Pride is a well-dug cathole

By Kara Kieffer, PCTA P3 Hiker

The sun is cresting the horizon, the air is cool on your face as you take your first steps down the trail. And what is that in the distance? A white flower blooming in the harsh desert environment? The fluffy tail of a wild bunny? No, that sprig of white is simply some used toilet paper billowing in the breeze. Sadly, this is an increasingly common site as more people take on the PCT each year.

Well, we say “No more!”

No more white toilet paper flags of surrender flapping along the trail. No more “just this once” and “it’s only me” justifications. With just a few simple tips you, too, can become a master of bathroom-time disguise, not to mention a champion of Leave No Trace ethics. You have the power.

Of course, with great power comes great responsibility: the responsibility to keep dookie out of the water we’re all drinking, the responsibility to keep the trail looking beautiful, and the responsibility to keep animals from digging up poorly buried poops and chowing down on them.

Beyond responsibility, digging an amazing cathole should be a moment of pride for every hiker. A chance to show yourself (because hopefully the world will never see it) how much you care for the trail and your fellow hikers. Luckily, for all the import of properly disposing human waste, the solution is markedly simple.


Introducing: the noble “Cathole” and it’s sibling, “Pack Out Your Used Toilet Paper,” members of the “Dispose of Human Waste” family, second in line for the Leave No Trace throne behind “Don’t Start a Wildfire” — which we can all agree are important items. The cathole: a mere six to eight inches deep, 70 steps from water, trail, and camp. Packing out your TP, as simple as a sturdy Ziplock bag.

Here are tips to help you dig your best cathole yet, elevate your bathroom time experience, and keep the PCT pristine for future hikers.

  • Take some “you” time: Look, we get it, hiking can be hard, between keeping an eye on water reports and making sure you don’t eat all your Doritos in one sitting, there’s lots to keep on top of. So, use the distance from the trail, water, and campsites—200 feet, roughly 70 steps—to take a breather and re-center. This is your special time, enjoy it.
  • Be a proactive pooper: Are you someone who’s got to go as soon as the sun comes up? Consider digging your cathole the night before. That way there’s only one kind of pressure in the morning.
  • It’s more like dating than marriage: If your first dig site quickly proves to be hard soil or rocky, just move on. Even a few feet away the soil can be better for digging.
  • Where the sun does shine: If possible dig your cathole in an area with lots of sunlight that’s away from rocks and roots, this may promote faster decomposition of your left behinds.
  • Take one for the team: When it comes to caring for the PCT remember, we’re all aiming for the same goal. Packing out your TP helps keep the trail clean for everybody. Sure, it’s tempting to bury that paper and be done with it, but we know you’re a team player.

Yes, storing used TP can be challenging. Keep a dedicated space in your pack for your used wipes to ensure they don’t mingle with other items. If you don’t like looking at it, slap some duct tape on that ziploc bag—problem solved!


Kara Kieffer is one of the PCTA’s 2018 P3 hikers. For more of her writing, read her blog.

Kara Keiffer.