Outdoor toilet tips

Author: Marian Jones, Area Ranger

The Lake District is a favourite destination for many around the UK and the world. Heading to the hills, getting out camping or just going for a picnic in a scenic spot, there's so much you can do in the National Park. But what do you do when you really need the toilet and there just isn’t one available? You might think that the occasional alfresco poo is ok, but it takes twelve months to biodegrade and with 19 million people visiting the Lake District each year, it could create a smelly problem.

Human waste carries all sorts of parasites, diseases and bacteria like E.coli and salmonella which cause gut infections. It can contaminate crops, infect livestock and ultimately end up in the rivers, lakes and tarns. We’re in danger of destroying the very thing we cherish, but with a little preparation you don’t have to leave a pile of stinky unpleasantness for the next person to stumble across.

Where possible, use the facilities available.  Before heading out, check the website for information about which carparks have public toilets and whether they are open.

Otherwise, consider using a ‘Go Anywhere Waste Kit bag’ or ‘WAG bag’ so that you absolutely leave no trace. These biodegradable waste kits are affordable and available online or from some outdoor shops in the National Park. The kit includes paper, hand wipes and a large, secure bag for the waste, complete with liquid absorbing, deodorising crystals. You do your business in the bag, securely seal it up then put it in the bin at the end of your trip. Sounds unpleasant, but they’re very easy and clean to use and this is the most responsible thing to do if you can’t use a proper loo. Keep some in the car or your bag for emergencies.


The next best thing is to assemble a ‘poo kit’ ready to use when you need it. You will need a trowel, some toilet roll, a couple of sealable freezer bags and hand sanitiser. Carry the kit with you on your walk or camping trip. Try not to wait until you are desperate before you decide to use it, as you’ll need a bit of time to follow these steps:

  1. Avoid fell tops and rocky terrain. The soil here is thin and the phosphates in your faeces will have a big impact on the fragile ecosystem. Plus, in the colder climate it will take longer to biodegrade than if you go further down the hill.
  2. Go at least 30 metres away from paths and water. Stay out of outbuildings, caves and tunnels and don’t go at the foot of large boulders or rock faces – the climbers won’t thank you.
  3. Use the trowel to dig a hole 15 – 20cm deep, then bury your waste. This will help it biodegrade faster than leaving it out in the open or hiding it with some stones. But, please do not bury toilet paper, tampons or sanitary towels, these won’t rot away and animals will just dig them up. Do not try and burn them either as this could be a fire risk.  Put these items in one of the bags and take it away with you.
  4. Don’t wash your hands in a stream or other water-body as this will rinse the bacteria directly into the water system. Use hand-sanitiser or pour bottled water onto your hands well away from natural water sources.

Careful about ticks

Ticks can carry Lyme disease, they lurk in the bracken and long vegetation waiting for their next host to come along. Don’t use leaves as natural toilet paper – ticks love warm crevices! If you’ve just finished going to the toilet outdoors then it’s better to drip dry if possible. Check yourself for ticks when you get home or before bed.

Leave No Trace

Needless to say, the ‘leave no trace’ advice is the same for nappies and dog poo, too. Nappies don’t biodegrade at all and dog poo also carries parasites which are a health risk to people and animals.

Help care for our special places. Follow these steps and the volunteers, rangers, farmers, residents and other visitors will thank you.