There’s a definitive moment that marks a person’s departure from mere outdoor tourist to outdoorsman or outdoorswoman and that moment is when you’re willing to go number two in the woods and dig the hole yourself. Whether you’re making this move because you want to do rugged, dispersed camping instead of staying at manicured sites with vault toilets, or you’re getting into backpacking, you’re gonna need a good piece of equipment to dig that hole. Read on to discover which trowels are right for you and your adventures.
A Brief History of Going Number Two Outside
First and foremost, trowels have numerous functions and have been used by humans for thousands of year. Bricklayers, masons, gardeners, and even archaeologists use various types of trowels either for spreading materials or digging. The first trowel-like objects were used in Neolithic times by humanoids and were merely the shoulder bones of animals such as oxen, taken to dig holes for tents. The cathole trowel has been used by soldiers in war and is regularly used by backcountry hikers to ensure that they have as little impact on the environment as possible.
Leave No Trace Reminders
Before discussing how to choose the best trowel, it’s important to have a solid understanding of why a trowel is needed in the first place. Leave No Trace Principles are the code of ethics that avid outdoor enthusiasts live and die by because the principals are designed to minimize human impact on our environment during recreation. The seven principles are as follows:
- plan ahead and prepare
- travel and camp on durable surfaces
- dispose of waste properly
- leave what you find
- minimize campfire impacts
- respect wildlife
- be considerate of other visitors
For disposing of waste properly, the official Leave No Trace website has this to say:
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
A final word on Leave No Trace: Recently, rangers in our state and national parks have been increasingly frustrated with tourists and their lack of ethical outdoor waste disposal. As our wild places become more popular and more accessible to the masses, it becomes more imperative that we are good stewards of our land. This means following Leave No Trace principles to the letter every time so that people can enjoy the backcountry for generations to come.
Trowels for the Backcountry
I have two trowels: My backcountry hiking and camping trowel which is lightweight and small and my heavy-duty, metal trowel for dispersed camping trips which only goes with me if I’m driving in my 4-wheel drive vehicle.
When hiking, whether you’re a die-hard minimalist or not, you don’t want a trowel that is too heavy. You want something that is elegant, durable, and that gets the job done. Also, any piece of gear that is multi-purpose is a plus. The Vargo Dig-Dig Tool, for example, doubles as a cathole trowel and tent stake. Made from titanium, it only weighs 1.25 ounces and won’t break like many plastic trowels. The serrated edge makes digging or cutting through roots simple and could also be used to cut cordage, plastic, or light cloth in a bind. Also, anyone who has staked a tent knows that there’s always one rocky spot where you just can’t seem to pound in the flimsier stakes. Just use your Dig-Dig Tool and problem solved!
Other Uses for Your Trowel
Trowels really are multi-purpose in the backcountry and, depending on their size and durability, can be used for any of the following:
- Removing pesky rocks from the area where you’re trying to stake your tent
- Digging out your campfire
- Applying dirt to your campfire to make sure it’s properly smothered
Keeping Your Trowel in Good Condition
Generally, you should wipe down your trowel after every use. Leaving caked mud and grit on your gear is never the best practice. Also, if your trowl is made of metal, it’s important to store it in a dry place. I typically carry my trowel in a plastic ziploc bag and store it with other backcountry gear in a plastic container in my cool/dark garage.
Tips for Those Who Are Shy
Some of us are shy-poopers and that’s ok! If you’re not yet comfortable with bodily functions in the outdoors follow these tips:
- Instead of announcing to your hiking or camping party that you are off to dig a poop hole, simply say you want some alone time in the woods. Go for a short solo hike and then find a spot that works best for you.
- Camp or backcountry hike for the first time with people who are the same sex. It might be a little easier to dig a poop hole in front of your best gal-pals than in front of your boyfriend or guy-friends. Same goes for dudes.
- Bring organic aloe wipes so that you will feel clean and fresh afterward.
- Read the children’s book “Everyone Poops”. It might sound silly but it also might help you get over your shyness.
- Bring fiber supplements, probiotics, and prebiotics on backcountry hikes and camping trips. Being stopped up while you’re trying to hike mountains is terrible and painful! The easier it is for your body to do what is natural, the less issue you’ll have with doing your business when the time comes.