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Packing Out Waste: You Can Take It With You

Hikers learn to leave (absolutely) no trace on high-traffic peaks and trails.
_whitney_toiletIn 2007, rangers removed the last toilets from Mt. Whitney. (Laurence Parent)

Rocky Mountain National Park, which began a pilot waste-bag program aimed at rock climbers last summer, now plans to give them to anyone buying a backcountry camping permit. “We’ll tell people there are privies out there, but this is something we’re experimenting with,” says Jim Dougan, the park’s wilderness program specialist. “We’re trying to get people to think of popular trails the same way they think of well-used river corridors; everything you bring into the backcountry needs to return with you.”

How does it work? The two leading products are WAG and Restop 2 bags; both neutralize waste with gelling compounds that absorb moisture (and stink) when you deposit your urine or feces inside. They come with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and used bags can be dropped in any trash container or landfill. If this innovation sounds unappealing, don’t be alarmed. Most agencies are taking a go-slow approach as officials determine if the disposal bags cause unexpected problems (like people discarding them on the trail), and whether the results are environmentally better than the traditional LNT practice of burying waste. Packing it all out remains voluntary in most parks, but if you’re looking for the ultimate in low-impact hiking, there’s no better way to leave nothing but footprints.

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