Human Waste Systems

Backcountry travel-on foot, horseback and on dirt roads-is a highly valued public use of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and surrounding lands. Because of the increasing popularity of backcountry activities and the number of people using routes and campsites, some areas are being seriously impacted by human waste. Researchers from Northern Arizona University, working in cooperation with the Monument, have studied the impacts of human waste in various soils and found that in many local soil types human waste decomposes slowly. Studies show that waste microbes may travel relatively long distances using the roots of vegetation as pathways.

To help keep backcountry areas looking good and smelling nice, the Monument and other agencies are exploring sanitary ways to maintain public lands in a natural and pristine state.

One approved method is the single use, sanitary bag system (such as "The Restop 2" and "Wag Bag" available at local businesses). These products provide a lightweight, sanitary way to pack out human waste. The bag-within-a-bag design with a locking closure securely contains waste and odor. Enzymes break down waste, converting it into a deodorized gel. The bag and contents are safe for landfills and may be deposited in any trash can. Some simple additional pieces of equipment make this system easy and convenient for car camping, horseback and boating use.

Most overnight hikes on the Monument are in relatively narrow canyon corridors. The climate and soils of the region make for slow decomposition of waste. As visitation intensifies, human waste accumulation rates outpace decomposition. For those who value the quality of the backcountry canyon environment, carry-out systems are becoming the standard for Leave No Trace backcountry travel.

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter.
  • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
  • Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

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