Have you ever been enjoying or working outdoors, running, hiking, or camping, and suddenly needed to go to the bathroom—but you didn't have any of the necessary tools to answer nature's call?
Bodily functions became more manageable thanks to PACT Outdoors. This Colorado-based brand launched the first-ever bathroom kit to help people more easily go to the bathroom outside in a sanitized, sustainable way.
"We have outdoor kits for first aid and cooking—integrated systems that make it easier to be prepared, to pack, and to do that thing. We thought, 'Why do we not have this for going to the bathroom when it's something we all do everyday?'" said PACT Outdoors cofounder Jake Thomas.
"This kit will make it easier for everyone to be prepared, and will increase the likelihood that people will have what they need when they need to go," said Thomas.
Why build a company based on poop?
The idea initially surfaced in early fatherhood when Thomas changed diapers. At the time, his good friend and PACT Outdoors cofounder Noah Schum was further along in his parenting journey.
"Being a month into parenthood, I was thinking a lot about poop. I asked Noah how he packs out his poop in the outdoors, and he said he buries it when he goes hunting whereas I carry it out when I go rock climbing, which started a conversation about ethics—no one really knows what they're doing when they poop outdoors," said Thomas.
With more people than ever exploring the wilderness, outdoor bathroom management has continued to become a public health issue nationwide and across Colorado, from Rocky Mountain National Park to Conundrum Hot Springs to Crested Butte's Slate River and the San Juan and Animas Rivers near Silverton and Durango. Human feces might even be the cause of the deaths among the mountain goats on Mt. Evans.
The need for a solution, a well-designed bathroom kit and public education became even more apparent during the pandemic.
"No one is pooping on the surface of the ground and leaving it because they're malicious. It's because they're naive and in a lot of cases unprepared," said Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association Executive Director Dave Ochs in a statement.
The Crested Butte area recently switched from dispersed to designated camping. One of the persistent issues is unburied human waste and toilet paper, which the organization picks up among other trash.
"A grab-and-go kit empowers people, and it's an important complement to strategies like education, regulation and ongoing maintenance to address the increasing sanitization issues our public lands are currently facing," Ochs said.
Taking the help of fungi
To help accelerate the breakdown of buried poop, PACT Outdoors wanted to find an eco-friendly additive for the soil.
Through researching mushrooms, they discovered a solution to help decompose buried feces: mycelium, fungal threads that often grow underground, which help break down poop and kill harmful bacteria.
"We started diving into research about harmful bacteria that were contaminating waterways and wildlife. We wanted to create a solution that was not only easier for people to use than a home hack (a ziplock bag, trowel, and half-used roll of TP) but also ups the standard for sustainability," said Thomas.
The mycelium is in a small tablet form; three tabs are needed per cat hole after a person does their business.
PACT Outdoors Bathroom Kit
Like a lightweight travel toiletry bag, the all-in-one Bathroom Kit neatly stows all of the tools that an outdoor enthusiast needs to poop in a cat hole, the most widely accepted method of human waste disposal nationwide, according to the Leave No Trace nonprofit.
The svelte starter kit includes all of the tools a person would need in the tri-fold case:
- Hand sanitizer
- Ergonomic shovel
- Washable trash bag to pack out anything (including feminine hygiene products)
- Info card with steps for how to go to the bathroom outside
- PACT Wipes (for cleaning up after, plus they're biodegradable and can be buried)
- PACT Tabs (made with the mycelium of fungi, which decomposes waste and kills harmful bacteria)
"The PACT Wipe is designed to be buried. It's plant based. It's wet. It's fibrous. The mycelium eats the wipe first then becomes stronger and breaks down the poop faster and more effectively, based on our field studies," said Thomas.
The case also has a loop and carabiner to hang it from a tree. The kit is built for 20 uses and weighs under one pound.
What is a cat hole
A cat hole is a small pit dug 6 to 8 inches deep (and 4 to 6 inches in diameter) for solid human waste.
Folks can't dig cat holes anywhere they want to. Ideally, a person digs the tiny pit at least 200 feet—approximately 70 adult paces—away from waterways such as creeks, rivers, or lakes. Place the hole that same distance away from trails or camp.
Disperse cat hole sites rather than reuse the same spot.
Typically, toilet paper is either buried in the cat hole or packed in a plastic bag. Pack out toilet paper in arid, desert environments. People can also use stones, vegetation, or snow to clean up instead.
Other methods to go to the bathroom outside
There are nuances to going to the bathroom outside, said Thomas.
In many outdoor locations and applications, the proper protocol is to bury human feces, otherwise known as the cat hole.
In specific locations where the ecosystem is fragile or vastly immersed in water or does not have enough soil for burial—such as backpacking in a narrow slot canyon or through the desert or paddling on a whitewater trip, or rock climbing on a big wall—there are guidelines for going to the bathroom.
Other waste strategies include a commercially-made pack-out system, a plastic dog waste bag designed for humans, or a WAG bag (which stands for waste alleviation and gelling.) People can poop directly into the double-layered poop bag, made with a waste treatment powder that deodorizes, dries, and decays the waste.
Another option for specific trips, such as some whitewater rafting or overland adventures, is to carry a portable, reusable toilet such as the Reliance Luggable Loo or the Outdoorplay Club Restop Portable Commode. The human waste is collected and thrown away afterward.
Some of the most popular locations nationwide are switching to promoting a pack-out method and even handing out free WAG bags because the amount of necessary cat holes has reached a tipping point, as outlined in a recent feature by Outside. The article includes locations such as Utah's Bears Ears National Monument and California's Mount Whitney, in addition to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Check the guidelines where you plan to travel by calling that specific land management office or reading that location's current guidelines online.
Who uses the Bathroom Kit?
PACT Outdoors did a soft launch in September 2021.
The kit has been popular among adventure motorcyclists, wildland firefighters, and geologists, in addition to other recreationists of all ages and experience levels nationwide.
Professional guides and outfitters, especially in the hunting and fly fishing space, particularly appreciate the kit.
"Higher-end guide services are excited for an all-in-one bathroom kit that's very well put together with a how-to info card in kit. Their clients are paying a lot of money, [going to the bathroom] can be awkward topic, and they usually provide a hacked together kit," said Thomas.
With this polished assortment, "Guides don't have to say anything to clients and they can follow LNT practices for burial using the info card then walk away feeling good," he added.
Some folks only purchase the PACT Tabs and PACT Wipes to add to their homemade outdoor bathroom kit.
What’s next for PACT Outdoors
Next up, PACT Outdoors is designing a new ultralightweight and compact kit for trail runners and other space-conscious travelers. The company plans to pare down supplies.
The company is also designing a pack-out system for human waste to add to the burial-based solutions.
PACT Outdoors Bathroom Kits are available direct-to-consumer, through independent retailers in Western Colorado, and via Moosejaw.com.