Posts Tagged ‘Leave No Trace’

We are getting ready for our expedition and one challenge is cleanliness.  If you are not clean in the outdoors you get sick.  So I thought I would take a moment to share some common questions about keeping the cooking kit clean with biodegradable soap.  Some people have asked me… “does biodegradable mean I can wash directly in the ocean/river” and “how much space do you devote to caring cleaning supplies in the kayak”.

My cleaning kit is smaller than my cook kit.  It consists of one bar of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap and a MSR Nano Towel. I use it to wash my pots, to shave, and it cleans everything from my hair to my toes.  There is no need to carry dish soap, a bottle of shampoo, and a bar of soap.  I also prefer not to smell like a candy-cane.  Say no to peppermint.

When it comes to washing up remember a river, lake, ocean is not a bathtub.  Do not jump in with a bottle of shampoo or a bar of soap.  Soap labels are often confusing because many people think that if it says biodegradable they can wash their dishes in the river.  That is not the case.  Graywater needs to be filtered through the soil.  Granted I have been known to drink a little graywater when there was no soap in it.  Here are the highlights of proper dish-washing (Go to for lots more details.)

>”All dish-washing (and body washing) should be done 200 feet away from any water source, because we need to keep even biodegradable soap out of rivers, streams, and lakes. (Fish don’t groove on peppermint scented suds.)”

>”Only use soap if you need to (for really greasy pots or on long trips, when serious grime buildup is inevitable). For the most part, hot water and a scrubby sponge will do the trick. Boiling dishwater before doing dishes would be the safest way to make sure you’re not scrubbing your pots with Giardia. But as for me, 99% of the time, I’m content with just getting it hot enough to cut the grease. Your call.”

> “After scrubbing, strain your dishwater through a fine mesh strainer (or a bandanna) and broadcast the wastewater. In other words, fling it far and wide. Then pack out the food remnants in your garbage bag.”

I have known some people also use Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap to brush their teeth.  I have never put soap in my mouth voluntarily.  I use a non-fluoridated toothpaste.  And toothpaste is a type of soap.  Consequently I use as little as possible.  Sometimes I swallow it and other times I make a raspberry sound and disperse it away from water and over a wide area.

The final cleaning tool I have is waterless hand cleaner.  I have two small bottles.  I keep one with my food kit, and the other with my WAG bag.  –  Jeff

Campfires… I have spent many a night watching the flames dance and mingle among the stars on a moonless night.  I have heard many tall tails and ghost-stories become accentuated by the glowing embers and nocturnal sounds emanating from under a blanket of darkness.  I could not imagine not having my son enjoy a campfire.  But times are different.

Today we are more sensitive to soil erosion and ground damage caused by campfires.  When I first started camping it was an activity that only a few people did.  And it was easy to leave the camp the following day looking like we were never there.  Unfortunately, the outdoors are being hit by the weekend camper who is more interested in parting than melding into the darkness.  I have come across many designated campsites covered with signs of people.  There are piles of ash, burnt logs, and partially burned garbage.

I do not want to add to the damage of campfires built by careless people.  So I do my cooking over a camp-stove.  And when it is time to recapture the memories of the past I use a Fire Pan.

A fire pan can be as simple as an old cookie sheet or a complex as a collapsible concave disk.  I prefer the old cookie sheet method.  I can fold it in half.  And when it wears out, it is easily recycled and cheaply replaced by another used one from a garage sale.

For our expedition I will be using an MSR DragonFly stove, a Backpackers Oven, and I will have an old cookie sheet.  Pictures of my cooking system will be posted after the trip.


As the title implies this post is a dirty subject.  I am a backpacker first and a paddler second.  So the practice of handling feces in the outdoors is a natural practice.

Most of the places we paddle are sensitive environments.  And we need to consider using the lowest impact practices when we go number two.  So what do we do?  Well the “Bubble Street” comic strip gives me an idea…

Bubble Street 23 May 2006

Bubble Street 23 May 2006

wag bagI know that the idea of packing out your human waste can be fairly (to completely) unpalatable but there is no doubt that it leaves the least impact of any other method of disposing of human waste. Both WAG Bags and Restops are both very sanitary options for packing out your human waste.

These two products work great.  It so easy even my buddy Sean can use it.  Granted he still grimaces at the idea.

It is a common piece of my kit that I have when I go out on the water.


We need to remember that the “improper disposal of human waste can lead to water pollution, the spread of illnesses such as giardia, and unpleasant experiences for those who follow”.  Unfortunately when nature calls for you to move your bowels a public bathroom, outhouse, or other developed site is not redly available for human waste disposal.

I do not dig  Cat holes during the day because I am surrounded by water.  This is why I have  WAG Bags or Restops in my day hatch.  Granted some people hang their backside over the side.  But the ocean is not our bathroom.

Sean like some of my other paddling friends still prefer to make a solid deposit in cat holes.  The issue with that is it needs to be dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, animal trails, drainages, and away from cryptobiotic soil crusts.  Look for organic soil under trees for a cat hole site.

“Bring a trowel to dig the hole, and disguise it well before leaving. Ideally, the microbes found in soil break down feces and the pathogens they contain, but in [dry sandy areas], this process happens very slowly, so make sure your cat hole site is well-hidden and buried deeply so it won’t be uncovered accidentally.”

I also have met a few paddlers that leave human waste under rocks or in alcoves.  That is a stupid and lazy way to be clean.  Because excrement will decompose slowly there.

Leave No Trace Backpacker 2nd ed bookIf you dig a hole you still need to pack out the toilet paper and personal feminine hygiene products.  Animals dig and will find these things.  And everyone has found the white streamers. I recommend packing it out in a plastic bag with baby wipes to deodorizes the trash bag, and the wipes help you stay cleaner.  If I use a cat hole I prefer to use natural wipes such as grass, river rocks, sticks, and snow.  I am from Pittsburgh so snow does not bother me.  If you choose to use natural toilet paper, bury it in your cat hole, and use some hand sanitizer.

Whether it is bagging out WAG Bags ,Restops, or bagged toilet paper I always place the items in a designated black dry bag with a car air freshener in the black dry bag for obvious reasons.  I also put this bag in front of my feet within my cockpit.  Some of my friends put their bag in a hatch near their food or cook kit.  But I do not want to take the chance of cross contamination.

When I am outdoors I try my best to “take nothing by pictures, kill nothing but time, and leave nothing but a foot print” – Jeff

Check out: Backpacker Magazine, Green Armarda, Green Earth Outdoors, and Leave No Trace.