Leaving Dog Poop on the Trail Is Bad. Leaving Dog Poop Bags on the Trail Is Worse.
Why even bag it if you’re not going to carry it out?
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I see them every single day: Neatly-knotted plastic bags of all colors, sometimes “discreetly” tucked by a trailside boulder, atop a marker post, or, in the most egregious cases, right in the middle of the trail. On my local trails and in the backcountry, abandoned dog poop bags can seem more common than unscooped poop. This needs to end.
If you hike with your dog, perhaps you’ve been tempted to ditch their doodoo, telling yourself you’ll circle back for it later. Sure, I’ve been tantalized—like when my dog has a particularly stinky elimination at the least convenient part of a hike (on our neighborhood jaunts, she likes to time it for after we’ve passed the dumpster but before we’ve actually gotten to the trail, maximizing the time I’ll have to carry it). But even when it means toting a putrid package for miles on end, I pack out the dog poop. Because not only is it likely I’ll forget to pick up my trash on the hike out, but also because other hikers shouldn’t be subject to staring at my garbage, even if it’s only there for an hour.
In my opinion, leaving a bagged turd on the side of the trail is even worse than not picking it up in the first place. Plastic bags are more visually intrusive than naked droppings, which tend to blend in with the ground. (Mind you, I’m not condoning this sort of neglect either. And forget the “other animals poop outside!” nonsense—deer and coyotes are native, your pup isn’t.) As a community, hikers have largely gotten over the litter hurdle. You wouldn’t drop your crushed beer can or candy wrapper on the ground. Why are doggy bags any different?
“I’ll just pick it up later,” you may say. “What’s the harm in that?” Temporarily littering is still littering, and your actions signal to others that it’s OK to do so. The cumulative effect of multiple poop bags degrade the hiking experience for your fellow trail users. And let’s say you do forget to circle back for that bundle. It’ll take much longer to decompose than unbagged excrement (which is still bad). Perhaps you justify the act by telling yourself that at least someone won’t step in bagged waste, but a spoiled view is just as unpleasant as a dirtied boot sole.
Backpackers pride themselves on going days without a shower, sleeping in the dirt, drinking river water, and doing our human business in the woods. So why do we have such a problem carrying some dog poop? In a sealed plastic bag? If properly picked up, carrying your dog’s poop for a few miles poses no health risk—and if you stow it properly, should cause little to no noticeable odor. From licking salsa off a shelter floor to comparing blisters, I’ve seen hikers unflinchingly do much grosser things.
I get it: it can be plain inconvenient to carry out a bag of poop, especially on hikes where you need to keep your hands free. I’ve had to get creative, lashing poop bags to my bike handlebars or carabinering them to the outside of my pack. Hikers are inventive. If you can jerry-rig a broken tent pole or treat a sprained ankle, surely you can find a way to transport a bag of poo with you until it can be disposed of.
If you follow the first principle of Leave No Trace (plan ahead and prepare), you won’t need to enlist that creativity. Poop is inevitable, and every dog owner should have a plan to dispose of it before bringing their pooch along for a hike. No excuses.
If carrying those extra few ounces by hand or shoving it in next to your first aid kit is too much for you, I’ll offer some solutions: Designate a fanny pack or a pocket of your pack as the poop compartment. Bagged poop shouldn’t leak, but if you still get the ickies, line that pocket with a trash bag or a dedicated, lightweight dry bag. If you really want to go hard on odor blocking, carry an empty coffee bag or some powdered bleach, which also work great for packing out your own waste.
Even better? Get your pooch a backpack. If you don’t want to carry out your dog’s excrement, make them do it! Your pup won’t mind the smells, and can also carry their own water and treats.
If you still feel tempted to ditch that plastic bag trailside? It’s time to find a dogsitter, and hit the trail by yourself instead.