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Digging a Cat Hole in the Woods: How to Keep Sanitary

When nature calls and you are in the woods, you might need to dig yourself a cat hole.

Your feces are full of contaminating bacteria. It doesn’t matter how healthy your diet is. The cat hole is designed to help you bury your waste. Otherwise, it will contaminate the campsite or environment you are in. Runoff into the water is a big problem as it can contaminate the water we all depend on.

Human waste, piling up over time, would also really ruin our natural places. These are supposed to be places we go to relax and enjoy the natural world. We all have an obligation to do our part in preserving them.

The answer is to dig a hole that is at least 6 inches deep and do your business there. This hole should be covered up before leaving the area. This is called a cat hole, and it is how responsible outdoorsmen manage human waste in the woods and backcountry.

How to Dig a Cat Hole

Best Trowels

Digging a cat hole is much easier, and you can do much better if you have an effective trowel or small shovel. There are a lot of these on the market now. There are some that are better than others.

A simple trowel is just a spade that is attached to a small wooden handle. These were the same kind of shovels carried by GIs in many American wars. Trowels are great digging tools in general and they are easy to carry.

My Favorite Trowel

The EST Gear Survival Shovel is the piece of gear that I carry into the woods. This trowel is completely metal. The spade is stainless steel, and the handle is aerospace aluminum.

The original design of this trowel came from EVATAC but has since been stolen by a number of different gear makers. This is more than your average trowel and is truly one of the only survival gadgets that I carry.

The EST Survival Shovel has two cutting edges, one is a sharpened flat blade and the other a serrated blade that runs the length of one side, hex bolt holes are cut into the spade, plus it claims to have 18 different tools built into one. The trowel comes in sections that can extend its size to over 2ft!

EST Gear Survival Shovel - The Ultimate 18-in-1 Camping Shovel for Hiking, Overlanding and Metal Detecting - Keep in Your Emergency Kit or Bug Out Bag - Lifetime Replacement

This shovel is the perfect tool for digging a cat hole.

This trowel breaks down easily, and each segment holds a different survival tool like a serrated-edged blade, ferrocerium rod, compass, and even screwdriver. It is one of the rare survival gadgets that are worth buying.

Where to Dig a Cat Hole

There are two important considerations to make when you are digging a cat hole. The first is that you want the hole to be dug in a place where you can do your business without being seen by anyone who might happen by on a trail.

The second consideration is that you want the hole dug in a place that will be easy to dig a hole to bury waste and will not see much foot traffic.

The woodsman’s rule is that the cat hole should be dug at least 200ft from any walking path, trail, campsite, water source, or other feature. That is about 70 steps. Dig where there is dark soil in an area that gets lots of sunlight. This is the type of environment that will ensure your waste decomposes quickly.

How to Dig a Cat Hole

After choosing a well-hidden location, for privacy, use your favorite trowel to dig a hole that is 6-8 inches deep. The hole should also be at least 6 inches wide. This is the basic design of a cat hole.

Rocky soil is hard to dig through, but if you seek out a location like the one described above then you should be able to do it quickly. Don’t be afraid to relocate and find a place where the digging is easy and the privacy is maximized.

Digging a Cat Hole

As you dig, you are going to want to keep the dirt in a nice pile close by. This is the same dirt that you will use to fill up the hole. The hole is not finished until you fill it.

Toilet Paper

Bring toilet paper but make sure that it is kept dry while you are hiking. Pack it in a ziplock bag to be sure of this. Toilet paper will also biodegrade, but we have to be careful and use it sparingly.

While sanitary wipes are moistened and easier on your body, I do not recommend using them. These wipes do not break down as easily as toilet paper and could wind up being dug up by animals.

Leave No Trace

After you are finished doing your business, you will use the soil you dug up to fill the hole again. if you used toilet paper, make sure you bury that, too. You do not want the wildlife digging just below the surface to find your toilet paper and spreading it around the area.

Once your cat hole is filled, then you can carry on with your adventure.

Dos and Donts of Cat Holes

  • Dont use the same hole more than once
  • Do space out holes in a large party
  • Don’t skimp on the digging! 6-8 inches is a must.
  • Do choose your location wisely as it will make it easier on you and less of a hassle for the people around you.

Wrapping up How to Dig a Cat Hole

If you are going to be a careful and honorable outdoorsman, then you need to know how to dig a cat hole. The perfect bathroom situation is not always going to work out, and you may have to do your business on the trail.

If you are going to start conquering long hikes and multiday backcountry campouts, then the cat hole is going to be your toilet in the woods. You may also want to know how to dig a straddle latrine.

The good news is that these skills are not the most complex ones. So, mastering the cat hole will really just make life in the outdoors much easier for you.