Nature may call while you’re paddling the river, especially if you’ve been hydrating sufficiently. Here’s the best, and most responsible, ways of dealing with those needs.
The best place to pee is in one of the vault toilets located in each of the recreation areas—they’re here for a good reason. They’re also close by to popular spots for stopping for a break, making them particularly convenient options. I always make sure to make a quick visit right before launching.
If you simply can’t wait to use a vault toilet, there are two other methods you can use. The first is to pee directly in the river. Yes, you read that right. In dry, arid climates with rivers flowing above 500cfs—such as the Salt River during kayaking season—it’s actually preferable to pee in the river than to pollute a spot along the shoreline. That’s because, as the saying goes, “the solution to pollution is dilution.” The easiest way to do this is to wade slowly out into the river—downstream of others in the immediate vicinity—dunk your waist below the waterline, pretend to be studying the landscape on the other side of the river, and let it go.
If the river is too low to pull this off, Leave No Trace guidelines recommend that you find an area above the high-water line and at least 200 feet away from the shoreline to do your business. That’s about 75 adult paces. Not only will this help afford you some privacy, but it’s also much better for the environment—peeing right along the shoreline can increase algae growth, coat the river corridor with the smell of urine, and keep native wildlife away from their source of water. Urine, unlike its solid counterpart, is relatively sterile, but you can also use a water bottle to help dilute it further. It’s also better to pee on rocks rather than plants, especially in high-use areas.
If you bring toilet paper to dry up with, please pack it out in a plastic baggy. Nothing ruins an outdoors experience quite like seeing unsightly toilet paper scattered around (burying it doesn’t work, as animals simply dig it back up). A far better solution, as seasoned backpackers will attest, is simply to use a dedicated bandanna or a Kula Cloth that you can use when needed, wash later, and reuse in the future.
The best solution here is to go before you head to the river—whether that’s at your home, work, or someplace along the way. You’ll have a better experience with a flushing toilet, air conditioning, toilet paper, and a sink with soap…not to mention some privacy.
If you failed to plan ahead appropriately and you just can’t hold it, there’s really only one right way to poop along the crowded Lower Salt River area, and that’s to use one of the vault toilets installed at each open recreation site. These toilets are located every few miles along the river, provide some privacy, and often feature toilet paper.
And while vault toilets can get smelly, it’s far preferable than the traditional outdoors strategy of digging a 4” to 6” deep cathole at least 200 feet away from the river. First, you’re unlikely to have a trowel with you. But more importantly, it’s not uncommon for desert animals to dig up waste (especially in the soft sand and soil around the river), defeating the purpose of burying it in the first place. Whatever you do, please, please, please don’t just squat and go in the bushes, then leave exposed toilet paper. It’s incredibly disgusting, leaves an unsightly mess, and is bad for the riparian environment.
Discarding of feminine products
If you need to discard of used feminine products, the only proper disposal is packing it out in ziplock baggie. They do not quickly decompose, especially in the desert soil, and animals are likely to dig them up.