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Book Review: How to Sh*t in the Woods

If You Poop, You Should Read This Book

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating


Book Review: How to Sh*t in the Woods
Photo © Ten Speed Press

If you spend long enough in the great outdoors, one day the unthinkable will happen: Nature will knock on your back door, and you'll have no choice but to answer. This leaves you in a quandary that, thanks to our modern habit of toilet paper and flush toilets, no longer has an obvious answer: What to do with the deposit that's left (your) behind?

When properly handled, human poop in the outdoors becomes effectively invisible -- just the way most of us like it. When improperly handled, human poo becomes a toilet-paper-clad eyesore (best-case scenario), or a stinking corridor to feces-borne illnesses (worst-case scenario).

Fortunately Kathleen Meyer, a long-time river guide, has written the potty manual we city-dwellers so desperately need. If you've never pooped under an open sky, or if you know enough to pack a mini shovel but find yourself standing at the edge of the campsite wondering where to dig your cat hole, this is the book for you. Even if you're already an expert free-range pooper, you'll still learn something from the updated third edition, whether it's the effect our bathroom habits have on our beloved wilderness, or the very latest developments in poop-hauling technology.

Best for: Anybody that defecates or urinates.

The Perfect Balance of Dignity and Humor

I've witnessed reactions to wild animal poop that verge from bored indifference ("It's just a part of being outside...") to unseemly enthusiasm ("Oh boy! Let's see what that bear has eaten lately!"). But even the most scatologically inclined aren't going to dissect any solid human leavings they find on the trail. Their reaction will, instead, be the uniform "Ick!" of a species that works hard at pretending it never poops at all.

That tendency to hope poo will go away on its own if we just ignore it makes discussing bodily functions pretty awkward in some circles. Meyer nixes that awkwardness with a straightforward approach, opening the book with an explanation of how and why she felt the need to write it (and why she chose not to censor the title). From there, it's straight into the tale of a wayward turd that'll make you feel better about your own bathroom transgressions -- indoor or outdoor -- right away.

"You can see the dust trail of a fast-moving pickup mushrooming off a dirt road long after you've lost sight of the truck. Henry watched, wide-eyed and helpless, as a similar if smaller cloud billowed up defiantly below him, and the actual item became obscured from view. Zigging and zagging, it caromed off rough spots in the terrain. . ."

How to Sh*t in the Woods by Kathleen Meyer, third edition

Meyer's straightforward approach and sprinklings of levity make what could have been a squeamish topic into reason for belly laughs, and her matter-of-fact explanation of what happens if we don't care responsibly for our leavings is grounded in science, not the ick factor. Most important of all, Meyers adroitly guides you to the idea that there actually is a right and a wrong way to poop in the woods -- something that new hikers previously had little reason to consider until they ran across someone else's open-air turd or sampled the pleasures of giardiasis.

Once You've Mastered the Basics...

Although How to Sh*t in the Woods is understandably preoccupied with the act described in its title -- which is, after all, the most logistically complicated of excretory functions -- it also covers proper etiquette for urinating outdoors. A chapter just for women discusses the anatomical challenges unique to our gender when it comes to discreetly watering trees, as well as how to properly dispose of used feminine hygiene products.

Meyer also discusses water treatment and filtration systems (and pests like Giardia that make them necessary); the latest technology for when packing your poop out is the only responsible option; and female urinary devices (or urine directors), more colloquially known as pee funnels. In short, she's covered everything you didn't know you needed to understand about getting the deed -- any deed, actually -- done in the wild.

I highly recommend this book. Give it as a gag gift if you must, but rest assured that the more people read it, the more pleasant things will be -- for all of us -- when nature calls.

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Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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