Carrying Your Poop | The WAG Bag Waste Kit

Waste Alleviation and Gelling (WAG) Bag

No other topic of conversation regarding my recent Mt Whitney trip has elicited more interest than having to poop in a WAG bag. It both fascinates and astonishes people that there could be such a bizarre requirement as to have to carry your own poop out with you and that you get provided with WAG bags to do it. I can’t tell you much fun it has been to continually have to talk about this aspect of my trip.

So, consider this your lucky day. Due to a minor case of poop shyness, I managed to save one of the WAG bags that I was given (I had actually asked for a few extra when we picked them up just in case I needed more than the standard two you are issued), so I’m going to use the spare to demonstrate how it works in detail and provide some feedback on what my personal experience was using the WAG bags. Don’t worry, I saved a new and unused WAG bag for the purposes of this post! But, before we get into how it works, I’d like to give you a little background in how the WAG bag requirement came about.

High Above Whitney Trail Camp

Human waste management has been a major problem on Mount Whitney for a very long time. There used to be solar-powered latrines at both the Outpost Camp and at Trail Camp, but in 2006 they were removed by the Inyo National Forest Service and a mandatory “pack-it-out” program was initiated and “WAG Bags” started being issued to all hikers and backpackers at time they picked up their permits at the Lone Pine Ranger Station. In 2007 alone, more than three tons of waste was hauled off mount Whitney and instead issue “WAG Bags” to trail users for human waste. Used bags must be deposited in special dumpsters located at the Whitney Portal trail head.

Surprisingly, carrying out personal waste is not really even a new concept. Hikers and backpackers on Mount Rainier started using the infamous “Blue Bags” in the early 1980s, and mandatory “carry-everything-out” programs later started up at some of the other popular peaks like Shasta and Denali. So if you are planning to hike Whitney get yourself mentally prepared to not only have to use a WAG bag for your waste, but to carry it out with you as well as ALL of your trash and food containers and wrappers. Whatever goes in has to come out!

Using the WAG Bag Waste Kit
The waste alleviation gelling bag or WAG bag works by neutralizing your waste by means of a powdered gelling compound that absorbs moisture (an supposedly the stink) when you do your business inside the bag.

Waste Alleviation and Gelling (WAG) Bag

Step 1: Open the WAG bag waste kit. The kit contains the large waste collecting bag that has a small amount of the powdered gelling compound already in it, a small (4 sheets) amount of toilet paper, a single hand sanitizer wipe packet, and a ziplock-style bag to put all of the contents in after you have used them – remember it all has to be carried out with you, even the toilet paper.

Waste Alleviation and Gelling (WAG) Bag

Step 2: Find somewhere with a little privacy. In the case of Whitney this is a lot easier at the Outpost camp where you’re still surrounded by trees, but once you’re up at 12,000ft above the treeline at the Trail Camp you’ll have a pretty hard time finding any type of secluded spot to take care of business. It is what it is and everyone else will be feeling your pain. Pick a spot and do what you have to do, no one else really cares to watch trust me.

Waste Alleviation and Gelling (WAG) Bag

Step 3: Once you’ve found your spot, open up the large waste collecting bag on the ground as big as it will go. You’ll notice a small amount of the powdered gelling compound in the center of the bag, that’s going to be your target. The powder works by being activated with liquid, so you’ll need to urinate on the powder in order to activate the gelling process – just don’t fill up the bag with pee or you’ll have to carry it out or deal with the task of having to drain some of it out afterwards.

Waste Alleviation and Gelling (WAG) Bag

For the purpose of this demonstration I’m pouring some perfectly clean tap water into the center of the powdered gelling compound to show you how it instantly begins to form a gel. I was surprised to discover that the powder easily consumed the half a cup of water I poured into it and was still able to absorb more. Of course you don’t want to use up all the powder with liquid, you want the gel to adsorb the moisture (and stink) of your other business too.

Waste Alleviation and Gelling (WAG) Bag

At this point you’re ready to squat and take care of business. Remember that this is the most skilled part of the operation, aim is everything!

Waste Alleviation and Gelling (WAG) Bag

Step 4: When you’re finished you need to close up the large waste collecting bag and put it inside the smaller zip-close bag that is provided as part of the kit. The instructions on the kit do not mention this but I would recommend tying a really tight knot in the larger bag to prevent as much leakage and stink from getting out as possible.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, you are usually only issued with two WAG bags for your entire trip, the reason for this is that you are encouraged to re-use the kit more than once. I didn’t think that was feasible so I asked for a few extra and the ranger was more than happy to provide them – just saying.

Waste Alleviation and Gelling (WAG) Bag

Step 5: Seal up the outer zip-close bag making sure to expel as much of the air as possible so that you keep the whole thing as small as you can for packing it out.

Step 6: You can ONLY dispose of the used WAG bags in the designated human waste dumpsters which are located at the trail head. You will see signs everywhere warning you not to dispose of the WAG bags anywhere other than the human waster dumpsters. Be warned, you’ll want to open the lids to those dumpster at an arm’s length for the obvious reasons. So, that’s how to use a WAG bag to carry out your own poop – pretty fascinating right?

Personal Experience
Having used the WAG bag kits on Mt. Whitney I’d like to pass along some thoughts and a tip or two. Firstly, be sure to carry an extra plastic bag or strong trash compactor bag with you to store the used WAG bags inside when you’re ready to pack them in your backpack. I didn’t do this an although I had no issue with leakage, the stink that wafted behind me was quite noticeable and somewhat unbearable for my fellow hikers – sorry Jason!

I already mentioned this but I’ll repeat it again, you are expected to use a WAG bag more than once. If that doesn’t appeal to you (it didn’t to me) simply make a polite face and ask for one or two more at the Ranger Station, they’ll gladly provide you with extra.

Finally, I’m all for LNT and doing my part to lessen the impact of human waste on the environment, but having used the WAG bags I was less than impressed with their effectiveness. Putting aside the issue of having to physically carry out your own waste, the bags just don’t do the job they were intended for. They certainly don’t neutralize the stink even after they have been carefully sealed and double bagged. This leads to people circumventing the process and reverting back to catholes or worse. I can’t tell you how many abandoned “used” WAG bags we saw along the trail and hidden behind rocks at trail camp. It’s not a part of the experience I like to remember but it is a huge problem and I don’t personally think WAG bags are the solution.

Have you had to use WAG bags before and if so, what was your experience with them?

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  • http://www.trailsherpa.com Trail Sherpa

    Great post Brian.  I haven’t used WAG bags but we had this very conversation in camp during a rain storm this weekend on Mummy Mountain.  It just seems that it’s the same end result that we see with the dog bags that litter the sides of the walking paths in our community.  I assume people think “I’ll just leave this here and pick it up on the way back”.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Tim, you’re right it’s the same unacceptable end result. I’m not sure what people think and some of the WAG bags left behind were probably genuinely forgotten by mistake, but the ones that were strategically “hidden” were no mistake – that’s the problem.

  • http://twitter.com/TrailSherpa Trail Sherpa

    Great post Brian.  I haven’t used WAG bags but we had this very conversation in camp during a rain storm this weekend on Mummy Mountain.  It just seems that it’s the same end result that we see with the dog bags that litter the sides of the walking paths in our community.  I assume people think “I’ll just leave this here and pick it up on the way back”.

  • http://blog.makais.com/ makais

    I wasn’t really aware of these until our customers recently started asking for them, so we started carrying the Cleanwaste toilets/bags: http://makais.com/brands/Cleanwaste.html   I’ve never tried it myself though. Seems a little tricky to use! I’d much prefer the ground if it were possible, but I guess it is not so up on Whitney

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Wow, at $10 per single bag I feel bad asking the ranger station for extras! Hey if people want to use them more power to them, I’ve just found them to be highly ineffective to the point where I’m pretty sure I won’t be using them again. According the packaging on mine, they were NASA developed which in real terms means 40 year-old technology. Is anyone impressed by the “NASA developed” tag anymore?

      • http://blog.makais.com/ makais

        that pricing on the individual bag is a little skewed because we have free shipping with no order minimum. unfortunately some of the lower priced items on our website are a little pricey, but the prices include shipping.

  • http://blog.makais.com/ Todd

    I wasn’t really aware of these until our customers recently started asking for them, so we started carrying the Cleanwaste toilets/bags: http://makais.com/brands/Cleanwaste.html   I’ve never tried it myself though. Seems a little tricky to use! I’d much prefer the ground if it were possible, but I guess it is not so up on Whitney

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Wow, at $10 per single bag I feel bad asking the ranger station for extras! Hey if people want to use them more power to them, I’ve just found them to be highly ineffective to the point where I’m pretty sure I won’t be using them again. According the packaging on mine, they were NASA developed which in real terms means 40 year-old technology. Is anyone impressed by the “NASA developed” tag anymore?

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Tim, you’re right it’s the same unacceptable end result. I’m not sure what people think and some of the WAG bags left behind were probably genuinely forgotten by mistake, but the ones that were strategically “hidden” were no mistake – that’s the problem.

  • http://www.mylifeoutdoors.com/ Steven Smith

    Once when I was planning a Paddle trip down the deep canyons of the Rio Grande in Big Bend NP the ranger asked “What is your plan concerning human waste?” I looked at her kind of funny and said “I don’t know what you mean.” She looked frustrated and said “Are you going to hold it the whole time or do you plan to just poop in the river?” That was the first time I heard about Wag Bags. But I never had to use them…something in the policy then and the small size of our group (two people) exempted us from having to carry them. I just checked their website though…looks like all waste has to be carried out now so if I ever want to go back…I’ll be using a wag bag.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Well you dodged a bullet last time by not having to use them. At least now you have a really good description of how to use them so you’ll know for next time :-)

  • http://www.mylifeoutdoors.com/ My Life Outdoors

    Once when I was planning a Paddle trip down the deep canyons of the Rio Grande in Big Bend NP the ranger asked “What is your plan concerning human waste?” I looked at her kind of funny and said “I don’t know what you mean.” She looked frustrated and said “Are you going to hold it the whole time or do you plan to just poop in the river?” That was the first time I heard about Wag Bags. But I never had to use them…something in the policy then and the small size of our group (two people) exempted us from having to carry them. I just checked their website though…looks like all waste has to be carried out now so if I ever want to go back…I’ll be using a wag bag.

  • http://blog.makais.com/ Todd

    that pricing on the individual bag is a little skewed because we have free shipping with no order minimum. unfortunately some of the lower priced items on our website are a little pricey, but the prices include shipping.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Well you dodged a bullet last time by not having to use them. At least now you have a really good description of how to use them so you’ll know for next time :-)

  • Cleanwaste

    We love to hear all these comments about our products, good or bad we appreciate the feedback. We wanted to address some of your comments.

    First, odor. Waste odor can’t completely be “killed” or “eliminated” but it can be masked. Poo powder, in addition to gelling waste, encapsulates waste which aids in odor control much like water in a normal toilet bowl. As you discovered it’s not perfect but it’s better than nothing in these kinds of situations. No one truly wants to pack their waste out but the wag bag offers a solution when plumbing is not available.

    Homemade wag bags are an option. We’ve heard of people who have utilized kitty liter or saw dust to help solidify waste, however these solutions are not as effective as our Poo Powder which is exponentially more absorbent than either of these options and is available in bulk canisters.

    We completely agree that leaving bags on the side of a trail is poor etiquette and our packaging states to dispose in the trash, even though our bags are biodegradable.

    If anyone has any more questions or comments please feel free to contact us @cleanwaste Facebook or at info@cleanwaste.com. Thanks again! Enjoy the great outdoors!

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Hey thanks for your comments guys. It’s cool how the social web can directly connect a consumer/user with the manufacturer. I have a follow up question:Is the powder that is already inside the large bag the same as the Poo Powder you sell in bulk? It almost sounded as though the gelling compound and the Poo Powder were two separate but complimentary products – or are they one and the same?Also, what tips or tricks can you offer to maximize the effectiveness of the WAG bag? I’m just now thinking that the gelling compound may have to completely encapsulate the solid waste in order to help combat the odor, if so I’d probably have needed to shake up the bag or help it to do that in some way.While I had a less than pleasant experience with my use of the WAG bag system, I’m willing to admit that there could easily have been some amount of user error involved and if that is the case can you give any directions for others to follow so that they can avoid the same stinky problems I had?Thanks again for your direct feedback.

      • Cleanwaste

        It’s definitely cool for us to get direct feedback from people who use our products. 
        In response to your questions:
        The powder that is pre-loaded in the Wag Bags is the same as Poo Powder. 
        You correctly stated in your post that the Poo Powder is activated by liquid waste. However, you don’t have to worry about too much liquid preventing room for solid waste. The powder will gel 32 ounces of liquid waste (which is equivalent to about 3 full human bladders.)  Infact, as you guessed, the more liquid waste that activates the powder, the more gel there is  to encapsulate solid waste, which will help prevent “stink”. Gently shaking the bag to help solid waste become covered by the gel is also helpful if the solid waste does not sink automatically. 
        In the past we have toyed with the idea of adding a masking fragrance to the powder but have opted not to do so as our deodorizing agent is currently all natural and sometimes fragrances only make things worse. I’d be interesting in hearing what you and your followers think about adding a potential masking fragrance. Would the addition of a masking fragrance be more preferable than keeping the deodorizer all natural? 

        • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

          Great information thanks. I almost feel as though this warrants another round of testing to see how much liquid the gelling powder will absorb or at least some photos. 32oz if 4 cups of liquid which blows my mind!

          I’m willing to bet that the majority of WAG bag users don’t get anywhere near the right amount of liquid in their bag to fully activate all of the gelling compound, and thereby causing the stink problem – I’d be guilty of that too.

          Would you be willing to spare a few bags for a more detailed round of testing?

          • Cleanwaste

            I was actually thinking that we could dig up a couple of the bags we tested fragrances in and have you try those out as well.  Email me your shipping address at reinag@cleanwaste.com

  • Cleanwaste

    We love to hear all
    these comments about our products, good or bad we appreciate the
    feedback. We wanted to address some of your comments.

     

    First, odor. Waste odor
    can’t completely be “killed” or “eliminated” but it can be masked. Poo powder,
    in addition to gelling waste, encapsulates waste which aids in odor control
    much like water in a normal toilet bowl. As you discovered it’s not perfect but
    it’s better than nothing in these kinds of situations. No one truly wants to
    pack their waste out but the wag bag offers a solution when plumbing is not
    available. 

    Homemade wag bags are an option. We’ve heard of people who have utilized kitty liter or saw dust to
    help solidify waste, however these solutions are not as effective as our Poo
    Powder which is exponentially more absorbent than either of these options
    and is available in bulk canisters. 

    We completely agree that
    leaving bags on the side of a trail is poor etiquette and our packaging states to dispose in the trash, even though our bags are biodegradable. 

    If anyone has any more
    questions or comments please feel free to contact us o@cleanwaste  facebook or at info@cleanwaste.com.

    Thanks again! Enjoy the great outdoors!

  • http://www.prepplace.blogspot.com badvoodoodaddy

    Brian, I have never had to use a Wag Bag and the thought of carrying around my own waste is a bit unsettling to say the least.  I believe in the leave no trace idea but this is part that I have a hard time with.  If done properly a cat hole is more than adequate it just needs to be dug deep enough and if you bring a zip lock with some cat litter and sprinkle in it just before you bury it, it leaves no odor for animals to find.  Depth of the hole is the key.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Jeff, I agree that a properly dug cat hole is perfectly adequate if made deep enough, however on terrain like Mt Whitney at 12,000ft where there is no topsoil just solid rock a cat hole is impossible to make. That’s the problem.

      • http://www.prepplace.blogspot.com badvoodoodaddy

        Brian, You do have a point there.  I forget that it is far above tree line for most of the climb.  Still a great subject though.

        • rcMike

          …and even though Mt. Whitney has a daily quota limit (60 backpackers and 100 day hikers), I would think you would quickly run out of suitable places to “dig deep”.

  • http://www.prepplace.blogspot.com/ badvoodoodaddy

    Brian, I have never had to use a Wag Bag and the thought of carrying around my own waste is a bit unsettling to say the least.  I believe in the leave no trace idea but this is part that I have a hard time with.  If done properly a cat hole is more than adequate it just needs to be dug deep enough and if you bring a zip lock with some cat litter and sprinkle in it just before you bury it, it leaves no odor for animals to find.  Depth of the hole is the key.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I agree that a properly dug cat hole is perfectly adequate if made deep enough, however on terrain like Mt Whitney at 12,000ft where there is no topsoil just solid rock a cat hole is impossible to make. That’s the problem.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Hey thanks for you comments guys. It’s cool how the social web can directly connect a consumer/user with the manufacturer. I have a follow up question:

    Is the powder that is already inside the large bag the same as the Poo Powder you sell in bulk? It almost sounded as though the gelling compound and the Poo Powder were two separate but complimentary products – or are they one and the same?

    Also, what tips or tricks can you offer to maximize the effectiveness of the WAG bag? I’m just now thinking that the gelling compound may have to completely encapsulate the solid waste in order to help combat the odor, if so I’d probably have needed to shake up the bag or help it to do that in some way.

    While I had a less than pleasant experience with my use of the WAG bag system, I’m willing to admit that there could easily have been some amount of user error involved and if that is the case can you give any directions for others to follow so that they can avoid the same stinky problems I had?

    Thanks again for your direct feedback.

  • Michaelchoffman

    I think the better question is why were the solar power waste stations removed.  This sounds like it would have been a good solution.  Sure issue a few bags for when you can make it to these waste stations.

  • Michaelchoffman

    I think the better question is why were the solar power waste stations removed.  This sounds like it would have been a good solution.  Sure issue a few bags for when you can make it to these waste stations.

  • Cleanwaste

    It’s definitely cool for us to get direct feedback from people who use our products. 
    In response to your questions:
    The powder that is pre-loaded in the Wag Bags is the same as Poo Powder. 
    You correctly stated in your post that the Poo Powder is activated by liquid waste. However, you don’t have to worry about too much liquid preventing room for solid waste. The powder will gel 32 ounces of liquid waste (which is equivalent to about 3 full human bladders.)  Infact, as you guessed, the more liquid waste that activates the powder, the more gel there is  to encapsulate solid waste, which will help prevent “stink”. Gently shaking the bag to help solid waste become covered by the gel is also helpful if the solid waste does not sink automatically. 
    In the past we have toyed with the idea of adding a masking fragrance to the powder but have opted not to do so as our deodorizing agent is currently all natural and sometimes fragrances only make things worse. I’d be interesting in hearing what you and your followers think about adding a potential masking fragrance. Would the addition of a masking fragrance be more preferable than keeping the deodorizer all natural? 

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Great information thanks. I almost feel as though this warrants another round of testing to see how much liquid the gelling powder will absorb or at least some photos. 32oz if 4 cups of liquid which blows my mind!

    I’m willing to bet that the majority of WAG bag users don’t get anywhere near the right amount of liquid in their bag to fully activate all of the gelling compound, and thereby causing the stink problem – I’d be guilty of that too.

    Would you be willing to spare a few bags for a more detailed round of testing?

  • Cleanwaste

    I was actually thinking that we could dig up a couple of the bags we tested fragrances in and have you try those out as well.  Email me your shipping address at reinag@cleanwaste.com

  • http://ulborbust.wordpress.com/ Joslyn

    My biggest problem with the idea of the wag bags is that acting like human waste disposed of properly (aka cat holes) are still somehow damaging to the environment.  Human beings creating human waste is not something new and I really can’t imagine how it hurts the environment if dealt with in a environmentally thoughtful manner.  Sometimes I feel like I’m expected to stand on a rock and hold my breath for fear I touch something.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Joslyn, you’re spot on. In fact after the initial amazement from friends about the whole WAG bag discussion, the next most frequent question is; “how can human waste be any worse for the environment than bear or marmot waste?”The problem in the case of Whitney is that there really is no topsoil for a considerable part of the trail above treeline, so even if you wanted to dig a cat hole and knew how to do it properly you wouldn’t be able to – the ground is all rock. Add to that the fact that we (humans) introduce an enormous amount of additional waste that would not otherwise naturally occur in that area…But I am sympathetic to the point you are making. In fact I’ve often had an issue with the fundamental difference between LNT and Bushcraft. One practices an “untouched by human hand” policy almost to the extreme, the other encourages the use of the natural surroundings as part of the overall enjoyment of the outdoor experience.I personally fall somewhere in between and teach my kids the benefits of both schools of thought.

      • MountainManAmI

        I’ve had similar complaints as Joslyn, but realized that the places we are required to pack out our poop generally have a large number of visitors each year. If everyone were to poop right off of the trail then imagine how crappy that would be (hahaha)! While in the backcountry at Yellowstone this Summer the NPS had a portable toilet that they move each season. It is simply a deep hole (about three feet deep by two feet wide) with a wooden box over the hole. Sure stunk bad when doing your business, but was very effective as well. This way all the feces is in the exact same spot – reducing the impact, although I’m sure it will take several years for all of the waste to decompose.

        • Marc

          I think this is the key issue — there are FAR more people visiting all of these places in a single season than there are bear, deer, etc. Further, our waste is not generally made up of the same ingredients as the waste of the native fauna. That, combined with the sheer volume of people (and, in the case of areas above treeline, the lack of topsoil) means that, as a group, we have a much greater impact. No single one of us is destroying the environment we visit on a single hike, just as no single one of us can take credit for global climate change. But in the aggregate, our impact is hard to overstate.

          • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

            Very well put Marc. Exactly right.

  • http://ulborbust.wordpress.com/ Joslyn

    My biggest problem with the idea of the wag bags is that acting like human waste disposed of properly (aka cat holes) are still somehow damaging to the environment.  Human beings creating human waste is not something new and I really can’t imagine how it hurts the environment if dealt with in a environmentally thoughtful manner.  Sometimes I feel like I’m expected to stand on a rock and hold my breath for fear I touch something.

  • http://www.prepplace.blogspot.com/ badvoodoodaddy

    Brain, You do have a point there.  I forget that it is far above tree line for most of the climb.  Still a great subject though.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Joslyn, you’re spot on. In fact after the initial amazement from friends about the whole WAG bag discussion, then next most frequent question is; “how can human waste be any worse for the environment than bear or marmot waste?”

    The problem in the case of Whitney is that there really is no topsoil for a considerable part of the trail above treeline, so even if you wanted to dig a cat hole and knew how to do it properly you wouldn’t be able to – the ground is all rock.

    But I am sympathetic to the point you are making. In fact I’ve often had an issue with the fundamental difference between LNT and Bushcraft. One practices an “untouched by human hand” policy almost to the extreme, the other encourages the use of the natural surroundings as part of the overall enjoyment of the outdoor experience.

    I personally fall somewhere in between and teach my kids the benefits of both schools of thought.

  • http://twitter.com/vortex33 Vortex33

    I could have used this post in July when we backpacked the Narrows! The ranger gave us two silver envelopes to pack out our waste and it’s really not as obvious as it may seem. I would be interested in seeing more testing results since I dread packing it out more than running into bears!

  • http://twitter.com/vortex33 Vortex33

    I could have used this post in July when we backpacked the Narrows! The ranger gave us two silver envelopes to pack out our waste and it’s really not as obvious as it may seem. I would be interested in seeing more testing results since I dread packing it out more than running into bears!

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      I’m right there with you on not knowing what to do with a WAG bag. This was my first encounter with them too so I thought it would be valuable to talk about them, dispel any misconceptions, and provide genuine feedback based on my actual use.

      Cleanwaste, makers of the WAG bag system have reached out to me and agreed to provide me with some product samples for additional testing – so watch out for that sometime soon. Any thoughts on what types of tests you think would be useful?

      • http://twitter.com/vortex33 Vortex33

        I’d love a leakage test. It’s one of the things I worried about having to pack it out. In the Narrows we stored everything in drybags and even those leaked water in a bit. It would be nice to know the WAG bags don’t leak in or out (or stink after a couple days) while being stored in my pack.

        • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

          Ok, cool. Those are exactly the types of tests that I want to conduct. Should be interesting…

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I’m right there with you on not knowing what to do with a WAG bag. This was my first encounter with them too so I thought it would be valuable to talk about them, dispel any misconceptions, and provide genuine feedback based on my actual use.

    Cleanwaste, makers of the WAG bag system have reached out to me and agreed to provide me with some product samples for additional testing – so watch out for that sometime soon. Any thoughts on what types of tests you think would be useful?

  • http://twitter.com/vortex33 Vortex33

    I’d love a leakage test. It’s one of the things I worried about having to pack it out. In the Narrows we stored everything in drybags and even those leaked water in a bit. It would be nice to know the WAG bags don’t leak in or out (or stink after a couple days) while being stored in my pack.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Ok, cool. Those are exactly the types of tests that I want to conduct. Should be interesting…

  • http://www.trailcooking.com Sarah

    I’d say the bags are not the worst thing around – honestly I have packed out more used diapers for children than I will ever for me carry out blue bags. There is other ways to do a blue bag I might add – you can always do the #2 on the ground and then scoop it up with TP into the bag. For those with squatting or aim issues this can work a lot better. Not much different than dealing with kids or dogs I might add ;-)

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Thanks Sarah, you’re absolutely right. Once you’ve dealt with dirty diapers as a parent nothing else seems to come close. I like the poop and scoop idea, I think that would be easier.

  • http://www.trailcooking.com/ Sarah

    I’d say the bags are not the worst thing around – honestly I have packed out more used diapers for children than I will ever for me carry out blue bags. There is other ways to do a blue bag I might add – you can always do the #2 on the ground and then scoop it up with TP into the bag. For those with squatting or aim issues this can work a lot better. Not much different than dealing with kids or dogs I might add ;-)

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Thanks Sarah, you’re absolutely right. Once you’ve dealt with dirty diapers as a parent nothing else seems to come close. I like the poop and scoop idea, I think that would be easier.

  • MountainManAmI

    I’ve had similar complaints as Joslyn, but realized that the places we are required to pack out our poop generally have a large number of visitors each year. If everyone were to poop right off of the trail then imagine how crappy that would be (hahaha)! While in the backcountry at Yellowstone this Summer the NPS had a portable toilet that they move each season. It is simply a deep hole (about three feet deep by two feet wide) with a wooden box over the hole. Sure stunk bad when doing your business, but was very effective as well. This way all the feces is in the exact same spot – reducing the impact, although I’m sure it will take several years for all of the waste to decompose.

  • Grant

    While I have never used a wag bag I have thought about the problem of human wast. What I have started to wonder is if the idea of a wilderness area is flawed in saying no improvements ever. I know this is a big statement. But it seems possible to have something like composting toilets in high use areas. I thought of this because of the idea of hut systems they have in the Alps. Seems like they have learned to manage those areas (I admit – an assumption on my part). My thoughts come from – I agree there is an issue – what is the best, lowest impact, way to take care of it? 

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Grant, actually you bring up a good point and one that I am constantly at odds with. There is a distinct conflict between Leave No Trace (LNT) and practices like Bushcraft that use nature to further the outdoors experience. Should we leave the outdoors completely untouched or is it acceptable to have a minimal impact if we do so responsibly.

      In my mind the reason why we have practices like LNT is because it’s very hard to know where to draw the line with “being responsible so we err on the side of saying we must have no impact at all! I am personally somewhere in the middle, but would like to hear both sides of the argument.

  • Grant

    While I have never used a wag bag I have thought about the problem of human wast. What I have started to wonder is if the idea of a wilderness area is flawed in saying no improvements ever. I know this is a big statement. But it seems possible to have something like composting toilets in high use areas. I thought of this because of the idea of hut systems they have in the Alps. Seems like they have learned to manage those areas (I admit – an assumption on my part). My thoughts come from – I agree there is an issue – what is the best, lowest impact, way to take care of it? 

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Grant, actually you bring up a good point and one that I am constantly at odds with. There is a distinct conflict between Leave No Trace (LNT) and practices like Bushcraft that use nature to further the outdoors experience. Should we leave the outdoors completely untouched or is it acceptable to have a minimal impact if we do so responsibly.

    In my mind the reason why we have practices like LNT is because it’s very hard to know where to draw the line with “being responsible so we err on the side of saying we must have no impact at all! I am personally somewhere in the middle, but would like to hear both sides of the argument.

  • http://listeningtothewinds.blogspot.com/ Brad Neal

    I havnt used one myself but thinking on the only 1 pak of tp and 1 hand wipe…. dont even wanna know what they expect you to reuse besides the bag.. .. 

  • http://listeningtothewinds.blogspot.com/ Brad Neal

    I havnt used one myself but thinking on the only 1 pak of tp and 1 hand wipe…. dont even wanna know what they expect you to reuse besides the bag.. .. 

  • http://listeningtothewinds.blogspot.com/ Brad Neal

    also another thought would be http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Poop-Tube

  • http://listeningtothewinds.blogspot.com/ Brad Neal

    also another thought would be http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Poop-Tube

  • AbleMob

    For Pete’s Sake this whole idea is ridiculous.  Install some composting toilets if you want to contain the waste to a certain area. The best hiking experience of my life was on the Routeburn in New Zealand with huts, toilets, cooking facilities, etc.  It didn’t diminish the experience one iota. If you really want to keep an area unspoiled and untouched by humans don’t let us hike there at all.  Fecal matter decomposes and I can’t think of an area I’ve ever hiked in all the 50 states where I couldn’t dig a cat hole responsibly.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Bob, I don’t disagree with you especially after my experience using the WAG bag. However, the problem is that at 12,000ft up on Mt Whitney there is no where to be able to dig a cat hole because there is no top soil, the ground is either lose rocks or solid granite, and therefore no way for tons of fecal matter to properly decompose.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Bob, I don’t disagree with you especially after my experience using the WAG bag. However, the problem is that at 12,000ft up on Mt Whitney there is no where to be able to dig a cat hole because there is no top soil, the ground is either lose rocks or solid granite, and therefore no way for tons of fecal matter to properly decompose.

  • AbleMob

    For Pete’s Sake this whole idea is ridiculous.  Install some composting toilets if you want to contain the waste to a certain area. The best hiking experience of my life was on the Routeburn in New Zealand with huts, toilets, cooking facilities, etc.  It didn’t diminish the experience one iota. If you really want to keep an area unspoiled and untouched by humans don’t let us hike there at all.  Fecal matter decomposes and I can’t think of an area I’ve ever hiked in all the 50 states where I couldn’t dig a cat hole responsibly.

  • rcMike

    …and even though Mt. Whitney has a daily quota limit (60 backpackers and 100 day hikers), I would think you would quickly run out of suitable places to “dig deep”.

  • AbleMob

    That’s why I’m for a few composting toilets that could be disguised into the surroundings. Maybe limit the number of hikers somewhat.
    I will NOT pack my poop out.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      So you don’t want me to send you a few free samples of WAG bags? :-p

  • AbleMob

    That’s why I’m for a few composting toilets that could be disguised into the surroundings. Maybe limit the number of hikers somewhat.
    I will NOT pack my poop out.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    So you don’t want me to send you a few free samples of WAG bags? :-p

  • Pmsrefugee

    Having been up Whitney 3 times I can assure you it is impossible to dig a cathole in the rocky soil, and if you did you can bet you wouldn’t be the first person to dig there. not much fun digging up someone elses buried treasure. The solar toilets were a good idea but did not work well if people peed in them since they worked by drying out the poop. it was also expensive to fly the helicopter up to 12,000 feet to fly out the waste. i reused the wag bag and it was not fun to untie the knot after the bag sat in the hot tent all day either. The bag does NOT seal the stink in the bag and i didn’t dare stop to talk to other hikers on the way down because of the smell coming from my bag. if you saw the amount of poop and toilet paper behind every large rock you would agree something had to be done. good idea to bring your own bag to seal the wag bag in to try to contain the smell.

  • Pmsrefugee

    Having been up Whitney 3 times I can assure you it is impossible to dig a cathole in the rocky soil, and if you did you can bet you wouldn’t be the first person to dig there. not much fun digging up someone elses buried treasure. The solar toilets were a good idea but did not work well if people peed in them since they worked by drying out the poop. it was also expensive to fly the helicopter up to 12,000 feet to fly out the waste. i reused the wag bag and it was not fun to untie the knot after the bag sat in the hot tent all day either. The bag does NOT seal the stink in the bag and i didn’t dare stop to talk to other hikers on the way down because of the smell coming from my bag. if you saw the amount of poop and toilet paper behind every large rock you would agree something had to be done. good idea to bring your own bag to seal the wag bag in to try to contain the smell.

  • buddy

    If ziplock has the smell thing figured out why do these WAG bags still smell?

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Exactly, that was my point. I just received a box load of test WAG bag products and prototypes, so once I’ve had more time to test them I’ll post an update.

  • buddy

    If ziplock has the smell thing figured out why do these WAG bags still smell?

  • MaxPak

    Thanks for sharing such an interesting post. The WAG bag functions with a
    double bag system. All the components of the WAG bag are constructed of high
    quality puncture resistant materials. The outer bag has a secure zip top that
    creates an airtight seal when in the closed position. The inner WAG bag contains
    a gelling powder that is usually referred to as Pooh Powder. This powder
    immediately begins to gel the waste while neutralizing the odor. The components
    of Pooh Powder are not toxic and are highly biodegradable.

  • D.I.

    Umm… 100 hikers a day, average 1lb of “stuff” a day = 100lbs a day = 36,000 (18 tons!) – according to clevis multrum info this will reduce 70% in first year, to 10% of original after 2nd year. Seems putting in a number of units on the side of the trail along the way is a no-brainer. 18 tons may seem like a lot, but it’s only about the same as 4500 gals of water. 10% of that (2 years later) is 450 gals. 

    If you can educate people not to pee in it, and use a disposal design that sheds the liquid (to a place on the rocks where it’ll dry and/or get rained up, this should be no problem 

    If the park service (or whoever) can’t get their head around this, they’re not thinking straight- good design is better than trusting systems that go against human nature (carrying poop in $3 bags) any day.

    d.i.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      D.I. – I have a box load of WAG bags and poop powder products just waiting to be tested. I thought we could add that as an item for our PoweredKids program: #51 – poop in a bag!

  • http://twitter.com/HikeforHomeles1 Hike for Homeless

    We used the bags manufactured by Cleanwaste while rafting for 10 days in the Grand Canyon.  People who had to poop at times when the “groover” wasn’t available were issued the bags.  No one seemed to have an issue with it.  I’ve thought about getting some for my Appalachian Trail thruhike this year.

  • Wm Behrendt

    Nice commentary… I was wondering has anyone looked into the drugs in the enviroment due to that which pases first though the humans? I’m thinking of blood thinners, blood presure medications and diabitic druggs.

    • http://www.facebook.com/steven.w.wilgus Steven W. Wilgus

      William, In a nutshell: medications decompose rapidly, and those in waste are generally bacteria and Oxygen and water further decomposed. 90% of medication expiration is due to “internal/intrinsic” chemical breakdown over time…so the effect on the environment SHOULD be minimalNot to say a BETTER solution to HumWaste isn’t needed, i only addressed teh medication issue – and a darm good point/observation too by the way!

      • hl

        not so Steven !! perhaps you need to take a closer look at the contamination of groundwater and the water table with prescription drugs – both from human waste and improper disposal. Expiry dates are ‘on the safe side’ and some of these chemicals remain active long, long after. But back to topic, we have some great systems for human waste management in place in some really remote areas in Aust. and NZ, and they don’t involve carrying your own out. I for one gladly pay for my park entry or backpacker pass so that I don’t have to ‘carry’ :)

  • Wm Behrendt

    Nice commentar… I was wondering has anyone looked into the drugs in the enviroment due to that which pases first though the humans?
    I’m thinking of blood thinners, blood presure medications and diabitic druggs.

  • http://www.cheaptents.com/blog Andy – Cheap Tents

    Removed due to sheer expense of cleaning them out – comment further up to this effect – helicopters being used was expensive

  • http://www.cheaptents.com/blog Andy – Cheap Tents

    Really great post and insight in the comments about why and how. We’re fairly lucky in the UK and catholes in areas are the norm, we do (at least at cheaptents) prefer the LNT approach but it’s not always possible or practical, we have enough problems getting dog owners to pick up doggy -do’s … but i think we are becoming more aware of our impact as a species across the globe and learning that we need to respect nature. we just need to find the happy medium between what people are happy and not happy to do, its a compromise situation and no-one will be the winner outright

  • http://www.facebook.com/steven.w.wilgus Steven W. Wilgus

    William, In a nutshell: medications decompose rapidly, and those in waste are generally bacteria and Oxygen and water further decomposed. 90% of medication expiration is due to “internal/intrinsic” chemical breakdown over time…so the effect on the environment SHOULD be minimalNot to say a BETTER solution to HumWaste isn’t needed, i only addressed teh medication issue – and a darm good point/observation too by the way!

  • http://www.facebook.com/steven.w.wilgus Steven W. Wilgus

    I practice LNT as a Rule for decades, now. First as a Boy Scout, then as a soldier [special]. So, responsible people will be responsible , and non will be irresponsible. So, put in the correct type is waste management units:> This “Zero Footprint” is a foolish fantasy: beavers are SO not LNT!!!! But no one would erradicate them, now would they?

  • http://www.facebook.com/steven.w.wilgus Steven W. Wilgus

    I practice LNT as a Rule for decades, now. First as a Boy Scout, then as a soldier [special]. So, responsible people will be responsible , and non will be irresponsible. So, put in the correct type is waste management units:> This “Zero Footprint” is a foolish fantasy: beavers are SO not LNT!!!! But no one would erradicate them, now would they?

  • http://www.facebook.com/sdphoto35 Steven Davis

    I think its funny people carry bags to carry out their poop when hiking and camping. If you poop properly in the woods others won’t come in contact with it and it will only help fertilize the land. That is unless your eating plastic and radioactive isotopes. The real funny thing is your causing more waste by using plastic bags. In the long run your poop is useful for the environment for trees and plants, yet its getting locked away in a non-biodegradable bag in a landfill which has no use but to store waste.

    • hl

      Precisely !!

  • amytys

    On my thru of the JMT this August, I had to use the WAG Bag on the way down from Whitney to the Portal. I had a LOKSak OPSak odor-free bag, that I used for my toiletries on the section from Muir Trail Ranch to the portal (9-day stretch for me) as all my food an toiletries weren’t going to fit into the bear canister. By the time I got to the WAG-zone, everything was in the canister and the OPSak could be used to contain the odor coming from 2-lbs of crap. Not only did it block all odors, but it acted as another layer of protection from a potential burst.

    As for taking a dump above treeline, there are so many large boulders and granite slabs lying on one another along this section of trail that it is no problem to find a hole to climb into a do your business. I had lots of hikers walking by, and not a one noticed me a mere 10 feet off the trail, in the shadows of my new-found grotto. I didn’t feel I had to rush in taking care of my business by any means, as a result.

  • K H

    I know I’m very late to the party, but just had to leave my 2 cents on this.

    While it was sad that they removed the toilets from Trail Camp, a Ranger friend told me it was an impossible situation. People were not only doing their “business” up there, but also dumping trash into the toilets, including dehydrated food containers. Seeing as those things had to be dealt with via helicopter, I can see why they are no longer there.

    As for cat holes at Trail Camp, that in my humble opinion, is an impossibility. First, you have to use rocks to stake out your tent because there is no top soil. Second, anyone who has spent any time at Trail Camp knows that the urine smell alone is overwhelming. Imagine the addition of poop up there!

    The water quality and the amount of people who are up there in any given day make all the other options impractical. I just feel sorry for the poor rangers who have to carry out the bags left by the people who think they are too good for the rules. You have to remember that on Mt. Whitney, you are going to get a large contingent of people who are not particularly sensitive or caring of wilderness issues. The amount of garbage I see up there is proof of that.

    As to the smell – Having used a few of these in my time, I carry with me a thick trash compactor bag, with about a half cup of a mixture of a “carpet fresh” type product, mixed with some baking soda. I then place the used bags into that and seal with twist ties. It doesn’t completely eliminate the odor issue, but works much better than nothing, and is well worth the extra weight. My next experiment, is to try to use the activated carbon based type of air freshener, (the one made for pet odors from innofresh.com) and see how that works, but I haven’t been able to try it out yet.

  • megan_h

    I’ve heard of wag bags before, but have not had the pleasure of using one as I haven’t hiked in sensitive areas such as this. When on a long group hike without nearby restrooms it seems inevitable that at least one person will announce their need to go, and then others will pipe up too. It is always an awkward moment for me when I have to go off-trail for a few minutes to take care of my business and the rest know what I’m doing. I’ve never been able to get over that embarrassment factor. I would imagine others have the same issues?

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  • Kendall Lee

    Awesome post. I can’t believe there was that much business on Mt. Whitney! Holy… well, you know!

  • Wilderness Ranger

    As a person who works in a place that does require Wag Bags, I’m disappointed to hear about your bad experience. I have had good luck with the Rest Stop 2, and making their use mandatory has had a positive impact (or lack of impact) on our limited camping surfaces. One thing to consider with the smell – you can either have an occasional mild whiff of your own while hiking, or you can smell everyone else’s when the animals or floods expose cat holes at the popular campsites. Also, while my job is great and I’m certainly not asking for your pity, I pack out quite enough of other people’s human waste even with mandatory Wag Bag use, thank you very much. The more poop I have to carry, the less space I can dedicate to emergency supplies and other items to help you out if you get in trouble on the trail.

  • Elle B

    Agree. Great post. I plan to make my own wag bag using “Litter Purrfect” (scoopable kitty litter) in place of the poo powder. My cats have a litter box in the garage, and this new “scoopable” litter is pretty amazing. It dehydrates so well that even their urine clumps into a little golf ball – softball size, well, ball. I just scoop it out with the tootsies which are also dehydrated so much there is really no odor. Of course Litter Purrfect does have an odor-covering scent which also helps. Just to be sure though, I think I’ll practice once at home b4 backpacking with it. Thanks for your descriptive post!

  • Rob C.

    One suggestion for everyone is to purchase 4″ PVC pipe from your local home supply store. Glue a cap on one end, and purchase a “test cap” for the other. The test cap is a rubber seal lid that you can use to close off the other end. Use this pipe to store food or human waste. You can cut it to the length of your choice and it will be totally scent proof. I’ve used this solution as “unauthorized bear canisters” but got dirty looks from rangers. But this solution would be ideal for packing out human waste. Hey if you have to carry sewage, you might as well carry sewage pipe…

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      That’s a brilliant idea, but I think I would bag my “waste” before putting it into a pipe for fear of accidental leakage. I’m very curious about using a 4″ PVC pipe as an unauthorized bear canister. All of the commercial ones are far too big for my needs.

      I know exactly what you mean by a test cap, but have never seen them at my local Lowes or Home Depot. Any suggestions on where to purchase some?

  • MHarris4now

    Yes! I have used WAG bags while on a camping trip the past 3 weekends. The one thing that I should add here is that we have the CleanWaste toilet that we take on our trips. Sometimes bathrooms are far from where we are camping and the privacy of our tent takes care of that problem. After using the Wag bag it is often difficult to find a receptacle to place it in. However even in your blog it says to deposit it in any waste receptacle. Not sure about that but okay… So why don’t parks place one or two of these around their camp site areas just for those who don’t make it or can’t make it to the bathroom provided?
    I can pick these bags up at REI stores everywhere and try to keep at least 6 of them handy at all time.

  • Glen Van Peski

    I used WAG bags for the first time on a trip last year in Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon. I found them so amazingly easy to use and effective, that even once we got out of the area they were required, it was just easier to use them. I used one bag for the entire 2.5 day trip, didn’t have any problem reusing it. Maybe it was just beginner’s luck?