Tech Tip: Dealing With Poo

Poo is the inevitable waste that must be dealt with on a big wall.

On my first trip up the big stone of El Cap, I heard laughter from above moments before seeing two paper bags rocket past me on their speedy decent into the talus below.  This team’s method of “toss and forget it” is one ugly, nasty and inappropriate method of dealing with waste.

Over the years I’ve dabbled with many ways of dealing with poo on the wall and have settled on the following method as my preferred way of keeping things civilized.

At home, prepare homemade wag bags by putting about a cup of kitty litter in a paper bag, preferably bags larger than the traditional lunch sack size. Fold and put in a gallon Ziploc bag, (heavy duty with an easy zip system is best). You can also buy wag bags at a local outdoor store, but I usually make my own to save money compared to the $3-4 cost of commercially available bags.


Designate a stuff sack to hold your wag bags and fill a one gallon Ziploc with accessories such as toilet paper, baby wipes, and antibacterial hand wash.

On the wall, when the time has come, hopefully your partner can give you some much-appreciated privacy by jugging a previously fixed pitch, traversing on a ledge system or finding as much removed space as possible in the vertical world.


Rip or fold down the sides of the paper bag and deposit your load. Close and carefully secure in plastic Ziploc bag.

Take an empty water bottle and cut a slit in the bottle lengthwise and insert waste bag. A 2-liter bottle can usually fit two loads, ideal for a 2 person wall team. A 3-liter bottle leaves ample room, particularly for the manliest of waste loads.


Make sure you have a secure way of attaching your waste bottles to the bottom of your haul bag. In this picture we were doing a route with plenty of large ledges and minimal hauling. Hence, after their intended use, I made duct tape loops with several layers of tape. For more rigorous hauling with hanging belays where dropping a bottle is a real concern, I would have pre-rigged cord or webbing attachment points.

Why not a PVC poop tube? In my experience, whatever you put your load in is going to smell like it forever. And I mean forever! I’ve used all manner of poop tubes and I could never get the smell to go away. Upon someone’s suggestion, I once used a dry bag and I washed and washed and scrubbed and scrubbed that bag and it still smelled. I even tried rinsing it out with white gas and the smell remained. Some friends used an old paint thinner can for a waste depository, and it smelled despite the presence of old paint thinner fumes. Hence, I like using old water bottles because you have them anyway and they are cheap and easy to get.

After inserting the package, duct tape the opening shut and hang from the bottom of your haul bag in a place where it should receive minimal interference while hauling. Here’s where having a roll of duct tape on a wall comes handy. I always like having a roll because it serves so many purposes; protecting a sharp edge when hauling, patching up a haul bag or rain fly, or as heavy duty first aid for something broken on your body.


When you return to the ground, you can rock, paper, scissors for the unenviable task of carrying the load down, where it can be easily deposited in the nearest dumpster.


Got any big wall poop management strategies of your own? Share in the comments below.

Mike Schneiter is the owner of Glenwood Climbing Guides.

2 Responses to Tech Tip: Dealing With Poo

  1. Since when is it acceptable to dump human waste in a random trash can? I thought part of losing that roshambo was opening up whatever container you choose (water bottles, poop tube, stuff sack) and dumping them in the latrine.

    HD February 26, 2014 at 5:01 pm
  2. If you’re opening up poop tubes and dumping them in the latrine then I absolutely commend you. I have done so myself on a number of occasions. I’ve even peed in bottles and hauled them out on high traffic routes to spare additional waste and odor being added, thus negating the weight savings you get by drinking the water in your haul bag.

    But, to my knowledge and experience, I’ve never heard of or seen people dumping their waste into latrines. I could be wrong and would happily eat my humble pie. Something to consider about dumping waste in normal trash cans is that in most areas where people are big walling (Yosemite, Zion, etc.) there are probably ten times as many baby diapers, with a lot of little human waste, being dumped into trash cans around the park every day. Not to mention millions of diapers around the nation ending up in regular trash, and landfills every day along with millions of dog turds in little plastic bags. As a father myself I have personally “stunk up” some dumpsters with baby crap. Unfortunately, shit stinks, no matter how you deal with it.

    And, again in my experience and to my knowledge, commercially bought wag bags are regularly dumped in the trash. I’ve climbed in a lot of areas that suggest, provide or even require the use of wag bags but don’t provide any special receptacle to place it in. The only area that comes to mind that had wag bag specific receptacles was at Rainier for the blue bags provided there.

    Plus, the instructions on commercially bought wag bags are very explicit about do not dump them into latrines or toilets and that they are to, “be disposed of in trash with regular garbage” and from the package itself, “toss it in any household receptacle or public trash.”

    Mike February 27, 2014 at 6:43 am
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