What is the 5-Star Backcountry Poop Rating Scale and Why You Should Use It

Whether you’re on your first day hike or your fiftieth multi-day backpacking trip, the need to drop trou for #2 is a possibility and nothing to be ashamed of. Some trails make it easy for you, offering backcountry privies of wildly varying conditions for grateful relief. Sometimes though, it’s just you and the trail (and probably that one friend who’s always up for an adventure, often your dog) when nature calls. And if it is your dog, don’t go taking lessons from them. Before we get into the rating system, we need to go over some guidelines. Some proper pooping protocol if you will. 

There’s a pretty simple flow chart to follow when the urge strikes. Assuming there is no bathroom nearby, we need to consider if we can walk 200 feet away from any water source (if you don’t have your tape measure handy, that’s about 70 big steps). If you cannot make it 200’ from a water source, then you gotta WAG bag it (think dog bags for humans – hey I guess our dog taught us something after all) and pack it out for proper disposal. If we are able to get 70 big steps away from any water source though, then we’re one big step closer to using the 5-star backcountry poop rating scale (5SBCPRS for short obviously). Next up on the flow chart, how’s the ground feel? Can you dig a hole? If not, it’s back to the WAG bag but if you CAN dig a hole, then a hole 4-6 inches deep is what you need. 

Once you’ve dug your hole, there’s a few techniques to help you go. I mean, we’re not going to just sit on the ground over the hole we just dug, right? We’re not animals, Brian. There are three main options here relative to where you dug your hole: the squat, the tree-sit, and the hold-n-hang. The squat is just as it sounds, squat over your hole and drop ‘er in. Some people pay good money for this experience (my squatty potty was a wedding gift, but someone paid for it!). The tree-sit is for those that probably participate in cross fit and could easily hide a sticker that says “Burn Quads Drop Deuces” between the ultra-marathon-distance stickers on their Subaru. It’s a wall-sit against a tree and not recommended if you think it’s going to take a while. The third option also includes a tree, but this time you’re hanging on for dear life while you lean back into proper dropping position. The only caveat to all of this is that if you’re in the desert, increase your cat hole depth to 6-8 inches deep.

At this point in your adventure, it’s possible that you’ve already attained the first star in our 5SBCPRS – Find comfortable positioning. If you’re uncomfortable while you go, you’re one star short of greatness. Urgency is the most common cause of not achieving the first star, so don’t delay looking for a prime location if your gastrointestinal tract starts playing “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble.” Another reason to give yourself enough time to find a prime location is for the second star – a nice view. Truthfully, it’s completely subjective and could be argued in just about any scenario, but I’m talking about the views that give Ralph Waldo Emerson pause.  

The third star in the 5SBCPRS may seem premature, but I promise it isn’t. All that’s important here is that everything comes out okay. Easy enough, except when it’s not. I like to keep a bag or two of Senna Tea in my backpacking supplies just in case. The Senna plant has been used as a mild laxative dating back to the ninth century and many of the tea companies you find at your nearby grocer will stock a box. 

Alright, you’re comfortable, there’s a nice view before you, and everything comes out okay. From that serene satisfaction, you’ll earn your fourth star should you spot some (non-threatening) wildlife. Because let’s be real, if you witness some threatening wildlife, your first star is out the window and your second star is on shaky ground. Assuming it’s not a threatening animal though, and rather some sun-basking marmots or a flammulated owl that doesn’t give a hoot as you toot, you’ve arrived at the pièce de resistance of the 5SBCPRS. The fifth and final star. The ultimate glory of going #2 in the woods. While going about your business, you witness wildlife also going about theirs. It’s the most difficult star to achieve and if it is clinched, it’s a tale worthy of any campfire circle. Bonus points to be awarded if you lock eyes with the animal, though to this author’s knowledge such a feat has only been dreamed of. 

Once you’re done, no matter how many stars you achieved, go ahead and fill your hole in with dirt and pack out any toilet paper you used. If you weren’t planning on this bathroom break when you set out and aren’t carrying toilet paper, consider leaves, rocks, or even moss. Leaves are ideally larger in size, thicker (don’t need it tearing, now), and smooth without irritable hairs, spikes, or thorns. If you’re going this route, toss this in the hole before filling with soil. Pooping in the woods is about as natural as it comes, almost as natural as competition. And with the 5-Star Backcountry Poop Rating Scale, you can accomplish both as you argue with friends over whose poops off the beaten path are worthy of the most stars. 


#1. Rice Field Shelter, Appalachian Trail. Sure, it has walls, but you’re above the clouds and if there’s no one around, go ahead and open that door for #2 in the 5SBCPS. 

Picture credit: Ben Stark






#2. Spider in a backcountry privy I used in Tennessee. Sometimes digging a cathole is preferred over outhouses (though technically he fulfills Star #4 in the 5SBCPRS). 

#3. Picture credit: https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/hygiene-sanitation.html