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HomeNL-2009-11 Poop Tube

The Poop Tube
November, 2011
John Rich

Well, I hate to spoil the nice mood from all the pleasant stories here, but this smelly subject is one that is ripe for discussion. So I'm just going to cast aside the niceties, plunge in, and tackle the issue head-on. (Yes, I'll be making gratuitous bathroom jokes here.)

The subject matter is: Pooping in the wilderness. I could use many other words to describe the relevant act, but I'll try and stick to the less offensive ones. If you don't want to read about poop, then you should exit this story now, because from here on out, I'm going to talk about it much more than you probably want to hear.

The fact is, an awareness of issues about pooping in the woods is made necessary by our Federal government, in the form of the National Park Service. Yes, leave it to the government to regulate our bodily waste functions. And by gosh, they're already actually doing it in some places!

Park Regulations

For example, here's a notice from Big Bend National Park in west Texas about potty rules for trips on the Rio Grande River.

Quote: "All solid human waste must be carried out, with the following exception: kayak-only or single-canoe trips."

Here's another example from a recent canoe trip I did on Lake Powell in Utah. 

Quote: "You are required to possess and utilize a human sanitation device (portable toilet) that does not use plastic bags to contain the waste. This waste may not be disposed of in the trash, but only at pump-out/dump stations located on the lake and at the marinas.As an alternative, you may use a commercial Waste Bag Containment System, that can be disposed of in the trash."

There are probably many other examples of such regulations around the country - these are just the two that I have personally run into recently. So, if you're preparing for a trip, it behooves you to be aware of what your options are for legally pooping in the woods, without getting a ticket from a Park Ranger for it. That would be embarrassing, for both parties.

Compliance Solutions

You may recall that Linda Gorski previously talked about this subject back in May, with her story "GROOVY New Rules for Disposing Human Waste on Rio Grande" (see page 9). Linda introduced a couple of new products to address this problem, which makes it fairly easy to comply with these new park regulations.

The first one is called the Wag Bag - click the web site reference for a description and photo of this product. You get a package of 12 Wag Bags for $34 - that's $2.83 per poop. Disposal is easy - you just drop it in any dumpster when you're done.

Another similar product is the RESTOP. There is the Restop 1 for urine, and the Restop 2 for poop. Restop 2 sells in a pack of 2 for $3.40, or $1.70 each. Their web site even has a slide show to demonstrate how to use their products - it's family rated viewing.

If your paddling trip is short, these products may be just the thing you need to get you through the wilderness in compliance with the potty rules. It also wouldn't hurt to have a few in reserve even on trips of only a few hours, as sometimes you never know when the urge will strike.

Butt, as you can see, a week-long wilderness trip could get a bit expensive with this accommodation. If you go once per day, you'll need at least 7 bags, and with a few extra "just in case", that will add up to about $25 worth. That's a lot of money to spend for simply pooping in the woods, when you normally get to do that for free. And you'll have to spend this kind of money every time you make such a trip.

And now after that long introduction and review, I have finally arrived at the actual subject matter of this particular story - the Poop Tube. You've probably been wondering when I was going to get around to that.

The poop tube is a reusable toilet system that you can build for a one-time up-front cost of about $29. Once you've made this initial investment, the ongoing cost thereafter is minimal. For less than the cost of about ten wag bags, you can have a reusable poop tube that never runs out! You simply drop your waste matter inside the tube, keep it sealed up, and then dispose of the collected contents upon your return to civilization. If this money-saving idea appeals to you, then read on.

Poop Tube Construction

So far, I have been unable to locate any source from which you could purchase a ready-made poop tube, so it seems like the only current option is to make your own. Thus, that's where this story is going next. Here are the components you need to build your own poop tube, and their cost:

• 4" diameter sewer & drain pipe, 10' long - $11.00
• End cap adapter - 2 @ $3.56 each
• 4" plug - 2 @ $1.91 each
• PVC pipe cleaner - $3.00
• PVC pipe glue - $3.00
Total: About $29.00
The components

You might be able to find a hardware store that sells the 4" diameter pipe in shorter sections, for a reduced cost. But 10' is the standard length, which is going to leave you with a lot left over. Maybe you can turn around and sell your excess to someone else who wants to build their own poop tube. Or you could go into business making and selling poop tubes, as there seems to be a market opportunity here. 
I chose 4" diameter pipe because this was the widest diameter available, and I reasoned that this would make it easier to drop the poop down inside the tube without making a mess. You are free to use a smaller diameter, if you think that will work for you.
Note that this 4" diameter plastic pipe is called "sewer and drain" pipe. It is thinner and lighter than PVC Schedule 40 pipe which is designed for pressurized water systems. Be sure you get the right kind - there is no need for the heavier pipe in this poop tube application. And make sure that you also get the fittings for that type of pipe - since the sewer pipe is thinner, the outside diameter is smaller than the heavier PVC Schd 40 pipe. Thus, PVC Schd 40 fittings won't fit on the equivalent inside-diameter sewer pipe. The fittings should be segregated by type in the plumbing section of the hardware store. Dry fit them in the store before you leave, so that you don't get home with something that won't work.

I have also seen other fittings used on the end of the pipe, which come from RV (Recreational Vehicle) supply stores. These include different closing systems than just a threaded cap, and include a small cap that can be removed to attach a hose for clean-out. I don't know anything about these fittings, but you can investigate further on your own if interested.

   PVC pipe cleaner & glue
The glues can get confusing, as they come in different colors and brands. Just pick something that says it works on PVC and CPVC, and you'll be okay. The cleaner comes with a swab under the cap so you can prepare the pipe to receive the glue. The glue also has a swab under the cap, for applying it to both surfaces of the pipe to be joined. 
So, head for the hardware store and buy your bag of goodies. Then you can get busy in your garage putting them together. Construction is very simple, and anyone can do it.

You can review this do-it-yourself information from Home Depot for tips for gluing together PVC pipe: "Cutting & Connecting Rigid Plastic Pipes".

The only decision you have to make before beginning assembly, is to decide how long you want to make the poop tube. I started thinking scientifically about this, but there is a notable lack of information about the cubic volume of the average human poop. I wanted my tube to be good for a week, but had no idea how much volume I needed to accomplish that. So I just eyeballed it and made mine two feet long. After a few days of usage on the river with this, I quickly realized that this was probably bigger than necessary. And when packed vertically in my canoe, it sticks up above the gunwales, which could snag passing tree branches. So I think I'm going to cut mine down to a foot and a half in length.  

To cut the pipe to length, you can use a hand wood saw, hack saw, saber saw, or any other type of saw you have handy. It doesn't require anything special. Try and make the cut square for the best fit. Remove any burrs around the edge when the cut is finished, with a knife or sandpaper. Now all you have to do is clean, glue and fit the parts together. Dry fit everything first to make sure they'll go together smoothly once you add the glue. Once the glue is applied, you have a very limited time to fit them together, before they become permanently bonded. So dry fit first to ensure you wont' have a hang-up when you're running out of glue time.

Use the pipe cleaner to swab around the plastic where the end cap adapters will fit over the pipe at each end. That's the outside of both ends of the pipe, and the inside of both sleeves of the adapters.

Once that's dry, you can proceed to gluing. Swab the glue liberally around the same areas you just cleaned, doing one adapter and one end of the pipe at a time. Immediately slide the adpter over the end of the pipe, giving it a slight twist to smear the glue around together for a good seal. Repeat with the other adapter on the other end of the pipe. That's it! You are now the proud new owner of a poop tube.

The completed poop tube
The end caps are screwed into the adapters to seal the pipe. I put arrows on one end of the pipe with a magic marker as sort of a "this end up" sign, so that I wouldn't unscrew the wrong end cap and come face to face with a previous deposit.


So let's say you're now out in the field and you're ready to use your new poop tube on its maiden voyage. How does that work?

The technique that worked well for me is this: I took along a roll of paper towels as part of my bathroom kit. I laid down a two-sheet thick layer of paper towels on the ground. If the wind is blowing them away, put a small rock on each corner to anchor it. I've heard some people say they use coffee filters, but the coffee filters I see in the grocery store aren't very big, and my aim is poor. If you can get your hands on some of those giant industrial-sized coffee filters like restaurants use, that might make a good alternative. Squat down over the towel and do your business. Aim the urine stream downhill if necessary, so that it doesn't flow back into the towels and weaken their strength. There should be enough distance between the two functions so that only the poop ends up on the paper towels. At least there is for men - I don't know how that works out for you ladies. Use your toilet paper and throw that on top of the poop. When done, pick up the four corners of the paper towels, and drop the wad into your poop tube. You may hold the poop tube in one hand, and the wad in the other hand to accomplish this.

   Disposable gloves
If you're squeamish about accidents in this delicate handling, you can add some disposable gloves to your bathroom kit, and don a pair for the operation. A pack of 10 is only about $3. Throw them into the tube also, when done.
Warning: I was hoping my poop tube would be watertight from the inside out. But when I filled it half-way with water in my garage, and sat it upright, there was some leakage through the end cap threads. Not to worry though. The thickness of poop is sufficient to prevent leakage, and the paper towels absorb any loose liquid so that it isn't sloshing around loose to run through the threads. Another good idea is to throw a couple of handfuls of kitty litter in the bottom to absorb loose liquids. Alternatively, you can buy a different fitting and glue a solid end cap on one end of the pipe (recommended!). That way, stored upright with that end down, you're guaranteed no leakage. However, that's going to make it more difficult to clean out later, as the rinse hose water won't just flow straight through. You might also try sealing the threads on the bottom end with plumber's teflon tape. Needless to say, the last thing you want is the contents of the poop tube leaking out into your canoe. I tested this out thoroughly at home before going out on the river with this contraption. Yeah, that makes for a funny story, which I won't go into here.

End cap wrench   
There's one other item you might want in your bathroom kit, and that's a wrench. You'll want to screw the end caps on tight for security of the contents, butt that can also make them difficult to remove by hand. So I made a crude wrench out of plywood to fit over the square lug on the end cap. It's lightweight, and provides the necessary leverage to do the job. You could also simply use a regular
wrench, as long as the jaws open wide enough to fit over the lug.

   Dump station sign
Of course, the down-side of this reusable system is that you must eventually dispose of the collected contents. This can be done at any RV dump station, where underground storage tanks are located to handle such matters. These are present at many camp sites, and include a water hose to wash out your poop tube after you dump the contents in the hole in the ground.

And that, thankfully, is the end of this unpleasant discussion. Congratulations for bearing with me to get this far. Now you have some ideas on what you can do to comply with these park potty rules when you run into them in the future.
Happy camping!
Poop tube ready for action on Lake Powell 

The author, John Rich