Saturday, September 1, 2012

Liberate yourself from Toilet paper

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TIP number 116 

I’m always disapointed when my camping team-mates walk into the woods for a dump run, and they bring along their toilet paper. Good grief, what kind of Wilderness experience is that? Mankind has been pooping in the woods since we climbed down out of the trees, and toilet paper (TP) is a pretty recent invention when you look at human history.

We live in a society with user-friendly toilets and they all come equipped with a wonderful roll of TP. There’s nothing for us to think about, we do our duty, wipe and flush. We’ve created a very nice convenience, but it’s separated us from what should be a very simple bit of outdoor know-how.

Why are so many campers so dependent on toilet paper? I would have to guess that they’ve never in their life used anything other than the store bought stuff on a roll. Or, they’ve had a bad experience with their one-and-only time with natural wiping material. It’s a sad truth, Natural Butt-Wiping is a lost art.

Too many people bury their used TP, or worse, they just leave it on the surface. We don’t have to deal with it in the bathroom, we simply flush. Sadly, this transfers to not dealing in the backcountry too. It’s left as trash out of an inability to deal.

The ultralight benefits? Not having TP obviously saves 100% of its weight. But beyond that, you are liberated from something that we think we need.

Over the decades, I have found an awful lot of used toilet paper in the mountains and it’s disgusting. (see tip <<< 44 > Practice Leave No Trace camping >>>) My heart sinks every time. And please know, I actually do something about it, I clean it up. Finding used toilet paper leaves me absolutely disgusted at all of humanity. I deal with these piles of white (and brown) toilet paper, I’ll either burn it or carry it out, and I don’t shy away from this thankless chore. Am I a weirdo zealot about not using toilet paper? Sure enough, but it wells up from dealing with other people’s laziness.

If you do choose to bring store bought toilet paper, I feel strongly that it must be carried out and not just left in the backcountry (for me to find). Triple bag it before it goes back in your pack. Burning is not recommended because this is an all too common cause of forest fires.

What to use?
Please know, the backcountry is home to a plentitude of wonderful wiping things. Any camper who wants to make fun of natural TP will immediately sneer and mention pinecones. Yes, just the image of a pinecone with all those pointy things makes my butt wince. With very few exceptions, pinecones do NOT work! But, if you find a batch from a Douglas Fir, you got the goods!

If you have snow available, you will have a stupendously clean bunghole! No foolin’ - snow has all the properties that make it the crème de la crème of natural butt wiping. Don’t use gloves, use you bare hand and make a snowball by squeezing. Don’t make round snowball shape, you want to create a pointy feature for the business end. Snow is the perfect combo of smooth and abrasive, it’s just wet enough for a little extra cleaning power, and it’s white! The whiteness will allow the wiper to accurately monitor any residue in the area in question. Plus, if you have snow, you usually have a LOT of it.

Here’s an insight into my personal wiping habits: I use a LOT of wiping material. I am never satisfied until I know that things are super-duper-clean. I encourage you to strive for the same high standards.

River rocks
Smooth and elegant, these polished beauties are the second best behind snow. Before visiting your private zone, collect a load of these rocks. Not to big, not too small, a little flat, a little pointy and definitely NOT round. Once again, grab a lot of ‘em.

For the most part, leaves don’t work, they can be thin and easily torn. If you do use little leaves, use a small stack of them so your finger tip doesn’t poke through at the wrong moment. I’ve had better luck using the back side of leaves, where the raised veins can act as little scrubbers.

Please know, not all leaves are below par. Most of the Northern hemisphere has been graced with a gangly weed called Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), and a very similar plant called Wooly Lambs Ear (Stachys byzantina). These are both rather homely plants, but the leaves are like the wings of an angel. They are big, thick, strong, fuzzy and satisfying. These are pretty common, and they grow in clumps. If you are collecting these leaves, please carefully get them from a multiple plants, taking just a few leaves from each. Do not strip one of these cute fuzzy plants of all their leaves just to guarantee yourself a tidy butt. You don’t need to kill anything for hygiene!

Smooth sticks

A downed tree with dry weathered branches can be wonderful. Look for a collection of sticks about an inch in diameter, with minimal poking protuberances. Pick the smoothest side for wiping, taking advantage of the long featureless length of the stick.

Wooly lambs Ear

There is a fuzzy plant that is like being caressed by an angel. Also called Mulen.

Old Man’s Beard
Have you ever marveled at that weird electric yellow moss that hangs from the pine trees? This stuff is great. Once again, grab a little bit from multiple trees.

A goodly clump of grass makes for a pretty good cleaning tool. For a nice stiff set of bristles, you can fold the grass into a very tidy little brush. Grab the grass from a big zone, avoid stripping an area of all it’s green stuff.

Size required
For obvious reasons you'll want to keep your hands away from the contaminants that you’re trying to wipe away. So, whatever you use - make sure it’s big enough to keep your fingers a good distance from the working area.

The butt scuff on dewey tufts of grass
Sometimes you are in an environment with tufts of grass that look like little fright wigs. These will usually come in groups, and on a calm dewy morning, there is nothing more wonderful in the world. You can sit on one of these like a bicycle seat, and slide yourself along, letting the tuft do its scouring duty, if you find a row of these get ready to cry tears of joy. And if you have a little bit of downhill slope to work with, the job is a lot easier.

Plan ahead and prepare
Before the urge becomes a raging alarm, there are a few small things you’ll need to do. The act of collecting the wiping tools may take a little time and some searching. Start planning well before the need arises. Begin filling your pockets with nice smooth rocks, lots of ‘em (or leaves, sticks, etc). Keep an eye out for the perfect collection of broad leaf plants. Is it a short walk to a batch of snow still unmelted from last winter?

Do not - I repeat, DO NOT just squat down and expect to find the perfect wiping material within arms reach. It won’t be there, I know from experience. No need to describe this unpleasant dilemma.

The cat-hole
You will need to dig a shallow hole, and the UL tool of choice is a tent stake. The thin wire stakes won’t work, you’ll need at least one stake that is a little more stout. A trekking pole is a good tool too, just make sure to hold it low near the pointy end while digging. Other options are a sharp stick or a pointy rock.

The recommended technique espoused by Wilderness authorities says to take a trowel and dig a 6 to 8 inch deep hole. This is easy to draw (I know, I’ve drawn it in multiple books) but it can hard to actually do. There are a lot of places where the ground is too hard and it simply will not work, even with the best metal trowel. In some environments the soil is too rocky (or too dense) to get down that deep. If you can’t dig down deep enough, go wider, or create a shallow trench. No good answer here, my advice is to do the very best job you can do, whatever the circumstances.

The goal is to get the fecal matter to decompose in the organic soil near the surface. The micro-organisms will do their job and eventually change the dubious properties into something sterile, how long this might take is hard to say, but it will happen a lot faster in rich living top soil. It will happen exceedingly slow on the surface or under rocks. Please understand, there is the very real potential to contaminate water sources with human feces, so the simple act of properly burying your waist is a necessary undertaking.

After the bomb is dropped in the hole, take a little time to stir it up and mix it well with the organic soil. Yes, this basically means you get to play with your own poop. This important stirring process can dramatically accelerate the decomposition time. Please use a stick and not the tent stake.

At the end, refill the hole, and cover the ground in a way will disguise your job site. Take pride in this step, it’s a nice role to allow future visitors a pristine visual experience.

What to do with the used material?
After wiping you’ll need to dispose of the natural toilet paper. If you’ve dug a deep enough hole, depositing the wipers in there is a great solution. Re-fill the hole, and you’re done. But, sometimes you can only get the first few wipers in the hole because it’s too full (or barely deep enough) so you’ll have to toss the rest of ‘em. Carefully look around for a good place to deliver the contaminated post-wipe product. Avoid any spot a fellow camper may travel or step, and think about where water will run in the rain. Under a big bush is a good solution.


Wash your hands when you’re done, this is a vital part of the whole process. Don’t be a slob - fecal contamination is the cause of backcountry NVD! That’s Nausea, Vomiting & Diarrhea!

For the highest degree of success, employ your teammate as a helper. When you come back from your dump-run, tell ‘em that you’ll require their assistance. They can dig thru the pack (let them touch things with clean hands) getting the soap and a water bottle. They put the soap in your hands and they pour the water. Your contaminated hands touch nothing.

Hygiene tools
I always carry soap and alcohol hand sanitizing gel, both repackaged in tiny dropper bottles. These are essential safety components in my backcountry kit of dinky things. For soap, I am a devote of Dr. Bronner’s, and Almond is my favorite.

Time required
The humble act of pooping in the woods involves a goodly amount of busy work. You need to collect the wiping material, find a private spot, dig a cat-hole, fill it, wipe effectively, stir the poop, fill the hole back in, disguise the little area and wash your hands. Plus, you need to do a good job on each of these important steps.

If your partner says it’s dump time and then comes back after just a minute, do NOT let ‘em put their hand in your bag of gorp! To do a good job requires at least 10 minutes.