Last summer and already this summer we have seen unprecedented numbers of people camping informally, and lots of these people decide to camp close to the road or in popular places. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code does allow for this, but it also recommends that we help to avoid causing problems for local people and land managers by not camping in enclosed fields of crops or farm animals and by keeping well away from buildings, roads or historic structures.
The problems with people camping close to roads include the visual impact, damage to the ground especially through fires and BBQs, and toileting. Many, many reports have been made of laybys and car parks being surrounded by little piles of poo, and even of people quite happily telling other walkers and local residents that they are just off to the beach for a poo. This is not responsible and unnecessary. If we carry on like this we might, eventually, find our access rights changed for the worse.
Of course there are solutions. Lots of local communities are building facilities for visitors to their areas. Nevis Landscape Partnership is building a set of dry composting toilets at the Lower Falls car park in the Autumn, similar facilities will go in to Glen Coe / Glen Etive thanks to the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund, and there are already some very nice composting toilets at Traigh near Arisaig.
Use toilets when you can and be prepared to pay a little for them.
Building infrastucture is painfully slow though and many places will not even have this as an option. So, in places where there is a heavy impact from other people we should use poo bags. Those of us with dogs are used to using poo bags to pick up after our pets and those of us with a conscience put the bags in a proper bin afterwards. Different poo bags for humans are also readily available and offer a simple solution for packing out all of our waste and truly leaving no trace.
Check out Popaloo. The Popaloo toilet uses a dry powder waste gelling system and biodegradable bags. No nasty bottles of smelly chemicals. The loose blend of powders is in each bag and has the capacity to gel 2.5 to 3.0 litres of fluid and solid waste. Just hang the bag in a bucket or in their neat foldable toilet, do a poo or even a few poos, and tie up the bag for easy disposal in a proper bin. The whole lot will biodegrade and leave nothing very much behind at all.
Just don't hang the bags on trees like some dog walkers do.
What is even better is that Popaloo donates a proceed of every sale to Toilet Twinning, a UK based charity that provides toilets to some of the world's poorest communities. The Popaloo toilet is 100% made in GB too. Next time I go camping informally in a place that is not remote I am going to use these bags. We'll be using them on our Sea Stack Odyssey and a trip to Coruisk I have in July.
For the last month I have been delivering Summer Mountain Leader training and assessment courses. It's a lot of fun and very rewarding for Sally and me to be able to pass on some of the knowledge and skills we have learned over many years. One part of the syllabus is wild camping and one topic in particular always raises a giggle, how to poo in the wild.
On these courses we are really quite remote. We have normally walked all day to a camp site and we choose to go to different places most times. The sites we use are very rarely used by other people and we only use each site once or twice ever. So, the human impact on these sites is very low. Even so, we teach "Leave no Trace" best practices which involve digging a hole well away from streams, pooing in the hole, and replacing the turf. There are all the right bacteria in the ground and in your poo to break down the poo into harmless stuff so there is no trace at all in a few months.
In hot and dry areas (deserts) with little soil to dig into, there is the smear technique. Do a poo on the surface, smear it around a bit (I'm not sure of the best tool or technique for this part) and allow the UV light from the sun to kill off bad bacteria, and the heat to dry it out. In just a few days of hot sunny weather your poo will break down into dry dusty stuff that will blow away in the wind or wash away the next time it rains.
One of the worst things to do is to lift a rock, poo under the rock, and then replace the rock. This does not bury the poo deeply enought for bacteria in the soil to break it down, UV light does not get to it either, it does not dry out and the rain will not wash it away. It seems like an easy fix but it is all bad. Do not leave your poo under a rock. If we all did that we would all end up picking up rocks and finding someone else had used it already!
Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These blog posts and conditions reports are intended to help you make good decisions. They do not remove the need for you to make your own judgements when out in the hills.