Why ultralight hikers should carry potty trowels
Like many ultralight hikers, I never thought I would carry a potty trowel. It was a piece of gear that seemed heavy and redundant, especially when a shoe, rock, or stick could do the job and serve multiple functions (or not need to be carried at all). However, after I tried my first ultralight potty trowel, I’ve become a strong advocate for potty trowels on trail. I believe carrying a potty trowel can improve the hiking experience, both for you, others, and the ecosystem for a near inconsequential weight penalty.
I first was willing to try carrying a potty trowel when I discovered that potty trowel technology now has multiple options available at less than an ounce. For me, it’s well worth carrying an extra 12 g to improve what was once the worst part of my hiking day.
Carrying a trowel has become even more important because of the increase in number of hikers, especially on the PCT. The damage (and just plain grossness) created by hundreds or thousands of hikers doing a cr@ppy job of burying #2 is mind boggling. Particularly for desert sections of drought-struck Southern California, heat, dryness, and soil-not-conducive-to-bacteria can make it so a turd will take decades to decompose. This means that each year, more and more hikers leave landmines in the sand at a rate faster than they can return to the earth. This is why digging a good hole—and carrying the equipment that can make digging a good hole possible—has become even more important.
Lastly, hikers need to admit to themselves that they are infamously bad at burying poops. Thru-hikers especially. When you’re trying to make miles, have to get to town before the store closes, and have reduced control over your bowels, digging a quality hole in lickity-split time using only a rock becomes nearly impossible. The trowel can dig through all sorts of soils and build a fat cathole in a fraction of the time of many other building materials.
List of ultralight potty trowels
Qi Whiz—the one I use and the lightest on the market! It is pictured throughout this blogpost. The original model comes in at less than 0.4 oz or around 11 grams!
MSR Blizzard Stake is a stake but is as beefy as a trowel. Not sold at REIs, but can be ordered online.
The Deuce of Spades is the least expensive on the market and doubles as as stake!
Montbell Handy Scoop-the toughest of its size class, a Backpacking Light gear review described it as “far exceeded my expectations for digging performance–which is saying a lot considering I’m a soil scientist by profession.”
No matter how ultralight you may claim to be:
If you can carry a smart phone, you can carry a trowel.
If you can carry a book, you can carry a trowel.
If you can carry a backpack, you can carry a trowel.
Whatever potty trowel you carry, you will walk away from your business each day with the satisfaction of knowing you did a job right.
Liz "Snorkel" Thomas
Liz Thomas is a well-traveled adventure athlete most known for breaking the women’s unsupported speed record on the Appalachian Trail in 2011. She has completed the Triple Crown of Hiking–the Appalachian Trail, the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail, and 3,100 mile Continental Divide Trail–and has backpacked over 15,000 miles across the United States. While not on trail, Liz lives in Denver, Colorado.