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Wilderness Hygiene

And other musings from Dr. Beth…

Why give up TP for PP?

If you have ever traveled to Asia or Africa you already know that half the world does just fine without disposable toilet tissue. Not only are “disposables” of any kind far too expensive and wasteful for most of the world’s population, but there may not be any sort of sewer or garbage management system to handle all this mess. The most common way to clean after elimination is with water! Squat toilets will often have a bucket of water and a dipper available; or if there is running water there may be a hose or faucet just within reach. The properly initiated traveler will know to hold the dipper or hose in the right hand, and use the left to splash and wash the undercarriage. Eco-friendly, and quite refreshing, especially in hot climates! Just be sure to wash the hands afterward… Fast-forward to modern Europe and you have the hi-tech bidet, the most civilized way to run through the sprinkler after a tinkle!

You can easily re-create this most lovely system out on the trail, with no need for dry, chafing tissue (ever had little bits stick to your sweaty bits? No Bueno.) Savvy mountain girls carry a small squirt bottle for the rinse, and—Viola!—dry off with a quick dab of the pee rag! If no water can be spared for the portable bidet, just dab gently with the WeeRag, and mission accomplished. No drippage on the undies, no wads of damp TP to squirrel away for the rest of the trip. The squirt water and rinse water for the WeeRag don’t need to be Perrier or your precious filtered drinking water. Any water you would consider for swimming or clothes washing is just fine. And of course you want to do this little maneuver and the ritual cleansing of the WeeRag well away from any water source that might be used for drinking.

Front to back, or back to front?

I hope you’re not shy, because this is about to get technical. Most of us have been taught to wipe by putting a hand around from behind and swiping front to back, with the theory that this keeps bacteria from the anal area from causing infection by being dragged across the urethra (urinary opening.) This assumes you are using a disposable wipe: Swipe urethra and labia, drag across innocent bystander anus, drop soiled tissue into the magical porcelain bowl to be whisked away. You might not want to use the WeeRag this way, since it is coming with you for the next nature break! Instead, visualize a line separating the back of the labia (the opening to the vagina) from the anus. This is the line you do not cross with the re-usable WeeRag! After you pee, give a little wiggle and shake, squirt with water if available, then reach in from the front and give a quick dab or mop to remove the last drop. Do not cross the line! Your WeeRag will remain free of anal bacteria and ready for use at the drop of the shorts.

Other elimination challenges

What about poo? Attention: this is a peerag, not a poorag! We understand you may use it for unconventional purposes in a moment of desperation, but your trusty rag is then out of service until well and thoroughly washed and disinfected. You can wash up with water (see above—this is how most of world does it! Really!) You will need soap and water or a good dose of hand sanitizer to finish the job. This is why it is very impolite to eat with the left hand in many parts of the world! The other choice is to carry a small roll of TP, and a zip lock baggie for the used tissue. One technique is to drop the paper in a neat pile beside your cat hole where the poo will be buried. When you are done and the biodegradables are buried, turn the baggie inside out over your fingers and gather up the tissue, just like you might for picking up after your dog. Used TP is double bagged to dispose of when you return to civilization. Please, please, do not bury TP! Animals, water and wind will find it and scatter it among the bushes and wildflowers, and it will take literally years to degrade. Leaving tissue in the wilds is a turd in the punchbowl of proper and wilderness etiquette and a party foul in the worst possible way.

Managing the monthly menace: If you are young and female, Murphy’s law will dictate that Flo will want to join you for every trip away from civilization. Yes, there are surgical options, and pills and hormone implants that can eliminate this issue (ask your doctor!) but this is not for everyone. If you use disposable pads or tampons, please, please, bag them up and bring back to civilization for disposal! There is absolutely no worse buzz-kill than stumbling on an applicator, or worse, as you settle down for a trail-side picnic. Another option is the menstrual cup, a re-usable device that is rinsed between uses (please empty and rinse using the leave-no-trace principles you would use for solid waste.)

Babes in the woods: Before the wondrous age of potty training, it is up to you whether to use the third-world technique of no-clothes-below-the-waist, or to carry in and carry out diapers. I have found used disposable diapers in the most deplorable locations far from the nearest dumpster. Please take these home! Then there are cloth diapers, but managing these properly away from civilization requires true dedication and pioneer spirit. Solid waste needs to be buried in a cat hole just like for adults, and any washing done far from any water source to prevent contamination.

For older girls (boys are a no-brainer), this is a great time to teach wilderness ethics as a normal part of potty training! Of course little girls can use a WeeRag just like Mommy. The only difference is that you may wish to strip off undies and pants beforehand, to avoid wet clothing due to poor aim. Hiking in a skirt makes this a breeze…literally! Fortunately, squatting is something children do very easily and naturally, unlike those of us with creaky knees and hips.


How to Shit in the Woods; Kathleen Meyer. Now in its third edition, this is the bible for outdoor sanitation. You need to read it!

Leave No Trace: There’s a lot more to wilderness ethics than peeing and dabbing. Find it all here: https://lnt.org/

Going Abroad; Eva Newman. A very useful book on answering the call of nature anywhere in the world, sprinkled with informative sketches and amusing anecdotes and mis-adventures.

Menstrual cups: https://menstrualcupreviews.net/ Everything you need to know to make a choice.

Stand-up funnels: http://allparenting.com/my-life/articles/970931/what-you-need-to-know-about-portable-urinating-devices