Set the scene: It’s an uncomfortable topic. Certainly not one you want to discuss over dinner. Relieving your waste is just as natural as breathing even if you do it less often. That’s probably why we don’t really think about it as much when we’re planning a camping trip. How many times has the uncomfortable situation come up in media as a gag where the poor soul is told to “use a leaf” or “just keep it away from camp”. In reality, it’s not terribly more complex than that, but there are a few changes we need to make.
It wouldn’t be un-human to be pretty disgruntled when coming across another’s waste. It didn’t come from nowhere, so what will it take to protect our natural playgrounds before the mess gets made? It begs the question, what can I do? What kind of an impact can I have and hope to make a difference? There are so many others in nature along with me, how can I be more than just a drop in the bucket? To those reading, this article hopes to serve as a beacon. There is a pleasant satisfaction when you do your part. If your actions help persuade another to follow your lead, your impact is suddenly bigger than itself. This is the mentality that Shingo Ohkawa has adopted in his efforts to educate recreators on proper waste elimination. There are certainly good, better, and best practices according to leave no trace guidelines. For example, very few people would knowingly leave their waste directly on a trail, they take it where it will do less harm, even burying it. This works great in some climates but isn’t an all-encompassing solution. The best way to be sure you’re not leaving any trace, is to pack it out with you using a few tools and practices. Shingo wants to help you know what those practices are and why some options are better than others.
For starters, different climates have different geologies. We can see this in the types of rocks around us as well as the plants and animal life. These geologies have a lot to do with why some good methods of waste removal, such as burial, are superseded by best practices such as using a WAG bag. The thought behind burial of human (and animal) waste is that by surrounding the deposit with earth, you are accelerating the decomposition process. Worms and other insects can begin their work breaking it down and returning nutrients to the soil. However, there is significantly less insect activity in desert climates making burial a far less effective waste removal method than you would think.
There are definitely times when burial is a suitable option. For that reason, it’s a good idea to carry a small shovel with you that can be used to help dig a hole. For example, Shingo carries a trowel on a dyneema sling whenever he’s in the wild. It’s important to know what the geology is in your recreational area when deciding what the best method of waste disposal would be. A brief explanation here would be that dry climates such as the deserts of southern Utah, Nevada, and even California don’t have the microscopic ecosystems that can break down waste. Compare that to climates with lots of insect and microorganism activity in the soil, waste gets broken down much more quickly. The best way to be sure of what’s going on in your recreational area would be to find an expert on the local. Park guides can certainly be trusted. The Leave No Trace is a good resource as well.
One method that is suitable no matter what the geology is to use a WAG bag. There are a few hurdles to cross with WAG bags, they can be clumsy to use initially, there is a bit of a cost in acquiring them, and probably the biggest being there is a fear of the bag bursting in your pack. Shingo would counter these arguments with methods that he has learned on his adventures. For example, rolling the bag opening can create some stability that holds it open and makes it easier to use. The right WAG bag comes with additional parts that help contain the contents and prevent leaks. Shingo’s favorite bag (The Go Anywhere Waste Kit) has a gelling agent that absorbs moisture and solidifies it and a second, heavy duty bag. Sometimes Shingo will use the bag from a favorite tortilla brand as a third layer of protection when he is carrying sharp crampons in his pack. Reusing single use plastic for this purpose is always an added bonus.
Shingo’s argument to the issue of cost is mainly fueled by his desire to make what impact he can on others he finds on the trail. Shingo will purchase WAG bags in bulk, reducing the individual cost. He then chooses to share these products with his friends and group members, and sometimes even folks he meets on the trail… However, he’s not above sharing his supply without getting anything in return. In his mind, helping someone choose to dispose of their waste properly gives him the satisfaction that what he’s doing is a bigger impact than just he can have.
We love our local lands. We’re committed to learning the best way to leave no trace in them. We’re proud to work with people like Shingo who are doing what they can to minimize their impact as well as educate and promote similar practices in everyone around them. If you want to help educate others in your local area about wag bags, consider Shingo’s method of keeping an extra wag bag in your pack and offering it to someone on the trail or at camp as a conversation starter. Access to the wild places we love so much is all dependent on how we take care of them, doing our part and educating others in a friendly way is one of the ways we can maintain our access and keep enjoying the great outdoors. Below are just a few of the products Liberty Mountain carries that can help you minimize your impact when it comes to relieving yourself in wild places.