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One of the things every parent dreads hearing on a hike is to have one of their adorable children announce, “Mommy, I need to poop!” It’s especially inconvenient when it’s mid-hike, in the middle of the woods and with the nearest restroom a half mile or more out.

That’s when this mama loses her crazy.

It’s a natural bodily function, but still not a welcomed inconvenience on the trails. For most adults, it’s easier to convince the inner goings-on of our body to sometimes stay put. But for kids, unfortunately, it’s not so easy to hold it in. And the younger they are, the harder it is to wish the urgency away.

At 4, my daughter perfected what she called “magic potty.” It was a mental game she played in which she convinced herself she didn’t need to go anymore. It worked out really well for mom and dad; but now at 10, mental potty games are a thing of the past.

Then there’s the 4-year-old. Who drags his feet. And makes the hikes take longer than they should. There’s no way to convince him to hold anything in. He’s urinated in national parks more times than I can count. So when he needs to poop, he needs to go. As a result, I’ve gained knowledge about wilderness survival I never planned to learn.

When you have to address those quick-I-gotta-go-right-now potty emergencies, there are a few things to know about relieving yourself while also observing “Leave No Trace” trail etiquette.


When I pack for hikes, I don’t just fill the kids’ bladders with water, count snacks enough for 3.5 people (the baby counts toward that .5) or make sure there are enough baby supplies, I also pack for a possible trail crisis from the older two. The things we keep on hand are toilet paper or napkins, zip lock bag (for the toilet paper), plastic shopping bag (for the zip lock bag) and hand sanitizer. We don’t do this, but if you have room in your pack, you can add a trowel for digging.


Search for a spot at least 200 feet away from the trail to do your business. When you stay a good distance from the trail, it ensures privacy for you so you don’t get stage fright when other hikers walk by. This also helps you avoid that really awkward moment if you run into them again on the trail. It also guarantees that hopefully no one accidentally steps on your gift to nature if they take a few steps off the trail. For kiddos, it’s easy to hide behind big rocks or downed trees while mommy or daddy keeps a lookout.


After you find a secret hiding spot (stay away from any water source to avoid run-off), it’s time to dig. If you don’t have a trowel, a sturdy stick makes a great substitute. Dig a hole at least 6”-8” in the ground then squat and drop. If you use toilet paper, store it in the zip lock bag and toss that in the trash bag to carry with you until you can properly dispose of it. If you had to grab the closest natural materials in lieu of toilet paper, add those to the hole and stir in some loose dirt to jumpstart the decomposition process before you completely fill in the hole. Then grab nearby leaves or rocks and cover the pile so it looks like part of the natural landscape. Finally, don’t forget to sanitize those hands like crazy.

No one can predict if a restroom emergency will occur on a hike – parents pray and cross fingers and toes that it won’t happen – but it’s a given that when hiking with little ones, you can expect the unexpected. But being equipped and ready can make the situation more manageable. As citizens and caretakers of the earth, it’s our dooty to respect nature and leave no trace behind and instill that same conviction and value in our children.


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