F
Does a bear crap in the woods? on 04/04/2006 23:21:28 MDT Print View

Today's article states:

I am always surprised when I see my camping peers walk into the woods for their privacy time, and they bring along their toilet paper. Good grief, what kind of wilderness experience is that?

Mankind has been pooping in the woods since we climbed down out of the trees, and in historical time, toilet paper (TP) is a pretty recent invention. And, a huge percentage of our comrades on this planet have never even seen TP.

If you’re seeing this on a computer screen, you’re obviously a member of a privileged part of the world population, the part that has bathrooms. We live in a society with toilets and they’re all accompanied by a nice roll of TP. There’s nothing to think about, we do our little duty and wipe and flush. This is a delightful convenience we’ve created. But it’s separated us from what should be a very simple bit of outdoor know-how.

Why are so many campers so dependent on toilet paper? I would have to guess that they either haven’t used anything other than the store bought stuff on a roll or, they’ve had bad luck with their one-and-only time with natural wiping material.

I don't go for this myself. With this mindset I suppose we should hike into the wilderness with next to nothing. Maybe a spear, some fur for clothing, possibly some obsidian tools - but not much else. Or am I just not getting this?


Michael Freyman
(mfreyman) - MLife
... on 04/05/2006 15:42:06 MDT Print View

I read half the article and wish I could get that five minutes of my life back.

Brian James
(bjamesd) - F

Locale: South Coast of BC
sanitary technique on 04/05/2006 16:11:28 MDT Print View

The invention that has saved more human lives than all of medical science combined: the flush toilet. (Invented by Thomas J. Crapper, no less!)

One of the great inventions that has contributed to some cultures dominating others: the cotton gin. Why? Because people could start wearing underwear which is massively more sanitary than not wearing it.

With proper technique, I'm sure that "found" hygiene materials can be used as effectively as manufactured ones. But I think the article should have stated the risks more clearly; you are seriously playing with fire if you get fecal matter on your food-handlers (fingers) and are far from running water and abundant soap and scrubbing material.

It seems ironic to invest in complicated chemical mixtures to remove the *possibility* of 1 PPM beaver *BEEP* from clear water, and then go mess around rubbing your cornhole with your fingers.

/my 2 cents

Curtis Presson
(Obdewla_X) - F
Hey... wash your hands! on 04/05/2006 21:02:44 MDT Print View

I too spent more time than I should have on the article extolling the virtues of "Natural Butt-Wiping". Who knew that it's considered a lost art? I suppose you could rank it up there with the lost art of using a slide rule or a sun dial. Perhaps one day soon we'll see dried corn cobs in BPL's "New Gear" section. Until then I'll continue to carry my trusty roll... it hasn't failed me yet!

#2 on 04/05/2006 21:14:36 MDT Print View

Now come on boys that there article was funnier than a bear wearin' trousers. I for one appreciate a little perspective on my excremental adventures.

Mark Larson
(mlarson) - MLife

Locale: Southeast USA
Re: #2 on 04/05/2006 21:47:23 MDT Print View

Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. The wiping is only part of the issue. There are techniques for excretion that will give a cleaner yield. One must consider and master the deep squat, best-practice cheek spread, minimize filamental obstruction, achieve proper exit velocity... And even before that you have to consider proper diet for optimal density and viscosity.

Will there be a more 'technical' follow-up article? :)

Jeff Black
(thehikingdude) - F
No actual photos please on 04/05/2006 21:58:06 MDT Print View

Let's just hope the technical white Charmin paper doesn't include any 3D photos.

Glad to see I'm not the only one that thinks this is just a bit much.


Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
Re: Does a bear crap in the woods? on 04/05/2006 22:27:40 MDT Print View

I thought it was a useful article. Somebody's gonna run out of TP sometime, and I'm not sharing mine...

Jason Shaffer
(PA_Jay) - F

Locale: on the move....
bad ethics stink worse on 04/06/2006 03:59:13 MDT Print View

Yep, I thought this was a great article. With so many hikers married to their TP, I have a hard time believing it all gets packed out every time - be honest! Thats worse style than a 6lb tent. Also remember that NOLS instructors like Mike C. do long expeditions in sensitive wilderness areas, not weekenders on the AT. Many here can appreciate the logistics. Or maybe another few decades of yuppie butt-babying will have the Wind Rivers looking like a big Phish concert too.

Re: Re: Does a bear crap in the woods? on 04/06/2006 04:07:55 MDT Print View

Douglas, can you spare a square?

Jason Shaffer
(PA_Jay) - F

Locale: on the move....
Re: Re: Re: Does a bear crap in the woods? on 04/06/2006 04:16:09 MDT Print View

Here ya go Anon, I've got some moss leftover from that one. shake?

Mike Storesund
(mikes) - F
Re: Does a bear crap in the woods? on 04/06/2006 12:14:32 MDT Print View

I thought Mike C. made light of making a natural experience humerous. Come on now, you gotta laugh at the comfort level of Poison Ivy versus Snow. Although Snow might tend to shink some things ;O) This also gives an entirely new definition of “rock skipping”

Mark L. also adds some insight, while it may have been intended to be humerous, there is real evidence that eating proper foods will help with a less messy excretion. I know that Ray Jardine goes into this at length in his “Beyond Backpacking” book... so if you are looking for a more 'technical' follow-up, I might suggest there. No sense re-inventing the wheel.

Edited by mikes on 04/06/2006 12:15:13 MDT.

(Jutt77) - F
Re: Does a bear crap in the woods? on 04/07/2006 00:03:46 MDT Print View

Yeah the weirdness of the article kind of reminded me of the naked 70's chicks on the Stephenson website...entertaining but what's the point?

Edited by Jutt77 on 04/07/2006 00:04:57 MDT.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Re: Does a bear crap in the woods? on 04/07/2006 03:28:08 MDT Print View

>>"what's the point?"

Good question.

The point?

How's the following scenario. Three or four days out, so three or four days back to civilization.

Bad hygiene from a trekking bud who plays "Cookie" on the first night out and makes dinner for the entire party and we all get the runs - except "Cookie" - he's just a "carrier" and has some immunity. My UL load of TP, precisely numbered and counted square-by-square, is now exhausted as are my trekking mates.

What to do? Call for a medevac? Nah, would never be able to live it down since there's plenty of water sources and dehydration isn't a problem.


ah...those great illustrations in the BPL article stick with me (partly due to the humor which enhances, in most cases, memory retention of the information so presented) and i defoliate the forest on my return trip to civilization and one of man's greatest inventions, flush toilets.

Edited by pj on 04/07/2006 03:29:05 MDT.

William Wright
Re: Does a bear crap in the woods? on 04/08/2006 21:35:49 MDT Print View

I'll be thinking twice before picking up any rock in the wilderness again.

Anyone who's spent any significant time outdoors has been caught in a situation of needing to evacuate in the absence of paper. For sane individuals, such experiences reinforce the need for emergency planning to make sure the necessary papers are always available. As Boy Scouts say, Be Prepared.

I shall continue to carry toilet paper into the great outdoors. I'm certainly not concerned about it's proper use causing a significant adverse environmental impact. Flimsy fecal-coated paper that is buried within the bioactive layer of soil is going to degrade rather rapidly. Also, I recall a study done in Montana about a quarter of a century ago on the effect of banning human activity in watersheds serving as municipal water sources. The idea of such bans is that humans would foul the water source--e.g., by urinating or defecating in it, or strewing fish or wildlife guts in it. Surprisingly, it was found that banning human activity increased the level of fecal coliform bacteria in the water source streams. Why? Because most people don't defecate near or in the water, but animals have no qualms in doing so. Given that trails usually run parallel to streams, human activity tends to reduce the amount of time animals spend in and near the streams, thus enhancing water quality.

Edited by FarStar on 04/09/2006 10:25:59 MDT.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Re: Does a bear crap in the woods? on 04/09/2006 03:52:03 MDT Print View

William, I too always carry more than enough TP. It's like insurance; you have it, but hope you never need to use it.

The example I gave of square counting is one that I do NOT do, but I know from some of the gearlists of the demi-gods of the UL movement that they actually do count squares. More power to them. I'm not sure my bowels are that predictable. In fact, having lived with them for over 50yrs, I know that they are not that predictable. GORP can have that effect. Must be old age.

I get TP from the Montbell website. It's supposed to degrade very quickly compared to the brands of TP used at home. Pretty expensive for TP though, but then it's not a daily use item unless one were to go on a lengthy Thru-Hike.

Good point on picking up a rock. I'm gonna' have to look a little more carefully at them me-self. Perhaps the little magnifying glass I carry for tick ID, sliver removal, and fire starting, will now do quadruple duty as rock inspector.

Thanks for sharing the results of that study. The side-effect of human presence caught me by surprise. Who ever would have that animals would try to steer clear of humans - that's known to all, but who ever would of this side-effect, i.e. improved water quality; but, it stands to reason using 20-20 hindsight.

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
Bears do it, bees do it , even finicky TP users do it on 04/09/2006 10:41:44 MDT Print View

Some of the dainty, less than open minds on this thread remind me of the resistance many people had ( and is still to be found) to the concept of UL backpacking, clean (now trad) climbing, and the idea of packing your fecal coated tp paper out of alpine areas-- places where the biolayer is thin to non-existant and where you can easily find last year's (and the year before the year before that) tp strewn about.

Get a clue, wilderness users!

Edited by kdesign on 04/09/2006 10:44:49 MDT.

cary bertoncini
(cbert) - F

Locale: N. California
can't believe you said "hindsight" on 04/09/2006 10:52:09 MDT Print View

at the end of your post Paul! Quite a bomb to drop, don't you think?

William Wright
Re: Bears do it, bees do it , even finicky TP users do it on 04/09/2006 11:22:12 MDT Print View


I'm all for keeping my mind open--just not so open that my brain falls out.

If you're seeing TP strewn about the surface, you're seeing the results of improper wilderness defecation. In alpine areas where the biolayer is permanently frosty, alternative methods are called for, but wiping with snow or rocks or anything else doesn't solve the problem. Use of TP and backing it out is the solution. I'd rather stumble upon last year's doodie marked with as-yet-nondegraded TP than stumble upon last year's doodie unknowingly coating the surface of some rocks I might opt to pick up or sit on.

I understand if you want to scale Mt. Rainier you must not only refrain from leaving behind any finless brown trout gasping for air on the surface of the glaciers, you must also not leave behind any yellow snow. Thus, you not only get to pack out your TP, you get to pack out everything you excrete.

Edited by FarStar on 04/09/2006 17:54:05 MDT.

Jason Shaffer
(PA_Jay) - F

Locale: on the move....
Re: Re: Bears do it, bees do it , even finicky TP users do it on 04/09/2006 12:21:10 MDT Print View

All the above comments concerning prohibiting human waste, and/or packing out waste, in this context are serving only to distort the issue. No one does this unless the area in question requires it, in which case the topic ceases to be debatable at all. The real topic at hand does not equip us to debate the appropriate application of land management legislation.

Worries about a rock coated with last year’s defecation are absurd. All waste disposal (fecal matter, also gray water, soapy water, etc) should occur at the very least 200ft from camp, trails, water sources, and other prominent landmarks, making the potential for encounters statistically ridiculous. Animals exercise no such discretion near the areas a hiker is far more likely to contact, esp coyotes, foxes and other predators who intentionally defecate along well-traveled routes and landmarks. Weigh the odds realistically, friends. The rocks in question would be smaller than a human fist, and anyway become thoroughly weather-scoured within days. (There is a reason why many wilderness surface areas are practically sterile, compared to those IN YOUR OWN BATHROOM, for instance.) Unless you’re rummaging for crap-rocks all day, the occasional bear-bagging rock, guyline anchor, or rest-stop seat will be of zero consequence -- if you use your head and wash your hands.

Bottom line: if you're going to backpack, then study LNT from a reputable source. The piecing together of one’s own confused ‘philosophy’ on the subject is no responsible substitute.

Get a clue, wilderness users!