Here all of you have been talking about catholes, digging catholes, and implements for digging catholes for months, and I missed it. Gotta be more vigilant.
Anyway, I can't resist some comments now that I found the thread.
First, I appreciate all the kind comments here and elsewhere from the many BPL'ers who use and approve my Original and Big Dig titanium trowels. Glad you like 'em so much. I'm still making them one at a time, by hand, in my basement. So if anyone was wondering, they are made in the USA. Go to QiWiz.net to order if you are so inclined.
You might ask yourself, what kind of trowel does Rob use? Well actually, I use a one-of-a-kind hybrid that's a little bigger than an Original and a little smaller than a Big Dig. Other than the size, it's made just like my other trowels. I have more than 1000 trail miles hiking with it, and it's still going strong. Here's a photo:
OK, enough on my gear. Now for some comments about the issue of backcountry human waste disposal. Yes, I mean POUP! We can also euphemistically call these "deposits".
Implements: Whatever works for you to dig your cathole is not important. So if you find that your boot heel or a stick does the job, or a plastic trowel, or a tent stake, that is just fine. In my experience in the Eastern and Western USA, I frequently encounter soils that I could not possibly excavate with my shoe or a stick in any reasonable period of time. I also tried and broke numerous plastic trowels, which was one of the reasons I developed my own tougher titanium trowel. Even a sturdy, heavy, garden trowel that works well in most soils does not work well in dense grassy turf. For that you need a much thinner sharper option, like mine. A tent stake, especially if sharpened, can be good at loosening soil in your cathole, but in my experience takes much longer to dig with because (unless you use your hands), you need something wider to scoop the loosened soil out of your hole.
Advanced Cathole Techniques: In digging a cathole, the whole point of it is to help your waste decompose as quickly as possible, and not contaminate water sources, the trail, or a campsite. So site selection is important. Hence the recommendation to be 200 feet (70 big steps) from water, trail, and campsite. The advice to dig 6 inches down is sound in forest duff with a deep layer of organic biologically active soil. Where topsoil is thinner, you still want to make your deposit in, and mix it well with this biologically active layer, so this may mean adjusting your cathole depth. Deposits made in mineral soil will take much longer to decompose. TP, if you use it, should either be mixed really well with your deposit, water, and soil or packed out. To do this, use a stick, or even a longish rock, not your trowel. This will result in better and faster decomposition. This technique is known as making POUP SOUP, and the full recipe is included with every one of my trowels.
What about the rock-moving method? I've certainly had to go in an area with little or no biologically active soil around, and just rocks from the size of big sand grains up to big boulders. In this situation, moving a rock to create a hole to put your deposit into is sometimes the best you can do, but I would always try to see if I had a better option. Usually you can at least find a bit of biologically active soil to mix in to your hole, or dig further down after the rock is moved, or something of that nature.