This should be a no-brainer, but you are your own biggest health-hazard in the backcountry. Outdoor novices worry about poison ivy, jellyfish, et cetera, but if you get sick in the backcountry, you probably did it to yourself through poor hygiene. Always disinfect your hands with hand sanitizer after urinating or shitting. Purell is your best friend.
Generally, I try not to shit in the woods if at all possible. If I know I will reach a campground or pass a boat ramp with bathroom facilities the next day, I'll hold it until then. And when at a location with a bathroom, I'll use it even if I don't feel the urge at that moment. My reasons for this will be made clear in later sections. However, we should all know and abide by ethical and clean backcountry shitting methods. I strongly recommend the book, "How to Shit in the Woods" by Kathleen Meyer.
There are a half dozen different brands that sell the same concentrated "biodegradable" green soap in the exact same bottle—Coghlan's, Sea to Summit, Campsuds, Outdoorx, et cetera. The bottles are everywhere and are so common we don't second guess them. When we think of campsoap we think of a little green bottle. Well, I'd like to change opinions about that. There are serious problems with the little green bottles.
1. They are incredibly expensive. Three to four ounce bottles cost between three and five dollars. That's a dollar an ounce—Yikes!
2. We don't know what's in them. Invariably, the containers say the soap is biodegradable, but they do not list the ingredients. Just because something can be broken down by microorganisms doesn't mean it should be released into the environment. Soap is a pollutant—it does not exist in nature. And so we have to think about our use of soap in the backcountry as a form of pollution and take steps to minimize the consequences of that pollution.
Common household soaps are out of the question for backcountry use. Dishsoaps (like Dawn) and detergents are petroleum-based and contain phosphorus, which fuels algae blooms in our waterways and kills plants and animals. I'd like to know whether the generic green campsoap is petroleum-derived or contains phosphorus, but the packaging keeps consumers in the dark.
3. They're certainly not organic. Whatever they are, these soaps are not all-natural plant derivatives. They have the look and feel of industrially produced soaps and by their very nature, anything manufactured via industrial processes harms the environment.
The solution: Soap made from organic plant oils, and nothing else, like Dr. Bronners.
Dr. Bronners makes an unscented version of its Castille soap, which I think is best for use in the backcountry since it attracts fewer critters during the night. Dr. Bronners can also be
used as a no-rinse soap. There is an expensive no-rinse soap on the market that boaters and campers call "astronaut soap" because the bottle claims astronauts use it to bathe in space.
However, Dr. Bronners can be used the same way. Dilute a small amount in water, spread that water on your body, and then wipe it away—no
need to rinse.
People are gross. Particularly, I'm disgusted by boaters and weekend warriors. They're thoughtless ego-centric assholes who talk a good game about loving to be out in nature but they leave garbage and shit everywhere (and run over manatees). Fuck them.
Here's the deal: Many of the opportunities to camp in urban areas like Pinellas County, Miami-Dade County, and the Indian River Lagoon are on spoil islands specifically designated for recreation. Other islands are sanctuaries for wildlife, mostly migratory and nesting birds. These recreational islands are over-used by boaters and weekend campers, and are disgusting garbage dumps. Trash and fire debris litter every island. Human feces sit in the open or half-buried in the sand, the toilet paper scattered by the wind. These campsites are a biohazard and local governments need to step up and take action to clean them.
There are also campsites such as Shired Island on the Gulf Coast / Big Bend, which are listed as having running water. However. the wells have been contaminated with e-coli bacteria and the water is unsafe to drink.
I hope that these facts do not discourage someone from undertaking a thru-paddle. The overwhelming number of campsites are clean and safe and other campers have cared for them, but there is always work to be done and always room for improvement.