How to go to the toilet in the great outdoors | A guide for hikers & campers

Everybody poops. It’s just a fact of life.

As someone who loves hiking and camping, and has been doing it since I was a child, of course I’ve had a poop in the great outdoors. But set all squeamish sniggering at this statement aside, this is an essential declaration. We can’t ignore it or pretend that it doesn’t happen when we’re outdoors for extended periods.

As a ranger in the Cairngorms National Park through the summer of 2020, I’ve unfortunately seen the impact of irresponsible hikers and wild campers at some of the most beautiful places in the country. Quite frankly, it’s disgusting, it spoils the outdoor experience of everyone else visiting the area, and I’m fed up of having to clean up toilet paper and baby wipes. I just don’t want to see it anymore*.

*And for chat with my ranger colleagues to revolve around more than the biggest jobbies we’ve seen this week.

Dealing with human waste in a hygienic, environmentally sensitive way is a vital outdoor skill, and not just for expert or elite-level outdoors folk. Anyone spending a long time out hiking, or camping overnight will have to face up to the inevitable. And as most of us are accustomed to flushing toilets, it’s a skill that needs to be learned like any other.

Talking about how to pee and poop properly in the outdoors raises awareness of the issue of environmental contamination from human waste, and hopefully will spread understanding of the most responsible way to manage our bodily functions while hiking or wild camping.

Also, I hope it will also go some way to resolving any fears or discomfort some may feel about going to the toilet away from the usual facilities, fears that may stop them from trying longer trips. I’ve shared a few of my toilet tips about how and where to go when hiking or wild camping to ease your worries and help you prepare for your next outdoor experience.

It might look like a beautiful camping spot for the night, but think about where you might be able to go to the toilet safely and hygenically.

So here’s my guide on how to go to the toilet outdoors, to help you plan for your next hiking or camping trip. Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below. I’m here to help.

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8 Activities for Adventurers Staying at Home

A list of indoor activities and things to do around the home for outdoor and adventure lovers.

Though we’re encouraged to think of our current situation with the coronavirus lockdown as being safe while we’re at home, there’s no denying if you’re an outdoor type, you’ll inevitably find yourself feeling stuck at home. Denied that usual dose of adventure, there’s a serious risk of an outbreak of cabin fever.

So, given that there’s unlikely to be an immediate cure to our condition, I’ve compiled a list of activities that can bring the outdoors indoors, and help stave off longing aches for the hills, rivers, forests, and beaches for a while longer. They’ll help you stay mentally resilient, and get you prepared to get back out there when the time comes. They’re fun, and virtually all free, or at least affordable, so give them a go!

If you’ve got any of your own tips to share, let me know in the comments below!

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What I’ve loved this season | Antarctica 2019-2020

A few of my favourite things from the past season.

I’ve just returned from four months in Antarctica, working for the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust in the famous Penguin Post Office in Port Lockroy through the southern summer season. It’s been an overwhelming couple of weeks, as I reconnected to the rest of the world and remembered how to do little everyday things that were missing from my life over those 110 days.

Like using money and buying things I want from shops and bars, rather than just asking someone to bring things to me. Driving, and even just moving around at a faster pace. The colour green. Or looking out the window and seeing animals that aren’t penguins. I miss those penguins. (Though the odour of penguin guano is still lingering on in the fabric of my outdoor clothing).

Then there was the added strangeness of adjusting to our new normal in the time of corona. Reuniting with family wasn’t the hugs and long conversations I’d imagined I’d have, but waving through the window of houses as I stood outside in the garden, and staccato notes in what’s app chats and skype calls. It’s tough, but I know that I’m not the worst off in this situation, and for that, I’m so very thankful.

These are a few of the things that I loved over my Antarctic season, living in close confines with a small team, on a little island with no escape. There may even be a couple of things you find useful yourself over the next few weeks as we adjust to living in lockdown.

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Things I’ve loved during the southern summer in Antarctica
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How to make a travel repair kit

A travel repair kit has the things you need to deal with whatever the road throws at you.

A repair kit is an essential for extended trips into wild and remote areas.  A good repair kit will help you take the results of everyday wear and tear in your stride, like a small rip in your trousers, and can make you feel more confident handling the unexpected disasters, like a broken backpack or wind-shredded tent.

Carrying a few simple tools and materials will let you carry out necessary repairs in the field, and could make the difference between completing your adventure and turning back early due to gear failure.  Or enjoying your weekend citybreak without stress.

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Simple ways to reduce plastic use as you travel

Plastic. It seems that’s all we’re talking about right now, thanks to eye-opening documentaries like A Plastic Ocean and Blue Planet II. Specifically plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. Single-use plastics. Things that become waste products within minutes, sometimes even seconds after we lay our hands on them.

Plastic isn’t inherently bad. It’s cheap, lightweight, hygienic, versatile, and virtually indestructible. But as a society we’ve become overly dependent on it, manufacturing more than 300 million tonnes a year, and generating far more waste than the planet can handle. Not enough is recycled, landfill is filling up, and invariably some plastic waste ends up in rivers and seas. And it’s virtually indestructible.

We have become addicted to plastic.  We have transformed the nature of the ocean.  Without the ocean, life on Earth could not exist – including us.

Dr. Sylvia Earle

According to recent research, there is now no corner of the earth which is completely free from plastic contamination, from the polar seas to the deep ocean. And the problem is multi-stranded: large, free-floating items pose a risk of entanglement or choking; medium to small items are ingested, filling stomachs without providing nutrition; and tiny fragments of degraded plastic floating in surface water accumulate toxins, poisoning through the food chain. Marine ecosystems face catastrophic damage.

Whilst various governments, NGOs and businesses have recognised the scale of the problem and made commitments to future change, how long til the effects percolate down into our everyday life? I think it falls to us to take our own steps, and force change from bottom up.

Surely we have a responsibility to care for our blue planet. The future of humanity – and indeed all life on Earth – now depends on us.

Sir David Attenborough

There are several ways we can reduce our reliance on plastics, especially single-use items, take responsibility for what we consume, and use plastics only when there’s no better alternative. And the good news is that many of these measures are simple and can be incorporated into our everyday lives, at home and on the road.

These are just a few of the tips I’ve picked up from my work in conservation and on my travels, and some of the bits and pieces I’ve invested in to help make it easier to avoid unnecessary single-use plastics. I hope it gives a few practical and affordable solutions you can use on your travels, and at home too.

Carry Canvas Bags

The nations of the UK, along with many other countries in Europe, introduced small levy charges on single-use plastic carrier bags as a prompt to encourage people to think about their reliance on them. A success, the amount of bags distributed has been cut by up to 90% in some countries, and the proportion of plastic waste made up from bags found in marine surveys has dropped significantly.

Other countries, particularly across Africa and South Asia, have gone further and outlawed the use of plastic bags completely. I always have a canvas bag or two in my handbag or daypack while I’m on the move, and I store others in my car and office desk drawer so I always have one handy for shopping. You can pick up canvas bags almost everywhere, and sometimes promotional bags are available for free.

Bring your own bottle

I always carry a refillable water bottle with me, a habit from many years of working outdoors and in remote areas. Using a refillable bottle also has the added benefit of saving you money in the long term. Bottled water is an unnecessary expense in most locations, and more and more places are now providing water fountains or free refills to help tackle plastic use. Just be sure to empty your bottle before going through airport security.

Just say no to straws, spoons, and stirrers

Until recently most of us rarely gave straws a second thought. Then we all saw that footage of the turtle, and realised these small, single-use items sum-up our throw-away relationship with plastic. Cheap and convenient, but rarely essential, most of us can easily do without them.

However straws help some drink independently, make it easy for small children to avoid spills, and make cocktails feel, well, fancy. So if you can’t do without, pick up a pack of paper straws instead, or invest in a reusable bamboo or metal alternative (which usually come with their own cleaning kit), and channel that old fella drinking maté you saw in Buenos Aires.

Take a reusable cup to the coffee shop

Takeaway drink cups are usually lined with polyethylene to stop leaks, and in the UK alone more than 7 million of these “disposable” cups are given out every day. This adds up to an astonishing 2.5 billion a year, and due to the mixed materials in their composition only around 1% are ever recycled. The remainder will end up as litter or in landfill.

Many cafés and coffeehouses, both chains and independent stores, offer a discount for customers bringing their own cups. I keep my reusable cup, by ecoffee, in my car for an occasional takeaway drink, others are available including collapsible cups to pack for travelling.

Find My Plastic Reduction Packing List Here

I’ve gathered together a few things I’d recommend for a plastic reduction packing list; click on the link to find out more or buy the items.

Change your Coffee Culture

Takeaway coffee is not that common in many countries. In the Scandinavian countries, the world’s largest coffee consumers, most people will sit down in a café, with or without friends, and savour their brew in a glass or ceramic cup. Even Italians stop for espresso in a dainty demitasse at the bar rather than grab something to go.

So next time you fancy a coffee, think about taking the time to sit in and savour your drink. It’s one of the nicest and most affordable experiences when you travel, and cuts the need for single-use drinks cups at the source whether you’re home or away.

Take your own eating tools

A spork is a simple, small thing that you can stick in a daypack or handbag to cut out the need for single-use plastic cutlery with your takeaway lunch, street food snack, or budget hotel breakfast. It’s an essential for hiking and camping trips too.

If I’m travelling anywhere for more than a few days, I might also stick a lunchbox, a clip-top tupperware tub, into my bags. It lets me prepare my own lunches, and save leftovers, and cuts down on the amount of waste I create from buying pre-packaged salads, sandwiches, and pasta. To minimise the space it takes up in my bag, I stuff my toiletries inside, reducing the likelihood of liquids leaking into my clothes too.

In winter, I have a food flask I use to take hot meals or soup with me while I’m off exploring the outdoors.

I realise there’s likely to be times where I don’t always follow my own advice, but I hope that I’ve made you question your reliance on plastics, and given you some suggestions that can be easily incorporated into your routine. They’re just small steps, but if more of us make them, and keep raising awareness of the issue, we become part of the solution rather than contributing to the problem.

How do you cut out single-use plastics on your travels? Share your tips in the comments below.
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This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through my link, I will make a small commission* at no additional cost to you. These help me to continue to run this site, providing tips and advice, and sharing stories from my adventures. Thank you for supporting me.

*Maybe enough for a coffee.  Not enough for a yacht.

What to Pack for Day Hikes in the UK

This list includes everything I take on my day hikes in the UK (in summer conditions), plus a few extras for when I’m in different situations and have different purposes for my hikes.  It’s taken me a while to get my kit together, but it’s been worth getting a few items to ensure I’m safe and warm, and can do everything I want to do.

The biggest element of planning a hike in the UK is our predictably unpredictable weather.  Just because a day starts in sunshine, there’s no guarantee that it will end that way, and if you’re hiking hills, mountains, or munros on a drizzly day, there’s every chance you might emerge through the cloud layer into the dazzling sun on the tops.

 

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I’ll often go hiking solo, so I’m solely responsible for taking everything I might need. I also lead small groups and hike with friends, but still take the same amount of kit.  I want to be responsible for my own welfare, and able to help out anyone else that might be having an issue.  I might also bring a few extra items if there’s more than just me, in the hope that others will share their sweets in return.

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Taking on the TGO Challenge

In May each year, like a flock of migrating birds, three hundred or so backpackers take part in an adventurous coast-to-coast trek across Scotland. The TGO Challenge invites participants from across the globe to explore some of the wildest and most beautiful landscapes in Europe.

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Looking down into the Great Glen from the Monadhliath.

What is the TGO Challenge?

The Great Outdoors Challenge is an annual hiking event crossing the Highlands of Scotland, from the west coast to the east. The essence of the challenge is to experience the remote parts of the country, including many areas which can only be accessed on foot. Wild camping is a big part of that experience, and requires participants to be self-sufficient. Nothing beats unzipping your tent door to a brand-new wild view each morning.

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What to Pack for a Tall Ship Voyage

Tips on how to pack for a once-in-a-lifetime sailing voyage on a traditional sailing ship.

You’ve booked a once-in-a-lifetime voyage on a beautiful sailing ship, and started dreaming about life during the golden age of sail or even rounding the Horn in a force nine.  But as your date of departure cruises closer, what do you actually need to pack?

I’ve sailed on a few tall ships; short voyages around western Europe, island hopping in the Pacific, on long ocean crossing passages, and in the Tall Ships races, so from my experience, here are some recommendations to add to your packing list.

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Crossing the Arctic Circle under sail along the coast of Norway

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