What To Do with Dog Poo While Backpacking? Leave No Trace!

Aug 2, 2021

Millions of adventuring feet and paws travel along wilderness trails and campsites every year. All those dancing paws, waving tails and booted feet make for a lot of happy feels, but they also have a big, BIG impact on the ecosystems they pass through. Here at the dooloop, we’d like to help. We don’t make the best gorp, but we do make it easier to take care of what comes after.  

The seven simple rules of outdoor ethics called “Leave No Trace” help you explore wild areas in the least damaging way possible. Nature-loving humans are pretty good about following them, but we tend to play fast and loose with rules when it comes to our furry hiking companions.

Yup, their paws as softer on the ground than our boots, and the only waste they leave behind is a bit of poo, but think of the impact of MILLIONS of happily hiking doggos. That is a lot of poop!

How do you follow Leave No Trace principles with your dog? And what about that most unpleasant dilemma: what do to do with your dog’s stinky poo while backpacking?

What is “Leave No Trace” and why does it matter for me and my dog?

Leave No Trace helps you prepare more conscientiously when you are headed into natural areas.

The 7 Leave No Trace Principles

  1. Plan ahead and prepare
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize campfire impacts
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate of other visitors

When dogs romp unleashed on a hike, they trample delicate plants, flatten the ground, disturb wildlife, and alarm other visitors and dogs. By keeping your hiking companion safely leashed with you on the designated trail, you’ll be honoring Number 2, 6 and 7 of the principles all in one step!

Number 3 is to dispose of waste properly. This seems simple enough if you plan ahead (Principle 1!) with reusable food containers and a small packable waste bag.

However, it does get a bit messier when we factor in the poo problem. Perhaps they should have assigned the waste principle “Number 2” to boost poop to the top of our minds!

What’s so bad about dog poop?

Taking a sh*t is perfectly natural, but unfortunately your dog’s poop (and ours) has a dirty little secret. It’s not just gross for others to look at and disgusting to accidentally step in, it carries bacteria and parasites that can be spread to other animals. It’s also full of nitrogen and phosphorous that encourage algae growth in waterways and can deplete oxygen that aquatic life need to survive.

Bears do indeed sh*t in the woods (along with countless other wild creatures) but the forest residents are consuming plants and animals from their own ecosystem and promptly return them to the same place. They even create new plants by passing undigested seeds.

Adding the poop-load of countless human and canine visitors throws that balance way off.

Hole it or haul it – what do you do with poo on the trail?

All poop, whether it’s from your bum or your dog’s, should be carried out or buried in a cathole 6-8” deep to decompose. If you’re in a place where burying is a good option, a small poop trowel is a handy item to add to your backpacking kit.

You should ideally use compostable dog-poop bags to carry poop out, but even some of those take a long time to break down in the ground. If you’re going to bury the dog poop, dig a 6-8” hole right near the poop’s landing zone. Just nudge that unbagged poop right in and cover it up completely.

All poops, human or canine, need to be buried at least 200 feet from any water source to protect the drinking supply. If your dog pops a squat near a lake or stream, bag it.

In some ecosystems, like the dry, arid desert, even buried poop won’t decompose. Land managers in some natural areas may require that ALL poop be packed out – including your own!

If burying dog poop in a “cathole” seems oddly insulting to cats, imagine what dogs would think if they learned the bags people poop in to carry their own waste are called “wag bags!”

Do your doo-ty before you and your dog leave home

If handling poop is the worst part of your hiking experience, the best way to manage is to not to poop on the trail at all. Backed up backpacking (kidding)!

Chances are, you’re pretty familiar with your dog’s bathroom habits. If not, start watching them a little closer to learn. How long after a meal your pup likes to poo? Does your dog prefer certain surfaces, like short or tall grass? Some pooches even like pavement!

Once you’re in the know, you can serve breakfast a bit earlier so your dog’s digestion has time to do its thing. Make sure your dog has access to their favorite poop spot and plenty of time to go before you jump in the car.

While you are coaxing your dog to poo and run, think about your own morning constitutional. We assume you would anticipate that a bran muffin and coffee may not be the best move before you hop on the trail.

If you can, leave that first poop of the day at home, and there will be one less in the wild.

Give your dog time to leave a calling card.

More and more parks are “carry-in, carry-out,” but there is sometimes a trash can at the parking area of a nature area. Let your dog take a few moments to sniff around before you begin your hike. Even when the dog parents who arrived before you picked up their own dog’s pre-hike dump, the lingering scent proclaims “I WAS HERE!” That odiferous message can stimulate your dog to lay down a pungent “ME TOO” message of their own.

Bag it up, toss it in the trash, and you will have one less poop to deal with that day – or maybe no poop at all!

Teach your dog to poo on cue – goals, right?!

Dogs are happy to please you if they know what you want. Teach your dog to associate taking a squat with a command, praise, and treats, and it will be easier to coax them to poop before a trip, or when you’re in areas with waste cans. Here’s how the AKC suggests you start.

  • Pay attention to when you dog likes to poop
  • Set a regular schedule
  • Take your dog outside at the time they are most likely to want to eliminate. Bring treats!
  • As soon as your pup squats, clearly state a cue you’ve chosen, like “Go poop!”
  • Once your dog has done their doo-ty, dole out the praise and treats.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Don’t expect your dog to always poo on command as reliably as they sit or shake paws, however. They might simply not need to go when you want them to or may be too anxious or distracted in a new place.

Avoid the poo-bag “drop and run.”

Tempted to tuck your dog’s full poo-bag along the trail to pick up on your way back so you don’t have to carry it?

Just. Don’t. Nobody thinks that’s okay. Literally no one. Ick.

How many times have you expected to return the same way on a hike, only to be tempted by a side trail or loop? The best part of hiking is not knowing what’s around the next bend.

Other dog parents are likely to follow your example and abandoned their poo, too. Poo-bags dotting a trail are a truly gross sight for other outdoor-loving hikers. Their own dogs will come to a screeching halt as they sniff each and every bag. All those bags will sit there until some other nature lover or park staff picks up the now-damp, miserable mess.

When in doubt, just carry it out – that’s what dooloops are for!

Yup, there are times when you’ll need to pick up and haul some poop on your hike. Carrying a soft, warm, bagged lump in your pocket or pack isn’t pleasant and accidental piercings or explosions have occurred. We’ve got stories!

But that’s old-school hiking. You’ve got a dooloop (if you don’t, then get one here). You can sling that bag of doo right onto the dooloop, clipped to your leash or backpack until you can safely toss it in the trash. It holds multiple bags, and if you pull it through far enough, you can even reuse a bag. Just don’t knot it (or just knot it loosely). One dooloop holds a lot of sh*t.

The dooloop isn’t just another piece of imported plastic. Your new dooloop will arrive with zero-waste packaging, assembled by hand, and it’s made in Maine USA, by a woman owned company, from BPA-free, non-toxic plastic that promises to never become micro-plastic. We’re doing our best to reduce our pawprint on the earth, too.

Honestly, as you and your dog enjoy all the new sights and sounds around each turn of the trail, you’ll completely forget that you’re hauling poop along with you on your dooloop. It’s out of hand, out of pack, out of mind and you know that you’re truly leaving no trace.

Make Leave No Trace your hiking and camping mantra.

The beauty and sense of discovery you experience on each new trail is what inspires you to grab your dog, leave your home behind, and breathe nature in. By making Leave No Trace your own personal guide, you will ensure that this same beauty continues in your wake for the next hiker – and dog – to enjoy.


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